Arts

Cult Movie: There was more to Dave Prowse than just Darth Vader

The late Dave Prowse on the set of Star Wars
Ralph McLean

IT'S been said that during their shared days on the international bodybuilding circuit, Dave Prowse, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferringno were great friends. It's quite the thought to imagine the future Darth Vader, Terminator and Hulk shooting the breeze over a protein shake in some regional recreational facility café, isn't it?

Coincidently, it was in just such an establishment that I had my only face to face meeting with the mild mannered Dave. Admittedly, Maysfield Leisure Centre was being used for a comic convention at the time, but the connection with the man's past life pumping iron and the like was sweet all the same.

The Bristol born strongman, who passed away this week at the age of 85, was a true gentle giant, modestly recalling his glory days in front of camera in that famously soft West Country burr that meant George Lucas would use his 6ft 6in physical bulk but not his voice for the central character of Sith Lord Darth Vader in his original Star Wars series.

Prowse was, as every fan who met him will testify, a gentleman, only too happy to talk about his time behind the mask and sign endless autographs for millions of admirers, myself included, with the legend "the force is strong in you!" scrawled at the end.

However, there was much more to athlete-turned-actor Prowse than just Darth Vader. Regular watchers of creaky old cult British TV can look out for his early cameos in everything from The Saint to Space 1999 and he even graced a Doctor Who episode, The Time Monster, with Jon Pertwee in 1972.

Movie wise, he made his bow in the wildly overegged Bond spoof Casino Royale in 1967 and starred for Hammer films not once but twice as the central beast in the jokey Horror Of Frankenstein (1970) and the excellent Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell (1973). He also plays a scantily clad strongman in director Robert Young's weird and wonderful Vampire Circus (1972), a personal favourite of mine from the tail-end of the house of horror's golden era.

Prowse got his Star Wars break when director George Lucas spotted him playing a bodyguard in Stanley Kubrick's notorious 1971 offering A Clockwork Orange – where he apparently bonded with the notoriously actor-phobic director over their shared love of weightlifting – but his favourite on-screen role came in the form of The Green Cross Code Man, who would stride purposely across British TV screens from 1975 onwards in a series of adverts teaching kids about the importance of road safety.

Dressed up like a lycra clad superhero with a huge green X emblazoned across his chest, he appeared as if by magic when kids felt the need to run across the road without looking left and right. His catchphrase "Remember, I won't be there when you cross the road" is burnt into the psyche of 1970s kids everywhere.

That this character trumps Vader for the number one spot in his heart tells you everything about Dave Prowse the family man that you could ever want to know.

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