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A Brief Profile of Edward Woodward

Early Life

Edward (Albert Arthur) Woodward was born on 1 June 1930 in Croydon, Surrey. He was the only child of Edward (Oliver) Woodward, a metalworker, and his wife, Violet. He received his tertiary education at a number of schools in Surrey, including the Kingston Day Commercial School. Later, he went on to attend Kingston College.

Woodward left school at the age of 15 to work in a local sanitary engineer’s office. However, he left after a year to enroll in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. While at RADA, he was also on the books of Leyton Orient FC, and then, Brentford FC, where he made three first-team appearances. Thus, he was torn between the idea of becoming an actor or a professional footballer. It was then that kismet played its part when a serious knee injury kept him out of football for a lengthy spell. The injury obviously pushed him towards acting.

Stage Career

In 1946, Woodward made his acting debut in A Kiss for Cinderella at the Castle Theatre, Farnham. After graduating from RADA he gained good stage experience with a number of repertory companies, working throughout the country. He made his London stage debut in 1954 playing “Ralph Stokes” in “Where There’s a Will”. Woodward subsequently made his big screen debut recreating his stage role in the film adaption of Where There’s a Will (1955). He followed that up with a supporting role appearance in the TV film A Girl Called Jo (1956).

Woodward continued his acting career by mostly appearing in Shakespearean stage productions. However, it was in the role of “Percy” in Rattle of a Simple Man, that he won the most critical acclaim. After two years, Woodward finally made his Broadway debut in the role in 1963. As a gifted singer, he went on to appear in the Broadway musical “High Spirits” (1964 – 65). He later appeared in the lead role in the West End’s “Two Cities” (1968), a musical adaptation of the Dickens classic novel. Highlights of his stage career included leading roles in The Best Laid Plans (1966), Cyrano de Bergerac (1971), The Wolf (1973), The Male of the Species (1975), The Beggar’s Opera (1980), Private Lives (1980) and The Dead Secret (1992).

TV and Film

By 1967, Woodward already had an extensive television catalogue. The same year, he was cast as the spy David Callan in a one-off in ITV’s Armchair Theatre series. His strong performance led to the creation of the TV series Callan, which ran for 5 years between 1967 and 1972. In 1972, Woodward was featured in the Churchill autobiographical film Young Winston, starring Simon Ward. The film turned out to be the most popular British film of the year.

In 1973, Woodward was cast in the lead male role, as Police Sergeant Howie, in the British horror film The Wicker Man. The now cult film also starred the Swedish actress Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee. It was without a doubt the most memorable performance of his big-screen career. The film was hailed by the Cinefantastique magazine as “the Citizen Kane of horror movies”.

Edward Woodward starred in The Wickerman (1973). Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

In 1974, he revived his role of Callan in the self-titled spy thriller feature film. Another appearance for which Woodward was critically acclaimed was in the title role of the Australian biographical film drama Breaker Morant (1980). In 1985, Woodward was cast in the lead role in the American television series The Equalizer. The popular espionage series ran for 4 years and did much to win Woodward international recognition. However, after filming a few episodes of the third season, Woodward suffered a massive heart attack. After a long rest, he was able to complete filming of the series and went on to make a fourth, in 1988 – 89.

Career Summary

Woodward’s last film role was that of the Reverend Frederick Densham in A Congregation of Ghosts (2009). Also in 2009, his television career ended playing Tommy Clifford in 6 episodes of the BBC soap opera EastEnders. In all, Woodward appeared in a total of 27 feature films and 18 television films, between 1955 and 2009.  He also had well over 60 other TV credits throughout his career. In fact, between 1956 and 2009, he appeared on British television on an almost annual basis.

His distinguished TV career saw him win the 1970 BAFTA for his title role in Callan. He also won the 1987 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Dramatic TV Series for The Equalizer. Furthermore, he was also nominated for an Emmy every year between 1986 and 1990 for The Equalizer.

Personal life

Woodward was married twice. He married his first wife, the actress Venetia Barrett, in 1952. The couple had three children; Tim (b. 1953), Peter (b. 1956), and Sarah (b. 1963), all of whom became actors. Woodward left his wife in the early ‘80s for actress Michele Dotrice, who was 17 years his junior. They married her in New York City in January 1987, after Woodward’s divorce became final in 1986. Their daughter, Emily Beth Woodward was born in 1983.

The famed English playwright, composer, director, actor, and singer, Noel Coward once said of Woodward, “He was one of the nicest and most cooperative actors I’ve ever met or worked with.”

Woodward was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1978 for services to acting.

Ill-health and Death

Woodward suffered massive heart attacks in both 1987 and 1994. He underwent a triple heart bypass in 1996. In 2003, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In July 2009, he had a fall at home, and as a result, suffered a serious hip injury.

Woodward died of pneumonia, aged 79, at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, Cornwall, on 16 November 2009. He was buried at Padstow Cemetery in Cornwall. He was survived by his second wife Michele, their daughter, and his three children from his first marriage.

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