Born: 1st March 1918 (as Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de
Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto)
The son of a Spanish father and a French mother, Roger Delgado was born in London's East End, in Whitechapel, but raised further west, in Bedford Park. His father was a bank clerk who encouraged Delgado to pursue the same profession. To this end, Delgado enrolled at the London School of Economics, but left before finishing his education. He nonetheless tried his hand at banking, but soon decided to pursue a career as an actor in repertory theatre. During the Second World War, Delgado served with the Leicestershire Regiment and then the Royal Corps of Signals, eventually earning a promotion to major. It was during this time that he met and married his first wife, Olga, although they would later divorce.
Following demobilisation, Delgado resumed his theatre career. He was in the cast of Richard II when it was broadcast on BBC Radio in 1947, from which time Delgado worked prolifically for the service. Another play, Distinguished Gathering, provided his first television appearance the following year. Delgado's movie debut came in 1952, with Murder At Scotland Yard. His big break, however, came on the small screen in 1954, when he was cast as Athos in The Three Musketeers. Other Fifties television included Quatermass II, Huntingtower and Queen's Champion, while The Battle Of The River Plate was amongst his silver screen appearances. On the 1956 telefilm The Alien Sky, he worked with model and actress Kismet Shahani; they would marry the following year.
The Sixties was a tremendously busy decade for Delgado, particularly after his stint as the villainous Spanish ambassador in Sir Francis Drake. He was in everything from Z Cars to The Third Man to The Avengers to The Man In The Iron Mask. Delgado also wasn't averse to comedy, such as a 1968 appearance on Harry Worth. He continued to appear in films, including The Road To Hong Kong, part of the long-running series of comedy films starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and Hammer horrors like The Terror Of The Tongs and The Mummy's Shroud. On radio, Delgado appeared in Victor Pemberton's 1966 thriller The Slide, which started life as an unmade Doctor Who serial and later inspired Pemberton's Second Doctor adventure Fury From The Deep. This was a rare heroic role for Delgado, whose character -- Chilean seismologist Professor Joseph Gomez -- effectively took the Doctor's place in the narrative. Most often, his exotic looks made him a natural screen villain, often of a foreign persuasion.
Delgado was a friend of Doctor Who producer Barry Letts, with whom he had appeared on several occasions during Letts' acting days. As such, when Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks began developing the Master, a new recurring villain to bedevil Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor, Delgado was an obvious choice for the role. He debuted in 1971's Terror Of The Autons and appeared in all five of the serials which comprised the programme's eighth season. After that, with the production team concerned that the Master's involvement was becoming too predictable, he appeared twice during Season Nine and only once in Season Ten, in Frontier In Space.
At the same time, Delgado had roles in programmes such as The Persuaders!, The Rivals Of Sherlock Holmes and Jason King, as well as the 1972 Charlton Heston film adaptation of Antony And Cleopatra. However, he increasingly found that casting directors were labouring under the mistaken assumption that he had a regular commitment to Doctor Who. As such, Delgado asked Letts and Dicks to write the Master out of the show, and the character's self-sacrificial demise was planned for “The Final Game” at the end of the 1974 season. In the meantime, Delgado was cast in a mini-series called La cloche tibétaine (ie, The Bell Of Tibet), some of which was being filmed in Turkey. On June 18th, 1973, he arrived at the airport in Nevşehir, where a car waited to chauffeur him to the filming location. Tragically, the driver took a turn too quickly on a mountain road, and the vehicle plunged into a ravine. Delgado and at least one film technician were killed.
La cloche tibétaine was completed and, alongside a 1974 episode of The Zoo Gang, these broadcasts marked Delgado's final televised work. His widow, Kismet, was subsequently cast as the voice of an alien arachnid in Planet Of The Spiders, the serial which took the place of “The Final Game”. In 2018 a biography by Marcus K Harmes, entitled Roger Delgado: I Am Usually Referred To As The Master, was released by Fantom Publishing.
|Updated 30th July 2020|
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