Obituary: Simon Oates: actor in Doomwatch and The Avengers
Simon Oates was best known as Dr John Ridge, one of the boffin's in Doomwatch (1970-72), the television series that tapped into popular concerns about the dangers surrounding the pace of scientific development. But he also played John Steed in a West End adaptation of The Avengers (1971) and screen-tested for the role of James Bond.
His son, Justin Brett, also an actor, said that he was offered Bond, but that Sean Connery changed his mind and returned to the role in Diamonds are Forever (1971). Other sources suggest that Oates was in the running before Roger Moore was confirmed as 007 for Live and Let Die (1973).
Born in Canning Town, East London, in 1932, Arthur Charles Oates was descended from the distinguished Victorian acting family of Faucit Saville. However, he trained as a quantity surveyor with a view to joining his father’s business. He acted in amateur productions while doing his National Service in the Intelligence Corps and subsequently went to drama school.
It was around that time that he first met David Jason, who was working as an electrician, and Oates would later give him the chance to make his professional debut in Noël Coward’s South Sea Bubble at Bromley Repertory in Kent in 1965. Oates worked steadily in provincial repertory companies as an actor and director and by the early 1960's was also appearing regularly in television plays in slots such as Armchair Theatre (1961). He was a spy master in the BBC Cold War thriller series The Mask of Janus (1965) and the follow-up series The Spies (1966). He starred in The Terrornauts (1967), a low-budget Dalek-influenced sci-fi movie, and played several characters in episodes of The Avengers (1967-68). He also enjoyed a second career as a stand-up comedian and even compèred for the Rolling Stones.
Doomwatch was a thriller series in which the heroes were scientists and the dangers were often ecological and environmental. Oates’s character, John Ridge, was not merely a scientist, but also a man of action with an eye for the ladies. He was partnered by Robert Powell and subjects ranged from toxic waste to subliminal messaging. Doomwatch ran for three series and there was a film version in 1972, in which the regulars were joined by Ian Bannen and George Sanders.
During the Doomwatch run Oates also appeared in The Avengers on stage, with Sue Lloyd as his assistant Hannah Wild and Kate O’Mara as the villain Madame Gerda, head of an all-female gang who dressed entirely in shiny black rubber. Oates later appeared in The New Avengers (1977).
His numerous plays included a touring production of The Owl and the Pussycat in 1972, in which he co-starred with Barbara Windsor. In the 1980's he lived in Canada, where he had his own touring company.
He is survived by his second wife, Jaki, and by three children.
Simon Oates, actor, was born on January 6, 1932. He died of prostate cancer on May 20, 2009, aged 77