Barry Foster (actor)

John Barry Foster (21 August 1932 – 11 February 2002)[1][2] was an English actor who had an extensive career on stage, television, radio and cinema over almost 50 years. He is probably best known for playing the title character in the British crime series Van der Valk (1972-92), and Bob Rusk in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972).

Barry Foster
Barry Foster (1972).jpg
Barry Foster (1972)
John Barry Foster

(1932-08-21)21 August 1932
Died11 February 2002(2002-02-11) (aged 69)
Guildford, Surrey, England
Years active1954–2000
Judith Shergold
m. 1955; his death 2002)
Children3; including Joanna Foster

Early lifeEdit

Foster was born in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, the son of a toolsetter. His family moved to Hayes, Middlesex, when he was a few months old. He received his formal education at Southall County Grammar School.[3]

After leaving school, Foster trained as a plastics organic chemist at the local EMI Central Research Laboratories, while unsuccessfully submitting ideas to advertising agencies.[3] Having been "called to the Colours" under the National Service Act 1948, Foster served with the Royal Air Force.[4]

He subsequently trained as an actor, having won a scholarship to train at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London,[1] where he earned the affectionate soubriquet 'Fozza' (which would stay with him throughout his life), arriving there aged 20. It was here he became friends with actor and playwright Harold Pinter.[5] Foster would much later appear on stage in three of Pinter's plays, The Basement and The Tea Party and A Slight Ache in 1987.


Foster's professional stage debut came in 1952 as Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice in County Cork. Then in 1955 he made his London stage debut as the Electrician in The Night of the Ball at the New Theatre (now the Noël Coward Theatre). His first film role was in the war film The Battle of the River Plate (1956), as part of the crew of HMS Exeter, in which he played Able Seaman Roper. Over the next decade and a half, he performed in such films as Joseph Losey's King and Country (1964), The Family Way (1966), Robbery (1967), Inspector Clouseau (1968), Battle of Britain (1969), and David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970).[6] He had a regular role in the TV series The Troubleshooters (1965).[7] In 1970 he played a Fenian revolutionary paramilitary leader in David Lean's epic Ryan's Daughter.[8] In 1972 he played two roles, on opposite sides of the law. First was the cynical Dutch detective Van der Valk, the second was as a serial murderer in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy. Frenzy was one of Hitchcock's last films, made after the end of an acclaimed and commercially highly successful career, and caused controversy for the scene in which Foster was required to simulate a rape and murder, driven by Hitchcock's desire to prove that he was still relevant as a director in the permissive atmosphere in the arts of the post counter-culture of the 1960s age. Michael Caine had previously rejected an offer of the role, having criticised the production's nature.[9] The Van Der Valk role would resurface twice more in Foster's career, in 1977 and once more in the early 1990s.[5] Shortly after the third series in 1978, Foster took on the role of Sherlock Holmes in a series of radio appearances for the BBC.[10] He recorded 13 episodes of the Holmes canon, with David Buck as Dr. Watson. He was also seen on BBC television in Fall of Eagles (1974) in the role of Kaiser Wilhelm II and as the condescending chief of British Intelligence in the adaptation of the John le Carré novel Smiley's People (1982), starring Alec Guinness. During this time he appeared in the films Sweeney! (1977), spun off from the TV series; The Wild Geese (1978), Merchant Ivory's Heat and Dust (1983), The Whistle Blower (1986) and Maurice (1987).[11]

From the 1990s, Foster mainly performed on stage. He took on the role of Inspector Goole in J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls in a production directed by Stephen Daldry. In 2000 he starred as Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle directed by Julia Stafford Northcote. From 2001–2002, he performed in a run of Yasmina Reza's stage play 'Art' in London's West End.[5]


Foster became ill while appearing in a play in the West End on Friday the 8th of February 2002 and was taken to hospital. He died of a heart attack aged 69 on 11 February 2002 at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, in Guildford, Surrey, not far from where he lived.

A funeral service was held for him on 21 February 2002 at St. Stephen's Church, at the village of Shottermill near Haslemere. His body was cremated at Guildford Crematorium, and his ashes divided, part being interred at St. Stephen's Church in Shottermill, and the remainder being interred in France.[12]

Personal lifeEdit

He married Judith Shergold in 1955 in Birkenhead, the marriage producing two daughters and a son. After Foster's death, a trust was set up, entitled the Barry Foster Memorial Award, to help disabled children become involved in the theatre.[13] Foster was a talented amateur pianist, with a taste for jazz music.[14]





  1. ^ a b Purser, Philip (11 February 2002). "Barry Foster: Versatile actor best known for his portrayals of Orde Wingate and a Dutch detective". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  2. ^ "Barry Foster". The Telegraph, London. 12 February 2002. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Barry Foster". The Independent. 13 February 2002.
  4. ^ 11 February 2002 Death Notice for Barry Foster, 'Family Announcements' online archive database. Archived 15 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c "BFI Screenonline: Foster, Barry (1927-2002) Biography".
  6. ^ "Barry Foster | Movies and Filmography". AllMovie.
  7. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Mogul/Troubleshooters, The (1965-72)".
  8. ^ "Ryan's Daughter (1970) - David Lean | Cast and Crew". AllMovie.
  9. ^ 'Michael Caine explains Hitchcock feud', Daily Express, 22 March 2010.
  10. ^ Brown, Hugo. Retrieved 5 February 2015. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ "Barry Foster". BFI.
  12. ^ Entry for Barry Foster, 'Resting Places: The Burial Sites of more than 14,000 Famous Persons'. by Scott Wilson. 3rd Edition. (Pub. McFarland & Company. Inc., 2016).
  13. ^ 'The Arts Professional', 17 November 2003.
  14. ^ Obituary notice for Barry Foster, 11 February 2002. Archived 15 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit