Maurice Colbourne

Photograph by BBC TV

If we are not careful, we might forget about Maurice Colbourne, stage, and television actor, who started and ended his journey in Sheffield.

For a generation, this interesting actor played the role of Tom Howard, boatyard owner, the central character in BBC TV series Howard’s Way, and might have led viewers to suppose that he had the same background. In fact, he was born Roger Middleton in 1939, the son of a Sheffield labourer, and worked as a seaman, pavement-layer, labourer and with a circus before arriving in London, where he was initially a waiter for three years.

After meeting the film star Tom Courtenay in the early 1960s, Middleton suddenly found the inspiration he had been seeking. He obtained a grant for the Central School of Speech and Drama and adopted the name Maurice Colbourne as a result of seeing an obituary of a distinguished film actor in The Stage, an action that did not please the deceased’s family.

He came to prominence through television, first in the serial Gangsters and in Van Der Valk, The Day of the Triffids, Shoestring, Dr Who, The Onedin Line and Take Three Women.

As well as a starring role in the Walt Disney film, Escape from the Dark (the last film by Alastair Sim), he was a dedicated stage actor, being one of the founders of the Half Moon Theatre, which strongly reflected his left-wing ideals.

In 1985, he landed his best-known role in Howard’s Way, the BBC’s Sunday night response to glossy American soaps such as Dynasty and Dallas.

Colbourne died of a heart attack at his Brittany holiday home in August 1989, while taking a break in filming of the fifth series, the eight episodes he had completed were subsequently shown at the insistence of his widow.

Photograph by imdb

He was buried at City Road Cemetery, the funeral attended by family, friends, and fans. Most of the cast of Howard’s Way were unable to join due to filming commitments in Guernsey, but sent a simple bouquet of white lilies tied with a black silk ribbon, with the inscription: “With much love from us all.”

Colbourne was married twice, his widow being the former Lian Si Chan, a Malaysian, known as Jeany.