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Robert Brown Dies
1921 - 2003

Robert Brown, the actor who played sidekick to Roger Moore’s TV Ivanhoe — then became his boss as the spymaster M in the James Bond films.

FOR 30 years Robert Brown was just another familiar British character actor, until one film role changed his life. He was in his mid-fifties when he played Admiral Hargreaves in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977, and he returned to the series six years later as M, after the death of Bernard Lee. He brought a suitably sober authority to the role of spy boss in four Bond films, opposite Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton. After Licence to Kill (1989), Brown retired, latterly moving back to Swanage in Dorset, where he was born. But his fan mail increased with time, and the 40th anniversary of the James Bond series last year intensified interest, with a letter from the United States or Europe arriving virtually every day.
His father was a fisherman and coxswain for the local lifeboat and Brown followed him to sea, enlisting in the Royal Navy and serving during the Second World War in the Hebrides and Gibraltar, where he pursued his interest in amateur drama. Returning to Britain, he decided to try his hand at professional acting. Both he and Bernard Lee, his predecessor as M, had supporting roles in the classic Orson Welles thriller The Third Man (1949). Over the years Brown became a familiar face in a wide range of films, including the comedy Time Gentlemen Please! (1952), Helen of Troy (1955) as Polydorus, A Hill in Korea (1956), The Abominable Snowman (1957), Campbell’s Kingdom (1957) and Ben-Hur (1959), in which he was chief rower.

Having played a guard in the 1952 film of Ivanhoe, with Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine, Brown returned to Scott’s tale of knightly heroics six years later as Ivanhoe’s sidekick Gurth in the ITV series that proved enormously popular with schoolboy audiences. This began a lengthy association between Brown and Roger Moore, who played the hero. Brown was guest star in a couple of episodes of The Saint in the Sixties and, in a neat reversal of their Ivanhoe roles, finally became Roger Moore’s boss in Octopussy (1983).

He played Pentheus in The 300 Spartans (1962), Maintopman Arnold Talbot in Billy Budd (1962), with Peter Ustinov, and a guard in Roger Corman’s Bergmanesque horror classic The Masque of the Red Death (1964) with Vincent Price, before landing another regular television role as Bert Harker on The Newcomers (1965-69), the BBC’s attempt at an upmarket soap opera about life on a modern housing estate. Wendy Richard played his rebellious daughter Joyce. At much the same time he co-starred with Bernard Lee in another BBC series, King of the River (1966-67). Lee was the skipper of a sailing barge, who does not want his son to follow in his footsteps, and Brown played Lee’s brother.

However it was The Spy Who Loved Me and, more importantly, Octopussy, that were to ensure his place in cinema history, as part one of the most successful film series ever. He played M in a further three films — A View to a Kill (1985) and the two Timothy Dalton movies The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989), before Judi Dench took over the role.

In 1983 Brown appeared in Ustinov’s play Beethoven’s Tenth at the Vaudeville Theatre in London. His theatre work also included several plays for the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. He continued to appear in a wide assortment of television series throughout his career, including All Creatures Great and Small, The Avengers, Danger UXB, General Hospital, the gargantuan American drama series The Winds of War and BBC productions of Henry IV (1979) and The Life and Death of King John (1984).

Brown is survived by his wife, Becky, and daughter. Their son died two years ago.

Robert Brown, actor, was born on July 23, 1921. He died on November 11, 2003, aged 82.

12th November, 2003