I first heard of Edward Woodward when we were living in America and The Equalizer was on television. Apart from my parents, the only English accents I heard regularly were the ones on television – you know, how Americans thought we talked in the 80s; the Joan Collins/Stephanie Beacham type – they were good for playing the cold-hearted bitch on soap operas it seemed – or the stuffy housekeeper Mr Belvedere type.
I was desperately missing tough gritty English accents and so I loved The Equalizer immediately. Edward Woodward was a British former secret agent or something who was now working for the Americans and cleaning up the stuff that they couldn’t (often involving pesky Ruskies) like a slightly more contained Michael Caine – he didn’t blow any bloody doors off that I recall. Actually, I don’t recall much about it at all apart from the voice, the fact that he wore a long gangster/football manager coat and looked like he couldn’t run to save himself. And yet, curiously, I loved it!
I later discovered that he was a very fine actor and a pretty good footballer. He apparently played for both Leyton Orient and Brentford and studied at RADA. He trod the boards as a real Shakespearean actor in Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet in the West End in the mid 1950s, before taking his talents to Broadway and Australia. It’s rare for an actor to be so well received on both side of the Atlantic so that’s a fair testament to his appeal.
Him Outdoors rates The Wicker Man (1973) as one of the scariest films ever – he says there’s atmospheric tension and a horrific final scene that makes you question human nature – I’m too scared to ever watch it. So Edward Woodward’s versatility spanned stage, film, TV and even musical comedy; High Spirits (1964-1965) won three Tony Awards.
However, I remember him most fondly because he features in one of my favourite jokes.
Q: What do you call a man with a tree on his head?
Q: What do you call a man with three trees on his head?
A: Edward Woodward
Q: What do you call a man with four trees on his head?
A: I don’t know either but I bet Edward Woodward would
Q: Why has Edward Woodward got so many ‘d’s in his name?
A: Because otherwise he’d be called Ewar Woowar.
Apparently this is a Morecambe & Wise joke, but I first heard it from a friend whom I ever afterwards called Ewar – that’s how he is programmed into my phone. He disappeared into the mountains for a while and I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years, until I saw someone who looked a lot like him running around the Southern Bays in the Harbour Capital Wellington Marathon.
I yelled out “Come on Ewar” and he grinned (grinned, I tell you, at about 30km into the race) and laughed, “No one’s called me that for a while!” I was riding my bike and he kept pace with me chatting for a bit. Perhaps he shouldn’t have done that. He came fourth in a time of 2:49:57 (30 seconds behind the chap in third). I wonder what Edward Woodward would have done.