Whilst many actors are completely unlike the characters they portray on screen – John le Mesurier, for instance, who portrayed mild-mannered bank-clerk and Home Guard Sergeant in the popular 1970s BBC sitcom Dad’s Army was revealed by a TV documentary to have been a dope smoking sex-maniac in real-life – others sadly confuse their screen personas with real-life. Whilst it is well-known that Jack Lord refused to film a thirteenth season of Hawaii Five-O unless producers allowed him to use real bullets in his gun, less known is the fact that British actor Jack Warner – who played PC George Dixon, the avuncular title character of long-running BBC police series Dixon of Dock Green – would frequently wander around Soho wearing his police costume, propositioning prostitutes on the pretext the he was “pursuing sensitive enquiries”. “At first we thought we was a real copper, trying to get a special rate”, says Brenda Blower, who worked the Soho area as a prostitute in the early 1970s. “A lot of that sort of thing went on in those days – the Vice Squad were notorious for ‘taking you in for questioning’ then letting you off after a free ‘knee trembler’ in the cells”. Indeed, one of Warner’s favourite opening gambits involved cautioning prostitutes that they’d been a “naughty girl” and proceeding to frisk them in their back alley. “He’d often then claim that he had a warrant to search your premises and insist you took him to your flat”, recalls Blower. “Once there he’d start playing games – sometimes he’d be the good cop, others the bad cop. When he was the bad cop he’d handcuff you, then whip out his huge truncheon and try and menace you with it by slapping it repeatedly into the palm of his hand. He’d also do tricks with it, twirling it around and such like – it was always very well oiled! Finally, he’d make you squat down on his big blue bobby’s helmet.” When playing the good cop Warner would apparently get the prostitutes to strip naked, then make them a nice cup of tea. “When he was ready to have sex himself he’d stand stark naked in the middle of the room with his striped policeman’s duty armband hanging from his knob”, According to Blower, who also claims that Warner had some peculiar sexual preferences. “He’d insist you blew his big shiny policeman’s whistle as you climaxed – the noise was deafening, as he’d insist on imitating a police siren as he ejaculated!” The much-loved TV cop would, allegedly, sometimes prefer to take a submissive role, paying prostitutes to dress as policewomen and handcuff him naked to radiator before beating him with a lead-filled length of hose.
It is not just TV cops who suffer delusions – screen medics are equally likely to confuse fact and fiction. Many British TV viewers will doubtless fondly remember ITV’s Doctor in the House series and its many sequels during the 1970s. However, few will be aware that their star, the late Robin Nedwell, became so immersed in his role that he actually believed himself to be a doctor! He would frequently stroll into London hospitals wearing a white coat and carrying his prop stethoscope and examine unsuspecting patients. Suspicions were aroused in 1975 when three young women complained that they had been subjected to full gynaecological examinations at St George’s Hospital in Chiswick, despite only having visited the Accident and Emergency department with sprained ankles. “I thought a cold compress and elasticated bandage would be the best treatment”, commented one. “But he insisted that it was vital that he poured yoghurt into my vagina. Of course I agreed – he was a doctor!” Nedwell apparently also participated in several operations before his subterfuge was discovered. Fearing adverse publicity, the medical authorities hushed up his activities and confiscated his surgical tools. Undeterred, the confused thespian promptly set up his own health clinic, where he used a home-made set of medical apparatus to treat private patients. It was finally closed down in 1977 after Nedwell inadvertently removed a patient’s healthy left testicle whilst performing an appendectomy with converted potato peeler. Staff at the clinic were amazed to learn that their boss had no formal medical training. “Of course we thought he was a doctor – he had a certificate saying he’d graduated from medical school”, said one nurse. “Although I suppose we should have been suspicious of the fact that the X-ray machine looked suspiciously like a photocopier. In the wake of this scandal other bizarre facts emerged – Nedwell had once treated a man for venereal disease by boiling his genitals in vinegar, for instance. He had also used a tin-opener to make surgical incisions, used craft-knives instead of scalpels and used a desktop stapler to close wounds.
Robin Nedwell was not the first make-believe medic to attempt to live out his screen role in reality. During the 1940s noted horror star Boris Karloff portrayed so many mad doctors and scientists in B-movies that he began to live the part in teal life, conducting bizarre experiments in makeshift laboratory he constructed in the garage of his Beverley Hills home. “He was always concocting strange potions and getting his friends to unwittingly test them by claiming that they were new cocktails”, recalled Peter Lorre in 1966. He once gave Basil Rathbone a strange smoking concoction which resulted in the Sherlock Holmes actor’s pubic hair falling out and his penis turning green and becoming grotesquely swollen. Horror film actors seem particularly prone to confusing their real and celluloid lives. It has been well documented elsewhere how in 1934 Claude Raines came to believe that he actually was the Invisible Man. For several months he ran around Los Angeles stark naked, waving his penis at women and urinating on studio executives, in the belief that he couldn’t be seen. Lon Chaney Jnr suffered similar delusions when, in 1944, he took to shuffling around the dark alleyways of Hollywood in full Egyptian mummy make-up, occasionally leaping out at passers by and attempting to throttle them. In 1945 a local prostitute told the Hollywood Reporter that Chaney had visited her in his mummy costume and insisted that she dress up as ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti and lie in a sarcophagus whilst he masturbated over her. “Even his penis was bandaged up like a mummy – he was truly obsessed”, she told the newspaper. “When he ejaculated, a huge cloud of dust erupted from his wang. I’ve never figured out how he managed that!”