The man who was…Mike Gambit…
The passage of time can play funny tricks on one’s mind and memory. As I write this in 2015 I find it hard to believe that Gareth Hunt died eight years ago, it seems so much more recent. Equally, those of us old enough to recall the Nescafe adverts he used to record in the 1980s will doubtless feel it was a lifetime ago. Remember the shake of the hand to reveal the coffee beans before he smelt the aroma of Nescafe’s finest beans? Those adverts personified Gareth Hunt, he was ever the smooth, charming gentleman with a shade of naughty rebellion. He was the perfect actor for television in the 1970s and we loved him for it.
Born Alan Leonard Hunt in 1943 he lost his father in the Second World War when he was but two years old. By the age of fifteen he had enlisted in the Merchant Navy but jumped ship in New Zealand where he lived and worked for a year before being arrested and imprisoned for three months. Upon deportation back to Britain he went through a number of jobs before getting his TV break in 1968. He featured in a number of shows throughout the early seventies, including Dr Who and Bless This House before securing his name and reputation in Upstairs Downstairs from 1974 until 1976.
It was his role as the footman in Upstairs Downstairs that won him the role of Mike Gambit in the iconic espionage series The New Avengers in which he starred alongside Joanna Lumley and the recently deceased Patrick Macnee. In truth, Hunt was the only reason I stuck watching the series. I never did, nor do ‘get’ The Avengers. It was ‘tongue-in-cheek’ but never quite funny enough and it seemed like watching a Cold War version of Doctor Who when you inevitably question the logic of trying to understand an indescribable plot. But Gambit was cool, and like Bodie and Doyle in The Professionals or Ian Ogilvy as The Saint he was all that we wanted to be. But with the advent of a new decade came a change in fortune and the 1980s was a forgettable period in Hunt’s career.
But still he worked and by the end of the nineties he had appeared in small roles in many television book and film adaptations, thrillers and romances. Into the 2000s and he could be seen in the biggest drama of them all, Eastenders, a final hurrah in a career which afforded him a comfortable lifestyle which yielded three wives and a fixation for golf. But look beyond his coffee induced on-screen flirtations with Liza Goddard and Una Stubbs and remember an actor trained by the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company who gave boys growing up in 1970s Britain something cool to aspire to.
Gareth Hunt suffered a number of heart attacks before dying from pancreatic cancer in 2007.
Categories: Retro Heaven