John Levene

Born: 24th December 1941 (as John Anthony Woods)
Episodes Broadcast: 1968, 1970-1975


Born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, John Woods' early life was marred by a blood disorder which kept him out of school for several years. By 1966, Woods was married and living in London. He was working in a men's clothing store when actor Telly Savalas encouraged him to apply to be an extra on the feature film The Dirty Dozen. This inspired Woods to join the actors' union Equity; since there was already an actor using his name, he adopted the surname of boxing promoter Harry Levene (although he would sometimes be credited as “John Levine” instead). Levene was soon appearing regularly as an extra, including as a Cyberman in the 1967 Doctor Who story The Moonbase.

Levene soon started to amass some minor credited roles, including as a Yeti in 1968's The Web Of Fear. The serial was directed by Douglas Camfield, who also cast Levene in an episode of Detective. When Camfield made The Invasion at the end of the year, he cast Levene as Corporal Benton of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT). Levene was soon back on Doctor Who as a Yeti for a scene in The War Games, Patrick Troughton's final story as the Second Doctor. In 1970, however, Camfield invited Levene to return as Benton for Inferno. This led to the character also being written into The Ambassadors Of Death, where he was promoted to sergeant. Levene appeared regularly in Doctor Who over the next several years, with Benton becoming part of the “UNIT Family” which formed around the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. The inclusion of UNIT was gradually phased out once Tom Baker took over as the Fourth Doctor, and Levene's final appearance was in 1975's The Android Invasion.

In the mid-Eighties, Levene embarked upon a new career as a cruise ship performer

While making Doctor Who, Levene also had roles in a variety of programmes such as The Rivals Of Sherlock Holmes, Callan and The Jensen Code. Occasional movie appearances included Psychomania and Permission To Kill. By the mid-Seventies, however, Levene concluded that his acting prospects were limited. In 1977, he instead established an audio-visual company called Genesis Communications. His marriage had produced a daughter, Samantha, and a son, Jason, but ended in divorce in 1980. In 1983, Levene declined to appear in the Doctor Who twentieth-anniversary special, The Five Doctors, but he did reprise Benton for Recall UNIT! or The Great Tea Bag Mystery, a farce performed at the 1984 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. By that time, Levene was drifting between a number of odd jobs, including private detective; in the mid-Eighties, however, he embarked upon a new career as a cruise ship performer. In 1987, he played Benton again in the Reeltime Pictures video drama Wartime.

By the Nineties, Levene had relocated to the United States and begun acting again in programmes like BeetleBorgs; he now often used the name “John Anthony Blake”, from his mother's maiden name. In 1992, he married Jennifer Wegner, whom he had met at a science-fiction convention. After living in North America for two decades, Levene returned home to Salisbury to care for his elderly mother. In 2012, he released an album called The Ballads Of Sergeant Benton. The following year, Levene made his debut for Big Finish Productions, playing Benton in Council Of War, part of The Companion Chronicles range of audio dramas. In 2019, Fantom Publishing released Levene's autobiography, Run The Shadows, Walk The Sun: A Life.

Actor, Yeti
The Web Of Fear
Actor, Sergeant Benton
The Invasion
The Ambassadors Of Death
Terror Of The Autons
The Mind Of Evil
The Claws Of Axos
The Daemons
Day Of The Daleks
The Time Monster
The Three Doctors
The Green Death
Invasion Of The Dinosaurs
Planet Of The Spiders
Terror Of The Zygons
The Android Invasion

Updated 8th July 2020