Frederick Piper (23 September 1902 – 22 September 1979) was an English actor of stage and screen who appeared in over 80 films and many television productions in a career spanning over 40 years.[1] Piper studied drama under Elsie Fogerty at the Central School of Speech and Drama, then based at the Royal Albert Hall, London.[2]

Frederick Piper
Born(1902-09-23)23 September 1902
London, England
Died22 September 1979(1979-09-22) (aged 76)
London, England
EducationCentral School of Speech and Drama
Years active1920s (theatre) 1933–1971 (film)

Never a leading player, Piper was usually cast in minor, sometimes uncredited, parts although he also appeared in some more substantial supporting roles. Piper never aspired to star-status, but became a recognisable face on the British screen through the sheer volume of films in which he appeared. His credits include a number of films which are considered classics of British cinema, among them five 1930s Alfred Hitchcock films; he also appeared in many Ealing Studios productions, including some of the celebrated Ealing comedies.[3]

Stage career


Born in London, England in September 1902, Piper worked as a tea merchant before starting his acting career on the stage in the 1920s, playing in London productions and also touring as far afield as Canada. He continued to appear in theatrical productions in the West End alongside his screen roles. These included appearances in the original runs of Barré Lyndon's The Man in Half Moon Street, Vernon Sylvaine's Nap Hand, N.C. Hunter's A Day by the Sea, Robert Bolt's Flowering Cherry and Home at Seven and The White Carnation by R.C. Sheriff.

Film career


His first film appearance came in the 1933 production The Good Companions.[4][5]

An unassuming man with no trappings of ambition or conceit, Piper rapidly earned a reputation as a reliable, congenial presence on set and became a first choice for directors with smaller roles to cast, accumulating screen credits at the rate of up to six a year through to the 1960s. He appeared as an extra in Hitchcock's 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much (credited as "Policeman with Rifle"), and the following year was cast again by Hitchcock in the role of the milkman in the famous scene with Robert Donat in The 39 Steps. Piper was only on screen for seconds, but the iconic nature of the scene ultimately made this probably his most famous film appearance.[6][7]

Later minor roles for Hitchcock were Sabotage (1936 – as the doomed bus conductor), Young and Innocent (1937) and Jamaica Inn (1939 – as Charles Laughton's agent).[8]

Piper's services were always in demand, and he is said to have once joked that he had cornered the market in unnamed police officers and barmen. From the late 1930s he became associated with Ealing Studios, appearing in dozens of their productions, from cheaply shot programmers through to the company's most prestigious films such as In Which We Serve (1942). Most of Piper's roles were fleeting and his name rarely appeared in promotional material, but there was an occasional more substantial part in films such as Nine Men (1943), The October Man (1947) and Hunted (1952). Other films include Hue and Cry, Passport to Pimlico (1949) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951).[9][10]

From the early 1960s film work began to dry up, but Piper continued to find work in television, a medium in which he had first appeared as early as 1938 in a production of J. B. Priestley's play Laburnum Grove for the fledgling BBC. His TV credits during the 1960s included popular series such as Danger Man, Dixon of Dock Green and cult favourite The Prisoner. Piper's last credit however was in a film, a minor role in the 1971 production Burke & Hare.[11]

Personal life


Piper lived in Windsor, Berkshire from the 1940s[12] and was married to the theatre director Joan Riley; their son, Mark Piper, also became a theatre director.[13] Frederick Piper died on 22 September 1979, one day short of his 77th birthday.




  1. ^ "Frederick Piper". BFI. Archived from the original on 11 July 2012.
  2. ^ V&A, Theatre and Performance Special Collections, Elsie Fogerty Archive, THM/324
  3. ^ "Frederick Piper".
  4. ^ "Overview for Frederick Piper". Turner Classic Movies.
  5. ^ "Frederick Piper". TV Guide.
  6. ^ McGilligan, Patrick (1986). Backstory. ISBN 9780520056893.
  7. ^ Vagg, Stephen (15 March 2020). "My Top Ten Bit Parts in Films". Filmink.
  8. ^ Per-Erik Skramstad. "Jamaica Inn".
  9. ^ Barr, Charles (1 January 1998). Ealing Studios. ISBN 9780520215542.
  10. ^ Ian T (24 April 2013). "Forgotten Actors".
  11. ^ "Frederick Piper".
  12. ^ 'Obituary: Frederick Piper', The Stage and Television Today, 18 October 1979, p.32.
  13. ^ 'Obituaries: Joan Riley', The Stage and Television Today, 20 June 1991, p.38.