Simon Oates was the James Bond who never was. When Sean Connery changed his mind and returned to the role in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Oates lost out on a life-changing opportunity, but remained a possible replacement until being beaten to the part by Roger Moore.
That he was in the running at all for the iconic anti-hero was due to the success of the BBC’s ‘science-fact’ drama, Doomwatch. Ahead of its time, the drama documented the activities of a group of government scientists charged with stopping activities endangering the environment. Oates played scientist cum man of action Dr John Ridge across three series and a spin-off film from 1970-72.
Born Arthur Oates in Canning Town, London on January 6, 1932, Oates was an army boxing champion during his National Service, after which he enrolled at the Arts Educational School, leaving before completing his course to perform, originally as Titus Oates, with Chesterfield Rep. Seasons at regional reps as well as appearances in the West End followed with a short-lived spell on Broadway in 1968, in Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s Frankie Howerd-vehicle Rockefeller and the Red Indians.
Running parallel to the acting career for a period was his alter-ego stand-up act, Charlie Barnett, the Cockney Comedian, which he performed in clubs, theatres, the London Palladium and, memorably, on a Rolling Stones tour. In 1971 he took the role of John Steed in a short-lived West End adaptation of television hit The Avengers.
Oates also directed throughout the UK and in the West End, and spent time in Canada in the eighties, where he managed his own theatre company.
Twice married, he is survived by his second wife and three children. He died of prostate cancer on May 20, aged 77.
Brian Clemens adds:
I first met Simon Oates when he played in a thriller of mine. We hit it off right away – we were both around the same age, from the same background and shared the same cultural experiences. I later cast him in The Avengers and The New Avengers, and whenever possible, in whatever project I was working for and for which he was ‘right’ for. Not nepotism, but respect for an actor who had made his bones in all kinds of media – he appeared in and directed for the West End stage, ran a theatre company in Canada and, in between times, had spells as a stand-up comic. He was a wonderful house guest – the greatest teller of a joke this side of Roger Moore and, if you had kids, a spell-binding magician.
He starred in BBC’s hit show, Doomwatch, which also put Robert Powell on the stardom road, and as John Steed in the stage version of The Avengers.
A complete and consummate actor/performer – the like of which I doubt we will see again. He was also a great teacher – for me, anyway. He taught me most of what I know about stage direction, including the ground-breaking habit of abandoning the read through -“no, get ’em on their feet and finding their space right away – let them get to know each other via their on-stage characterisations”. It seemed to work and certainly served me well when I started stage direction.
I shall miss him dearly. I already miss him.
So long, mate. God had already blessed you with great talent – so I’m sure He will continue to look after you.
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