Anthony Ainley

Last updated 09 January 2020

Anthony Ainley (1932-2004)
(this image appears for illustrative purposes only and no attempt is made to supersede any copyright attributed to it)

Anthony Ainley né Holmes

Born: Saturday 20th August 1932
Died: Monday 3rd May 2004 (age: 71)


Anthony Ainley was an English actor best known his role as the Master in Doctor Who.

He was born in Stanmore, Middlesex, the illegitimate son of the actor Henry Ainley(1879-1945) and Clarice Holmes. Known as Tony, he was brought up in the Actors Orphanage alongside his elder brother Timothy, but showed little interest in acting at an early age, with his first career instead being as an insurance clerk. He also showed a keen interest in sports, engaging in rugby and - his major passion in life - cricket.

He adopted his father's surname when his interest in acting grew (perhaps to raise awareness of himself through his that respected name). Having graduated from RADA, he had an early regular role as Det. Sgt Hunter, sidekick to William Mervyn's Chief Inspector Rose in the second series of It's Cold Outside in 1966. Other notable roles include a subaltern in the 1969 film version of Oh! What a Lovely War, Dietz in the 1975 film version of The Land That Time Forgot, Fallowfield in the Tigon film Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), Henry Sidney in Elizabeth R (1971), Clive Hawksworth in Spyder's Web (1972), Rev. Emilius in the BBC's adaptation of The Pallisers (1974), Johnson in the first episode of the BBC programme Secret Army (1977), and Sunley in The Avengers episode "Noon Doomsday" (1968). He was also one of the Hong Kong policemen who discover James Bond's supposed corpse in the opening sequence of You Only Live Twice (1967).

Ainley played the role of the wealthy young peer Lord Charles Gilmour in the ITV series Upstairs, Downstairs (1973).

Reportedly, it was his performance as Rev. Emilius (in The Pallisers) that led to him being offered the role of the Master by John Nathan-Turner, who had worked on The Pallisers seven years before becoming producer of Doctor Who.

Ainley first appeared in The Keeper of Traken alongside Tom Baker - the two got on well as the latter was a friend of his half-brother Richard Ainley(1910-1967, also an actor). Becoming the Master at the end of that story, he went on to reprise the role in some nine further adventures, appearing at least once in every series to 1986, and in the very last story of the series' original run, Survival in 1989. He returned to the role once more to provide the links for the1997 BBC computer game Destiny Of the Doctors.

By the 1980s he had effectively retired from acting, except for his occasional Doctor Who appearance, living on private means. Instead, he continued to engage in his love of cricket right up until his death in 2004.