Don Stannard

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The first star ever spawned by Hammer Films, Don Stannard enjoyed a brief career as a leading man before his tragic death at the age of 34. Born in Westcliffe-on-Sea in Essex, Stannard was the son of a banker and was interested in acting from childhood. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and initially got work as a stand-in for Robert Donat. His first real break came when he was spotted by MGM head Louis B. Mayer while the latter was visiting England. After being given a screen test, Stannard was signed by the studio, initially to work in the Robert Taylor vehicle A Yank at Oxford. Stannard had small roles in a few other Hollywood productions before returning to England in 1939. When the Second World War started that year, he joined the Royal Navy, serving for five years. He made his British screen debut in 1944, playing a small role in Maclean Rogers' feature Don Chicago. The following year, he played John Bevan in Robert Hamer's period crime melodrama Pink String and Sealing Wax (produced at Ealing by Michael Balcon) and donned the uniform of a Roman centurion in Gabriel Pascal's gargantuan production of Caesar and Cleopatra. Stannard went on to appear in ever larger roles, including the part of Detective Charlesworth in Lionel Tomlinson's 1947 thriller Death in High Heels, based on the debut novel of renowned mystery author Christianna Brand. That same year, Hammer Films licensed the movie rights to the character of Dick Barton, a two-fisted secret agent (created by Norman Collins for the BBC) in one of the most popular serials on British radio. Although the actor who did the voice of Barton on the air, Noel Johnson, was considered for the movie role, Hammer eventually went with the virtually unknown and less expensive Stannard. With his strong features and low-key yet commanding manner, Stannard fit the part well, though initially it was difficult for fans to discern his qualities. The Dick Barton movies got off to a rocky start with the first of them, Dick Barton, Special Agent (1948), which had too much comic relief and terrible pacing. The series was really established the next year, however, with Dick Barton Strikes Back, which was far more exciting and a much better made movie in every possible respect. Unfortunately, even before the sequel's release, the series was effectively dead, and so was Stannard. On July 9, 1949, the actor was traveling in a car with his wife and a pair of performers (one of them Sebastian Cabot) after attending a party when the vehicle went out of control. Stannard was killed in the crash, and Hammer, unable to recast the role, canceled production of the planned fourth Barton movie, Dick Barton in Darkest Africa. Stannard's final film was Oswald Mitchell's The Temptress in 1949; the Dick Barton series ended with Dick Barton at Bay, filmed in 1948 but issued in England in October 1950. In late 2003, Hammer Films and DD/DD Video re-released the three Dick Barton feature films in England in a heavily annotated, Region 2 DVD box set.



No Score Yet Dick Barton Strikes Back Dick Barton 1949
No Score Yet Dick Barton, Special Agent Dick Barton 1948
No Score Yet Pink String and Sealing Wax John Bevan 1946
No Score Yet Caesar and Cleopatra Special Roman Officer 1945


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