Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Bowles, Peter (1936-)

Actor, Writer, Presenter

Main image of Bowles, Peter (1936-)

Playing the archetypal English gent, with caddish moustache and dapper Savile Row suit, finally brought Peter Bowles to the notice of the viewing nation in 1979 after some twenty years toiling in repertory theatre and in countless supporting roles on television. Although a contemporary of Albert Finney, Alan Bates and Peter O'Toole at RADA, he remained outside the undefined theatrical club of his colleagues, whom he watched move swiftly on to stage and film success.

Throughout the 1960s he amassed a long line of smoothie villains and swarthy rogues in various ITV action dramas such as No Hiding Place (1959-67), Crane (1963-65), Public Eye (1965-75) and the cross-Atlantic series Danger Man (1960-61; 1964-66), The Saint (1962-69) and The Baron (1966-67). During this seemingly hectic yet thankless period, one of his more enjoyably manic roles turned up in the offbeat 'Escape in Time' episode (tx. 27/1/1967) for The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69) in which he gave a vigorous performance as an eyeball-rolling psychopath with over-heated designs on Diana Rigg.

The path from almost unknown supporting actor to household name may not have taken so long if, in 1975, he had not turned down the Paul Eddington role in The Good Life (BBC, 1975-77) in order to gain some artistic credibility by appearing on stage in Alan Ayckbourn's Absent Friends. Fortunately, by the end of the 1970s he was cast in the semi-regular role of the arch-smarmy Guthrie Featherstone QC in Rumpole of the Bailey (ITV, 1978-92).

It was during the 1979 run of Rumpole that he was offered the part of the oily nouveau riche Richard DeVere in To the Manor Born (BBC, 1979-81). The theatrical class snobbery sitcom, written by Peter Spence and intended originally as a radio series, seemed the ideal vehicle for the talents of Penelope Keith after her success in The Good Life. They made a perfect television comedy team and their characters' relationship, alternating between antagonism and affection, enthralled the nation. The series' finale attracted some 24 million viewers.

Further development of his charming rogue persona saw him playing similar types in The Bounder (ITV, 1982-83), a suave con-man restrained by George Cole's domesticated brother-in-law, and Lytton's Diary (ITV, 1985-86). The latter, about a dedicated newspaper gossip columnist, was also created by Bowles in a move to diversify and shift away from comedy parts.

The Irish RM (C4, 1983-85), a costume piece set in 19th century Ireland, allowed him to escape the charming rotter role to become the exasperated resident magistrate in a community celebrating John Ford's brand of Irishness. He rejoined his former Irish RM co-star Bryan Murray for the confidence trickster series The Perfect Scoundrels (ITV, 1990-92), developed from their collaborative format about two con-men who target the corrupt and the greedy. By way of a small departure from the expected, Running Late (BBC, tx. 11/10/1992), a TV film written for him by Simon Gray, had him cast as a particularly repellent TV interviewer who experiences something of a Christmas Carol moment in his self-absorbed life.

Tise Vahimagi

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Isadora (1966)Isadora (1966)

Ken Russell's dramatised documentary about dancer Isadora Duncan

Thumbnail image of Magnum for Schneider, A (1967)Magnum for Schneider, A (1967)

Atmospheric pilot for cult spy drama Callan

Thumbnail image of Rumpole of the Bailey (1978-83, 87-92)Rumpole of the Bailey (1978-83, 87-92)

Much-loved comedy drama following a cynical, put-upon barrister

Thumbnail image of To The Manor Born (1979-81)To The Manor Born (1979-81)

Penelope Keith sitcom about an impoverished lady of the manor

Related collections

Related people and organisations