Russell Hunter

Russell Hunter (18 February 1925 – 26 February 2004)[1] was a popular Scottish television, stage and film actor. He is perhaps best known as the character "Lonely" in the TV thriller series Callan, starring Edward Woodward; and that of shop steward Harry in the Yorkshire Television sitcom The Gaffer.

Russell Hunter
Russell Hunter as "Lonely" in Callan
Russell Ellis

(1925-02-18)18 February 1925
Glasgow, Scotland
Died26 February 2004(2004-02-26) (aged 79)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Spouse(s)Marjorie Thomson
(m. 1949–19??)
Caroline Blakiston
(m. 1970; div. 19??)
Una McLean
(m. 1991)


Born Russell Ellis in Glasgow, Hunter's childhood was spent with his maternal grandparents in Lanarkshire, until returning to his unemployed father and cleaner mother when he was 12. He went from school to an apprenticeship in a Clydebank shipyard. During this time, he did some amateur acting for the Young Communist League before turning professional in 1946.[1]


Early work

Under the stage name Russell Hunter, he acted at Perth Rep and at the Glasgow Unity Theatre also performing in the very first Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1947 in The Plough and the Stars by Seán O'Casey, was a comedian in summer variety shows and toured with a one-man show.

Hunter worked in repertory theatre and Scottish variety before making his film debut in Lilli Marlene (1950). In the same year, he appeared in the film The Gorbals Story,[1] which featured members of the Glasgow Unity Theatre including Archie Duncan and Roddy McMillan. The film also featured Hunter's first wife, Marjorie Thomson. He followed these by playing a pilot in the Battle of Britain drama Angels One Five in 1951.

As an actor, he joined Peter Hall's Royal Shakespeare Company, working with Peggy Ashcroft and Dame Edith Evans.[1]


His most memorable role was the timid, smelly petty criminal, Lonely, unlikely accomplice to a clinical spy-cum-assassin, in the downbeat 1967 television spy series Callan.[2] Reportedly, he said of his identification with Lonely that "I take more baths than I might have playing other parts. When Lonely was in the public eye I used only the very best toilet water and a hell of a lot of aftershave."[2]

After playing Costard in a BBC television production of Love's Labour's Lost (1965), Hunter was cast as Lonely in ITV's "Armchair Theatre" production A Magnum for Schneider in 1967, which introduced the secret agent Callan to the screen. Four series followed (1967, 1969–72). Hunter and Edward Woodward reprised their roles in both a 1974 feature film of the same name and, seven years later, in the television film Wet Job, by which time Lonely had gone straight, got married and was running a plumbing company called Fresh and Fragrant.[2] The title plays on "wet job" the euphemism for murder or assassination.

Other roles

During his years with Callan, Hunter acted in the Hammer horror film Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and took the roles of Crumbles, Dr Fogg and Dr Makepeace in an ITV production of Sweeney Todd (1970), He also appeared in the British comedy film Up Pompeii (1971) as the Jailer.

He had two notable appearances in one-man plays performed on BBC Scotland in the early 1970s: Cocky, where he played Henry Cockburn, Lord Cockburn, which ended with his speech to the jury defending Helen McDougal, Burke's wife, in the Burke and Hare case, and Jock, where he played an archetypal Scottish soldier guarding a military museum. In 1974 he played Ted, a simple-minded but kind-hearted man in a two-part story in Rooms (TV Series), two-part dramas concerning the various drifters who rent rooms in a lodging house. In 1975 he played a Scottish painter in the BBC's adaptation of the Lord Peter Wimsey story The Five Red Herrings. In 1979, at the artist's request, he opened the Edinburgh Festival Exhibition of the Glasgow artist Stewart Bowman Johnson held at the Netherbow Gallery. Hunter's other TV credits include The Sweeney, Ace of Wands (as the evil magician Mr Stabs, a role he reprised in an episode of the anthology series Shadows), Doctor Who: Robots of Death, Farrington of the F.O., The Bill, A Touch of Frost, Taggart, sitcoms Rule Britannia (1975) as the Scotsman Jock McGregor and shop steward in The Gaffer (1981–83), and his last ever TV appearance, in the BBC drama Born and Bred. In his last years he reprised his Doctor Who role for a series of audio plays released on CD, Kaldor City. He also appeared in an episode of Mind Your Language as a minor character in the episode "I Belong To Glasgow". He also appeared in the TV sitcom Lovejoy as a Scottish submariner in the episode "Angel Trousers".

He also appeared as different characters in the pilot and series of the BBC sitcom Rab C. Nesbitt.

Personal life

In 1949, Hunter married Marjorie Thomson and had two daughters. In 1970, he married actress Caroline Blakiston after they both appeared in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park.[2] They had a son and a daughter. His third marriage, in 1991, was to fellow performer Una McLean.[2]


Although in the advanced stages of cancer, Hunter's last theatrical stint was in the Reginald Rose play 12 Angry Men at the same, if inconceivably expanded, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with which he had remained inextricably linked.[1]

Despite being ill, Hunter received positive reviews for his appearances in the feature film American Cousins late in 2003 and as a priest in the film Skagerrak.[2] In November, American Cousins, Hunter's last movie role, received the Special Jury Prize at the Savannah Film Festival in the United States, ending a career spanning six decades.[3]


Russell Hunter died aged 79 at Edinburgh's Western General Hospital of lung cancer.[3]


Year Title Role Notes
1950The Gorbals StoryJohnnie Martin
1950Lilli MarleneScottie
1952Angels One FivePimpernel Pilot
1952The Brave Don't CryPolice Sergeant
1970Taste the Blood of DraculaFelix
1971Up PompeiiJailer
1981Never Say Die!
1984The Masks of DeathAlfred CoombsTV movie
1986The Christmas StarOld McNickle
2003American CousinsNonno


  1. Wilson, Brian (1 March 2004). "Obituary: Russell Hunter". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  2. "Russell Hunter : Obituaries". The Independent. 28 February 2004. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  3. "Scots actor Russell Hunter dies". BBC News. 26 February 2004. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
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