Roger Delgado

Roger Delgado

His eyes were intense and expressive, often conveying a sense of cunning or mystery, a well-defined jawline added to his authoritative demeanour, he sported a neatly trimmed moustache and goatee, which further emphasized his sophistication and intrigue. His voice was rich and resonant. Whether he was delivering menacing lines or engaging in witty banter, his vocal presence was captivating. Roger Delgado’s appearance was perfectly suited to the enigmatic evil Time Lord, The Master (the original you might say), an unforgettable antagonist in the Doctor Who universe.

Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto was born in Whitechapel, East London, on 1 March 1918, during the last air-raid of the First World War. He often remarked to Doctor Who co-star and close friend Jon Pertwee that this made him a true Cockney as he was born within the sound of Bow bells, even though his mother was Belgian, and his father was Spanish. He wouldn’t have had much time to lay any Cockney roots though, because he was brought up in the much ‘posher’ area of Bedford Park in West London and attended Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, a Roman Catholic secondary school in Holland Park, and the London School of Economics, - no doubt influenced by his father who was a banker - but only stayed for a brief period, leaving before he completed his degree.

He went to work in a bank in the City of London, but one Friday afternoon in 1938, he walked out of the bank and onto the stage of the Theatre Royal, Leicester, performing with the Edward Nelson Players repertory company.  By the following Tuesday he was rehearsing You Can’t Take It With You, an American play about the son of a snobbish Wall Street banker who becomes engaged to a woman from a good-natured, but decidedly eccentric family.

Roger Delgado

Delgado was a natural performer, and by 1939, critics were already picking him out for special praise. In July of that year, The Stage reported: ‘In the presentation of "Young Woodley" by the Edward Nelson Players an outstanding performance in the title role is given by Roger Delgado, (who) scored a great success in conjunction with Peggy Diamond as the housemaster's wife, who is also convincing,’ whilst another critic remarked that, ‘Roger Delgado holds the audience throughout.’ He continued in Rep up until November, again delighting audiences with a performance in French without Tears – ‘Roger Delgado does good work in a French character’, but soon after he joined the Leicestershire Regiment and the Royal Corps of Signals, serving for the remainder of the Second World War, attaining the rank of major.

After the war, Delgado returned to the theatre and starred in The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan in a sensational year-long run at the Lyric Theatre, London, before touring the UK in the play, appearing in March 1948 at the Empire Sunderland, and in April at Prince of Wales Theatre, Cardiff. Three months later he made his television debut in Distinguished Gathering, a play broadcast live on the BBC from the stage of The Intimate Theatre, Palmers Green.

During this period, Delgado married Olga Anthonisz, but the marriage ended in divorce some years later.

Roger Delgado

Delgado’s first taste of serialised television came in the 1954 series The Three Musketeers in which he portrayed Athos, alongside Laurence Payne as D’Artagnan, Paul Whitson-Jones as Porthos and Paul Hansard as Aramis.

In 1956, Delgado was cast in The Alien Sky, a BBC play - set in June 1947, two months before the end of the British Raj in India. The producer needed a beautiful girl and chose a half Italian, half English, photographer's model – Kismet (Latin for fate). “When a man meets fate face to face there is not much he can do about it," said Delgado. "I'm only glad my fate is so beautiful." A few days after meeting, they were married.

Roger Delgado

Following The Three Musketeers, Roger Delgado began to appear on television with great regularity. He appeared in an episode of Quatermass II, three episodes of The Buccaneers, all six episodes of Huntingtower, a now ‘lost’ teatime adventure series which also starred future Doctor Who actor Frazer Hines, The Silver Sword, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Hancock’s Half Hour, Paul of Tarsus (starring Patrick Troughton) and Sir Francis Drake as the Spanish Ambassador, Mendoza. As an in-joke, the 1971 Doctor Who story Colony in Space refers to his role in Sir Francis Drake, when the Brigadier tells the Doctor not to worry as the suspected sighting of the Master "was only the Spanish Ambassador". Whilst these adventure series were hugely popular with the age group they were aimed at and entertained without winning any critical favour, Delgado still got excellent reviews for his more serious work. The 1957 Play of the Week story - Knife in the Family by best-selling author Jon Cleary was picked out for praise with Delgado "giving a viciously convincing performance as Lou."

Roger Delgado

Because of his swarthy looks, Delgado was frequently cast as a foreign police officer, an embassy official or a villain (sometimes the latter two were one and the same), appearing in many British action-adventure TV series by ITC, including Danger Man, The Saint, The Champions, Jason King, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and The Persuaders. Delgado made a total of 16 guest appearances in ITC shows, the most of any actor, with the last being The Zoo Gang.

Roger Delgado

In late 1970, Delgado took on the iconic role of The Master in Doctor Who. His first appearance was in the adventure titled Terror of the Autons in January 1971. He continued to portray the Master in several Third Doctor serials, including The Mind of Evil, The Claws of Axos, Colony in Space, The Dæmons, The Sea Devils, The Time Monster, and Frontier in Space. Cast as the Doctor’s Moriarty, Delgado firmly established himself in timelore. But after playing The Master in 37 episodes, he had decided to call it a day and a final episode was planned for The Doctor and The Master. Tragically, it would never be made.

Whilst shooting La Cloche tibétaine (Tibetan Bell), a Franco/German mini-series in Nevşehir, Turkey, on 18 June 1973, Delgado was killed when the car in which he was travelling went off the road into a ravine. His body was returned to the UK where he was cremated at Mortlake Cemetery in Southwest London, his ashes scattered in the Garden of Remembrance.

Jon Pertwee often remarked that Delgado's death was one of the reasons he decided to leave Doctor Who the following year.

Roger Delgado’s contribution to the world of entertainment remains significant, especially for his memorable portrayal of the enigmatic and malevolent Master, a character, in many different incarnations, that has continued to the present day. Delgado was the masterful actor who brought him to life. His sinister charm and twinkling eyes captivated audiences. A timeless villain, forever etched in our hearts.

Published on March 24th, 2024. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

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