Archie Duncan, Villain and Hero

Archie Duncan (1914-1979) has the unique distinction of playing a villain and a hero in the world of Robin Hood. He played Red Gill, the murderer of Robin’s father in The Story of Robin Hood (1952) and Little John in 105 episodes of TV’s The Adventures of Robin Hood between 1955-1959. 

Archie Duncan is proving to be a popular choice for your favourite Little John of 'all-time' in our current poll (see the right-hand panel on this blog).

Archie Duncan

Archibald Duncan was born in Glasgow on 26th May 1914 and was educated at Govern High School. His father was a regimental sergeant major and his mother a postmistress. The Scottish actor Russell Hunter remembers ‘big Archie’ at a Communist Party Rally in support of the Soviet Union and the opening of a second front in 1941. Duncan was then working as a welder at John Brown’s Shipyard.

“I was looking for acting work,” Russell Hunter said. “Duncan came up to me and asked if I he had a big voice? I replied yes! So he invited me through to a back room, where I was asked to read the part of the fascist in the Saturday night production at the Partick Borough Halls. As the original actor had been called up.”

Archie Duncan later introduced Russell Hunter to the Glasgow Unity.

It was at the Citizens Theatre Company that Duncan joined the training ground of many Scottish actors including, Molly Urquart, Duncan Macrae, Gordon Jackson and Eileen Herlie. He then made his Scottish acting debut in Juno and the Paycock, playing all three gunmen, at Glasgow's Alhambra in May 1944.

Duncan's London debut came at the Phoenix Theatre in 1947 when he appeared with Alistair Sim and George Cole as Inspector Mc Iver in Dr Angelus.

Film roles started to follow with: Operation Bullshine (1948) Counter Blast (1948), The Bad Lord Byron (1949), Floodtide (1949), The Gorballs Story (1950), The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), Green Grow the Rushes (1951), Flesh and Flood (1951), Circle of Danger (1951) Henry V (1951), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) You're Only Young Twice (1952), Hot Ice (1952), Home At Seven (1952) and Walt Disney's The Story Of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men as 'Red Gill' (1952).

Archie Duncan as Red Gill 

Two years later Duncan teamed up with Richard Todd and James Robertson Justice again in Disney’s Rob Roy the Highland Rogue as Dugal Mac Gregor.

Archie Duncan as Red Gill with Richard Todd as Robin Hood

In-between these various film roles, came the first of his long running TV appearances in the early U.S. series Sherlock Holmes as Inspector Lestrade. But just as he was finishing the final recording of Sherlock Holmes in 1955, he was preparing for a role that he will always be fondly remembered.

Richard Greene as Robin Hood and Archie Duncan as Little John

6ft. 2inch Archie was to play the part of Little John for Sapphire Films in The Adventures of Robin Hood with Richard Greene, at Nettlefold Studios, the first production of the newly formed ITP company (later ITC). It was commissioned by Lew Grade and was shown in the first weekend of Independent television in 1955 and became a massive success, running to 143 episodes

Duncan's portrayal of Little John would be fondly remembered decades later for his combination of strength, skill and  humour.  It was during the filming this unforgettable series that this Scottish gentle giant proved to be a true hero and managed to prevent a runaway horse from hurtling towards a group of spectators, consisting of mainly children, watching close by. For this brave feat, he was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery and £1,360 in damages. But it also resulted in him missing the recording of eleven episodes of Robin Hood. So between times, a replacement was found in fellow Scotsman, Rufus Cruickshank.

After TV’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, Duncan’s most notable film roles were in Saint Joan (1957) and Ring of Bright Water (1969). 

Matt Robertson sent me this message:
"I think I remember "meeting" Archie Duncan when I was a child visiting grandparents at Linthouse, Govan. As I recall, Archie Duncan was occasionally in the small Post Office at Linthouse, his mother or sister was the postmistress there. I would have gone into the Post Office, along with other kids at the time, to shout out, "Who killed the otter?" He had been our hero as Little John on TV but whacked Mij in Ring of Bright Water."
Archie Ducan's career in television production carried on with parts in programmes like Z Cars, Hereward the Wake, Orlando, Black Beauty and Bootsie and Snudge. 

But in 1978 he suffered a massive stroke which caused paralysis down his right side. Sadly he passed away at Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone, London aged 65 on 24th July 1979. 

Don't forget to get involved and vote for your all-time favourite Little John in our poll in the right-hand task bar.

1 comment:

Clement Glen said...

Archie Duncan (1914-1979)

The Story of Robin Hood (1952)

The Adventures of Robin Hood) (1955-1959)