When crime writer Georges Simenon first met Rupert Davies, he immediately declared: ‘Maigret, c’est Maigret!’
Liverpool actor Davies looked exactly as Simenon had envisaged the famous French detective Jules Maigret in all his books. He was completely bowled over.
It couldn’t have been a better first meeting for Davies, who played the pipe-smoking Inspector Commissaire on BBC TV from 1960 to 1963.
The programme, shot mainly in the studio and occasionally on the streets of Paris, made Davies a household name. Ron Grainer’s distinctive theme tune won an Ivor Novello award.
Davies also won the 1962 British Academy Best Actor Award for his portrayal of the French sleuth.
Oddly, Davies was not the first choice for the part. Basil Sydney played the role for the pilot episode in 1959, but was unable to continue.
Maigret was rarely without his trademark pipe, which suited pipe-smoker Davies. He earned the distinction of being named the inaugural Pipe Smoker of the Year in 1975, along with CBI chief Campbell Adamson.
Davies and his pipe were rarely separated. He even went go-karting with it in a celebrity charity gala at Beaulieu as our photo shows!
After Maigret, Davies was rarely off British TV screens, appearing in Emergency Ward 10, Ivanhoe, The Champions and Danger Man.
He was even the voice of Professor Ian McClaine in the puppet adventure Joe 90, created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and played MP Vincent Broadhead in Quatermass II.
Born in Liverpool in May 1916, Davies honed his acting talents in the unlikely surroundings of prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III near Sagan during the Second World War.
After serving in the British Merchant Navy, Davies became a Sub-Lieutenant Observer in the Fleet Air Arm – and was shot down off the Dutch coast in 1940.
At Stalag Luft III, later portrayed in the classic 1963 movie The Great Escape, Davies took part in stage performances with some famous fellow inmates.
They included Peter Butterworth, who would later star in 16 Carry On movies, Sybil Thorndike’s son John Casson and writer and director Talbot Rothwell. The group became lifelong friends.
Their performances were a great help to escape bids. They caused so many boos and hisses that the Germans couldn’t hear the noise of a tunnel being dug! Davies himself was involved in three escape attempts.
After the war, Davies starred with other prisoners-of-war in the show Back Home at London’s Stoll Theatre and portrayed the Colonel in Alun Owen’s play The Rough and Ready Lot in 1959.
Then came Maigret and national fame. At the same time, another TV series was making a name for itself on the streets of Merseyside with a string of gritty storylines and powerful dramas. It was, of course, Z-Cars.
The two programmes actually came together in March 1965 when TV’s most famous cops, from all channels, put on a charity show at the Prince of Wales theatre, London.
A remarkable picture of the cast still exists. It shows Stratford Johns, Inspector Barlow in Z-Cars, trying to put a ‘policeman’s lock’ on Davies, far right. Other TV cops include Frank Windsor, Brian Blessed, Colin Welland, James Ellis and Johnny Briggs.
Davies played George Smiley in the movie The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in 1965 and appeared in a series of horror films, including Dracula Has Risen from the Grave with Christopher Lee and Witchfinder General, both in 1968.
In the latter, Davies was not amused to learn that live rats were going to be placed on his body in one of the torture scenes!
Director Michael Reeves told him not to move a muscle until one of the rats started nibbling his jaw. Then he might move his head – but just a little!
*Hundreds of pictures from an unforgettable decade are packed into Clive Hardy’s fascinating book Around Merseyside in the 1960s. It’s available at £9.99 plus postage and packaging.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or ring the hotline on 01928 503777.