Clean-up TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse was not happy with the BBC or Bolton actor Frank Finlay in 1971.

She was particularly aggravated about Dennis Potter’s mini-series Casanova, broadcast with Finlay in the title role, on prime-time BBC2.

Casanova was Potter’s first series after writing various Plays for Today – and it was considered pretty racy half a century ago.

Frank Finlay as Henry VIII with his six wives, February 1978

Frank Finlay as Henry VIII with his six wives, February 1978

Protests apart, it drew a large viewing audience and Finlay was nominated for the Best Actor award at the 1972 BAFTAs.

Based on the memoirs of Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova from 1780 to 1792, the series also starred actress Zienia Merton who’d already become a familiar figure on the sci-fi series Doctor Who.

Casanova was not even considered the most risqué of Finlay’s roles. That honour went to the classic erotic Italian movie The Key directed by Tinto Brass in 1983.

Casanova actress Zienia Merton in an earlier role in Doctor Who, February 1964

Casanova actress Zienia Merton in an earlier role in Doctor Who, February 1964

Finlay played retired art teacher Nino Rolfe whose wife Teresa (Stefania Sandrelli) has a passionate affair with her daughter’s fiancé.

The film caused a degree of scandal due its explicit shots of nudity, yet became a commercial and critical success.

Controversy also dogged Finlay in the 1969 stage production The Son of Man, also originally written as TV play by Potter. It focused on the final days of Jesus, including the crucifixion.

David Essex and Sinitta starred with Frank Finlay in the musical Mutiny, July 1985

David Essex and Sinitta starred with Frank Finlay in the musical Mutiny, July 1985

At the end of the stage play, Finlay was left suspended on the cross for anything up to 15 minutes as the audience realised it was the end of the production – and went home. Our photo shows Finlay on an empty stage.

As well as breaking boundaries, Finlay’s brooding good looks earned him roles in some of the most popular programmes of the 70s – not least the TV favourite Bouquet of Barbed Wire starring Susan Penhaligon.

He also played Iago to Laurence Olivier’s Othello on stage and in the 1965 movie as well as Sancho Panza to Rex Harrison’s Don Quixote in 1973.

Susan Penhaligon, Frank Finlay’s co-star in Bouquet of Barbed Wire, January 1987

Susan Penhaligon, Frank Finlay’s co-star in Bouquet of Barbed Wire, January 1987

Perhaps the greatest measure of any entertainer’s fame in the 1970s was appearing on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show.

Finlay achieved the accolade in 1973 when he played a comic Casanova in Ernie’s play ‘what he wrote’ entitled Lust Over London. There was also an appearance from Eric’s 17th century Jacobean television set!

It was probably nothing like Finlay imagined his career would turn out when he first trod the boards at the Farnworth Little Theatre in 1951.

Laurence Olivier played Othello to Frank Finlay’s Iago in the 1965 film

Laurence Olivier played Othello to Frank Finlay’s Iago in the 1965 film

Born in Farnworth, Bolton, in August 1926, Finlay was the son of butcher Josiah Finlay and his wife Margaret. He attended St Gregory the Great School, but left at the age of 14 to train as a butcher himself.

He finished his apprenticeship and then joined the Guildford Theatre Company in 1957. He also won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London.

Finlay then landed a series of roles at the Royal Court Theatre, appearing in plays by Arnold Wesker. He made his Broadway debut in 1959 in John Osborne’s play Epitaph for George Dillon.

Rex Harrison played Don Quixote with Frank Finlay as Sancho Panza, January 1961

Rex Harrison played Don Quixote with Frank Finlay as Sancho Panza, January 1961

Finlay’s first major film was the 1962 movie The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, quickly followed up by playing Corsetiere in the 1963 British comedy Doctor in Distress.

In 1964, he portrayed Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard in the Sherlock Holmes’ film A Study in Terror which told the story of the Jack the Ripper murders.

Finlay then reprised the role in the acclaimed movie Murder by Decree in 1979, starring Christopher Plummer as Holmes and James Mason as Watson.

Frank Finlay left on stage at the end of the play Son of Man, November 1969

Frank Finlay left on stage at the end of the play Son of Man, November 1969

Playing Iago alongside Laurence Olivier in the 1965 film Othello earned Finlay nominations for best supporting actor at the Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globe ceremonies.

Finlay also portrayed Henry VIII in the short-lived Leslie Bricusse musical Kings and Clowns in 1978. It ran for 34 performances at London’s Phoenix Theatre.

In 1985, Finlay played Captain Bligh in the musical drama Mutiny! written by David Essex. Its theme was the mutiny on the Bounty with Essex starring as the rebellious Fletcher Christian alongside singer Sinitta.

Farnworth stage and screen actor Frank Finlay, May 1986

Farnworth stage and screen actor Frank Finlay, May 1986

Finlay portrayed publisher Peter Manson in the ITV programme Bouquet of Barbed Wire in 1976. The series, which focused on the relationship between Manson and his daughter Prue (Susan Penhaligon), attracted huge audiences.

Finlay won two BAFTA awards in 1973 for his performance as Sancho Panza with Rex Harrison as Don Quixote in the TV film The Adventures of Don Quixote and for playing Voltaire in the BBC production of Candide.

He was recognised by his home town in 2009 when he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bolton.

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