Michael Ripper

The Dark Road to Success

the story of

Michael Ripper

27th January 1913 – 28th June 2000

Already a veteran of some 30 films, before his first appearance for Hammer (Exclusive) in The Dark Road (1947) Michael Ripper went on to become one of Hammers favourite character actors, making thirty four films with the company, culminating with his performance as Arthur in That’s Your Funeral (1971).

Michael Ripper in “The Dark Road” (1948)

Born in Portsmouth, England on 27th January 1913 (five months before Peter Cushing), Michael was sixteen when he won a scholarship to a school for dramatic art. The theatre was in his blood (his father ran an amateur dramatics company) and six years later, having spent some time treading the boards he moved into films, getting his first credit in Twice Branded (1935), playing a young fellow in a theatre gallery. He later made countless films working as an actor, and assistant director, for a production company called George Smith Enterprises, who were based at Walton Studios.

During the war he worked at “The Gate” in Dublin playing roles such as Hamlet. He has been quoted as saying that “just before D-Day we got a letter saying that our country needed us. One of us wrote back asking if they really did need us, and they replied that they didn’t!”

The Gate Theatre, Dublin

After the war, he stayed in Ireland to make a film, returning to England on it’s completion. It was during this period that he first became involved with the St Trinian’s films, appearing in four.

In 1952 Michael had a throat operation which affected he speech – “I didn’t really sound like a human being, so all I could do was horror”. As a consequence, and having already appeared in four Hammer productions (The Dark Road – 1947, PC 49 and the Case of the Guardian Angel – 1949, A Case for PC 49 – 1951 and Blood Orange – 1953), Anthony Hinds gave him a starring role in A Man on the Beach 1955.

Of all the characters he played, Michael’s favourite was Longbarrow – the long-suffering assistant to Andre Morell’s Sir Basil Walden in “The Mummy’s Shroud – 1966.

Michael as Longbarrow in The Mummy’s Shroud

After Hammer, Michael went on to appear as Mr Shepherd in Southern Television’s popular childrens series Worzel Gummidge and as Tom  – Leonard’s  Chauffeur in the BBC TV hit sitcom Butterflies.

Michael died on June 28th 2000 – he will be sadly missed by all true Hammer fans.

The Unsung Face of Horror

Credit – David Ryan, Highbrury & Islington Express, July 16th 1999

You may not know the name but the face should be familiar, David Ryan meets Michael Ripper who has appeared in more Hammer Horror films than Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing put together.

At the age of 86, Michael Ripper has just acquired a new passport so that he can fly to the United States for the launch of his biography next month. The chances are you won’t have heard of him, unless you’re an ardent fan, like those he’ll meet in Virginia, but his features should be recognisable to anyone with a soft spot for fake blood, crucifixes and horse-drawn carriages rattling though 1960s’ English woodland.

A familiar face, if hardly a household name, the veteran actor now remembers little of a prolific 45-year film career that saw him hob-nob with Olivier before slipping into the niche for which he is best loved today – that of Hammer Films’ resident bit-part player, appearing in more of their horror flicks than Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee put together.

For, as Hammer filmographer Mark A Miller points out, Ripper excelled in his portrayals of “memorable sword-brandishing patriots, sadistic, amoral nasties and wimpy, pitiable servants… If ever an actor proves the old adage that there are no small parts, only small actors, it is Michael Ripper.”

Portsmouth-born Ripper’s first starring roles after drama school were at the Gate Theatre, Dublin where a leading Irish actor of the day said his Hamlet had “the voice of the gods, dear boy”. Yet cruely, this promising stage career was to be cut short in 1952 when Ripper was struck down by a throat condition and was sent to see a specialist.

His wife Cecilia, a television costume designer who brought him to live in Islington in 1976, takes up the story: “He walked in, and the man said: `I know exactly what’s the matter with you. I read an article about it in The Lancet last week.’ He was put on a drug that made the thyroid gland stiff, but that touched the vocal cords and he lost his stage voice.”

Forced to utilise the microphone instead, Ripper’s next break was to work on a short film with one of Hammer’s leading lights, producer Tony Hinds. But before taking up the reins of bread-and-butter horror acting as coachmen, innkeepers, poachers and the like – he was cast by Laurence Olivier in the 1955 adaptation of Richard III.

“That’s his Favourite film part.” says Ripper’s biographer, Derek Pykett, in reference to his role as one of the Duke of Clarence’s murderers. “They had great difficulty trying to stuff John Gielgud’s stand-in into a vat of wine, so they had several days of retakes.”

But surprisingly, Ripper’s favourites from the Hammer series are not its better known chillers – such as The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) and Scars of Dracula (1970) – but obscure pot-boilers The Mummy’s Shroud (1966) and The Pirates of Blood River (1962). He nurses a particular affection for the last of these because it co-starred his old friend Christopher Lee, who encouraged a standing ovation for Ripper at the Barbican’s Hammer retrospective last year. In one scene, Lee helped carry Ripper across the river because he was too short to walk across the bottom.

Michael and Christopher Lee in Pirates of Blood River

At their home near the Angel, the Rippers receive a steady trickle of mail from fans asking for autographs. “The funny thing is,” says Mrs Ripper, “there’s a home help in his early 20s who comes here and the first thing he said was; ‘I’ve been a big fan of yours for years. My whole family are.'”

Pykett, an actor based in Yorkshire, has shown a similar devotion in preparing the 224page biography Michael Ripper Unmasked, whose initial print run of 1,500 copies is aimed at the American market. “My personal view is that he is one of England’s finest character actors,” he opines.

Michael Ripper’s Biography by Derek Pykett

“A lot of actors just play themselves all the time, whereas Michael could change his appearance for almost every film, just with his expressions. He’s very well loved, too. He played the lift man in three St Trinian’s films, mainly because the director Frank Launder liked him so much.”

Ripper himself rarely stays up to watch his 30-odd Hammer movies on TV, preferring to keep them on video. “They were very popular, both with the people who were in them and the audiences who came to see them,” he remembers. “Mind you, nowadays they’re old hat.”

Michael Ripper Filmography

In addition to his cinema roles, Michael Ripper also appeared in over 90 TV series/films in his long career. We have compiled a record of full career in films, including the production company and characters played. Hammer films listed have a direct link their page in our main filmography by clicking on “Hammer” – to return to this page click on Michael’s name in the cast list.

FilmYearCharacterProduction Company
1984
1956Outer Party OratorHoliday Films
A Case for PC 491951George SteeleHammer
A Matter of Who1961SkipperForey
Adventures of P.C. 49, The1949FingersHammer
Alf's Baby1953MikeAdelphi Films Ltd
Amorous Mr. Prawn, The1962AngusUnion Films
Anatomist, The
1961HareBritish International Pictures
Appointment in London1952Bomb AimerMayflower/British Lion
Belles of St Trinnian's1954Albert FanningLondon Film Productions (UK)
Blood Orange1953EddieHammer
Blue Murder at St. Trinian's1957LiftmanBritish Lion Film Corporation
Bobbikins1960Naval Petty Officer20th Century Fox (US)
Brides of Dracula, The 1960CoachmanHammer
Busman's Holiday1937CrookGeorge Smith Productions
Captain Boycott1947Pat NolanJ Arthur Rank Films
Captain Clegg1962MippsHammer
Circle of Deception, A1961Chauvel20th Century Fox (US)
Constant Husband, The1955Left Luggage AttendantBritish Lion Film Corporation
Creeping Flesh, The1973CarterTigon Films
Crossed Swords1977Edith's ServantWarner Bros. USA
Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, The1964AhmedHammer
Curse of the Werewolf, The1961Old SoakHammer
Danger On Dartmoor1980Cast MemberChildrens Film Foundation
Dangerous Youth1957Pte SimpsonWarner Bros.
Dark Road, The1948Andy AndersonHammer
Darts are Trumps1938UncreditedGeorge Smith Productions
Dead Lucky1960Peter SimpsonA.C.T.
Deadly Bees, The1966David HawkinsAmicus Films
Devil-Ship Pirates, The1964PepeHammer
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave1968MaxHammer
Easy Riches1938CuthbertGeorge Smith Productions
Folly to Be Wise1953LandlordBritish Lion Film Corporation
Further Up The Creek1958Ticket CollectorHammer
Girls at Sea1958JumperAssociated British Pictures
Girly1970Zoo AttendantFitzroy Films
Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery, The1966LiftmanBritish Lion Film Corporation
Green Man, The1956WaiterBritish Lion Film Corporation
I Only Asked!1958AzimHammer
Inspector Clouseau1968FreyMirisch Films
Intruder, The1955ChauffeurBritish Lion Film Corporation
Jackpot1960Lenny LaneGrand National Pictures
Lady Godiva Rides Again1951Stage ManagerLondon Film Productions
Le Petomane1979Sergeant MajorUnknown
Legend of the Werewolf
1975SewermanTyburn Films
Let's Have a Murder1950Film Studios Manchester
Lost Continent, The1968Sea LawyerHammer
Man Who Could Cheat Death1959Morgue Attendant (uncredited)Hammer
Moon Zero Two1969First Card PlayerHammer
Mummy's Shroud, The1967LongbarrowHammer
Mummy, The1959PoacherHammer
Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly1969AttendantRonald J. Kahn Productions
No Sex, Please - We're British1973WardenBHP Films
No Surrender1985Tony Bonaparte
Channel Four Films
Not a Hope in Hell 1960Sid Roger Proudlock Productions
Not Wanted on Voyage1957Steward MacyByron Films
Old Mother Riley's Jungle Treasure1951JakeRenown Picture Corporation
Oliver Twist1948BarneyJ Arthur Rank Films
Out of the Fog1962TichEternal Films
Petticoat Pirates1961TugABP
Phantom of the Opera, The
19621st CabbyHammer
Pirates of Blood River, The1962MacHammer
Plague of the Zombies, The1966Sergeant SwiftHammer
Prince and the Pauper, The
1962TownsmanWalt Disney (Television)
Prize of Arms, A1962Corporal FreemanByranston Pictures
Punch and Judy Man, The
1963WaiterA.B.P.C.(UK)
Pure Hell of St. Trinian's, The
1961LiftmanBritish Lion Film Corporation
Quatermass 21957ErnieHammer
Rainbow Jacket, The
1954Benny LorderEaling Studios
Rasputin: The Mad Monk
1966Waggoner (voice) (uncredited)Hammer
Reach for the Sky1956Warrant Officer WestRank Organisation (UK
Reptile, The
1966Tom BaileyHammer
Revenge of Billy the Kid1992Old Pub LocalMontage Films
Revenge of Frankenstein, The
1958KurtHammer
Richard III
1956Forrest, 2nd MurdererLondon Film Productions
Sammy's Super T-Shirt
1978GatemanChildren's Film Foundation
Scarlet Blade, The
1963PabloHammer
Scars of Dracula
1970LandlordHammer
Sea Shall Not Have Them, The
1954BotterhillAlliance Film Studio
Seaside Swingers
1965Mr PulmanFitzroy-Maycroft
Secret of Blood Island, The
1965Lt TojokoHammer
Secret People, The1952CharlieEaling Studios
Secret Venture
1955Bill RymerRepublic Picture Corporation (US)
Sink the Bismarck!1960Lookout on Suffolk (Uncredited)Twentieth Century Fox
Spy Who Came In from the Cold, The
1965Lofthouse (uncredited)Salem
Steel Bayonet, The
1957Pte. MiddleditchHammer
Story of Gilbert and Sullivan, The1953LouisLondon Film Productions
Strange Adventures of Mr Smith
1937Undetermined Role (uncredited)George Smith Productions
Tale of Three Women1954SimkinsDanziger Productions Ltd.
Taste the Blood of Dracula
1970CobbHammer
That's Your Funeral
1972ArthurHammer
Torture Garden
1967Gordon RobertsAmicus Fillms
Treasure Hunt1952Removal Man (uncredited)Romulus
Two Left Feet1963Uncle Reg
British Lion Film Corp
Ugly Duckling, The1959FishHammer
Wee Geordie1955ReporterArgonaut/British Lion
What a Crazy World
1963The Common ManAssociated British Pictures
Where the Bullets Fly
1966AngelPuck Films
Woman in a Dressing Gown
1957PawnbrokerAssociated British-Pathe
X the Unknown
1956Sergeant GrimsdykeHammer
Yield to the Night
1956RoyAllied Artists Pictures Corp
Your Witness
1950Sam BaxterCoronado Productions