The following extract is from Geoff Tibballs' 'Randall & Hopkirk deceased'(London: Boxtree Limited 1994), pp.42-45.
When Mike Pratt died of lung cancer on 10 July, 1976, television lost one of its most familiar faces. Once described as having 'the weather-beaten looks of a mountainside which has been battered by the elements and can go on taking as much as nature cares to give', he had slugged his way to fame, either as hero or villain, in countless productions.
He tried to strangle Roger Moore in 'The Saint'; gave Patrick McGoohan a sound beating in an episode of 'Danger Man', and was the villainous Simey in 'The Adventures of Black Beauty'. Yet this was also the man who composed that perennial children's favourite, 'Little White Bull', for Tommy Steele. Yes, Mike Pratt was respected by John Drake and Uncle Mac alike.
Born in London on 7 June 1931, the son of a journalist-turned-advertising man, Mike had always harboured dreams of becoming an actor. 'When I was 14, I wanted nothing more than to be an actor but, moving around at the end of the War, I lost sight of that.' Instead he followed in his father's footsteps and worked for five years as an advertising copywriter. However he retained his interest in the theatre and landed a job as an assistant on a revue entitled 'Memories of Jolson' which introduced a young Shirley Bassey to the world at large. He admits: 'I never did discover what my primary task was supposed to be. I did all sorts of things backstage, the most important of which seemed to be to retrieve the musical director's false teeth, which he had a habit of taking out and leaving around without being able to remember just where. I became the unofficial private eye - an early Jeff Randall - from the day I first found those missing molars for him.'
Sensing that the role of denture detective was unlikely to lead to a glittering theatrical career, Mike returned to advertising for a year although he combined it with a little part-time acting in minor roles.
A restless spirit, Mike decided it was time to see more of the world. So he quit the agency and, together with three friends, one of whom was Lionel Bart, 'bummed my way around Europe in an old taxi.' The quartet had clubbed together and bought the cab for 12pounds. They then shipped it across to Scandinavia and embarked on an extremely rough guide of Europe.
Mike was also passionate about music. He was an accomplished jazz musician and on their return to London in 1956, Lionel Bart introduced him to another friend at a party - a young sailor named Tommy Hicks. Meeting a sailor at a party has led to the downfall of many a promising showbusiness career but for Mike, it was to be just the boost he needed. Tommy had a guitar and could sing, while Mike played the piano. They became firm friends and when Tommy was discovered by legendary promoter Larry Parnes (later nicknamed 'Mr. Parnes Shillings and Pence')at Soho's famous number 2 coffee bar, and left the Merchant Navy to become Tommy Steele, Mike collaborated with him on writing his songs. They formed a group called The Cave Men, named after The Cave, the run-down coffee bar which was one of their old haunts, and proceeded to play in pubs and coffee bars for ten shillings a night.
In the autumn of 1956 Mike was responsible for Tommy Steele's first hit, 'Rock With The Caveman', a little ditty which reached number 13 in the UK charts. Tommy's career exploded and he soon made a film based on his life, 'The Tommy Steele Story', for which Mike wrote the songs.
By then, Mike already had his own folk group, the Cotton Pickers. With Mike himself playing the piano and that indispensable instrument the washboard, the group picked up a number of club engagements and broadcasting dates. Meanwhile he continued to keep his hand in at acting, albeit still in walk-on roles.
Not seriously considering devoting his future entirely to acting, Mike's thoughts turned to writing and he went off to Spain to write a couple of plays which, many years later, had yet to see the light of day. Returning to Britain, he penned sketches and scripts for various revues and television shows as well as the story and songs for Tommy Steele's 1959 film, 'The Duke Wore Jeans'. The following year, Tommy enjoyed his biggest movie success to date with 'Tommy the Toreador'. Again Michael Pratt, as he was then known, composed the songs, including the catchy 'Little White Bull'.
A shortening of his name to Mike Pratt in the early sixties coincided with steady headway in his stage career. He graduated from the vast legion of unknown extras and found himself appearing in such films as 'The Party's over', 'Repulsion' and 'This Is My Street'. In the latter production, made in 1963, he played Sid, June Ritchie's slovenly husband who 'eats in his vest and dries his face with the tea-cloth.' His pretty schoolteacher sister-in-law was played by a young Australian actress by the name of Annette Andre!
'I remember that film well,' says Annette. 'Ian Hendry and John Hurt were in it too. Mike was a lovely man to work with. He was the sort of guy who burned the candle at both ends - he enjoyed to work and play - and beneath that rough, wonderful face he was such a sweetheart. He was a marvellous actor and we had a lot of fun. I miss him very much.'
Standing 6ft.1inch tall and with his rugged countenance, Mike discovered a lucrative line in playing villains in the many adventure series of the day. In addition to the treatment dished out to Messrs Moore and McGoohan, as a hired hitman he murdered Patrick Wymark and shot Richard Johnson in the 1964 play 'A Question About Hell'. Producers obviously also concluded that the Londoner could pass himself off as a foreign national. In two further episodes of 'Danger Man', he was cast as a Russian and a Bulgarian and again stepped behind the Iron Curtain for an episode of 'Callan' in which he played a Russian diplomat. Most remarkable of all, in 'A Question About Hell', Mike appeared as half-Negro. The make-up department must have been working overtime that night.
He played a car racketeer in 'Gideon's Way', a rebellious submarine engineer in 'The Champions' and appeared in such popular series as 'Redcap', the military drama starring John Thaw, 'No Hiding Place', 'The Man in Room 17', 'Court Martial' and 'Market in Honey Lane'. He even strayed to the right side of the law as a detective sergeant in an episode of 'Man in a Suitcase'.
But it was 'Randall & Hopkirk (deceased)' which propelled Mike Pratt to star status. Production finished in the late summer of 1969 and early the following year he was cast in an episode of Gerry Anderson's 'U.F.O.' He then made a conscious decision to steer clear of television for a while and in May 1970 began a six-month season of Shakespearean plays at London's Mermaid Theatre.
After his Shakespearean break, he threw himself back into television with a vengeance, playing a man who accidentally killed a hitchhiker in 'The Expert' starring Marius Goring, and then a racing driver with marital problems in the Gerald Harper vehicle, 'Hadleigh'. Still in 1971, he starred in Ian Curteis's BBC2 trilogy 'Long Voyage Out Of War' as army deserter Turk Godfray. The powerful plays, described by Mike Pratt as 'The most challenging and demanding role I have ever had to play', illustrated the effects of war during three stages of Godfray's life. The part required the actor to age from 21 to 56.
Monty Berman cast him once more in an episode of 'Jason King' and in 1973 he appeared as Mordant, a 6th century Celtic horseman in the children's adventure series, 'Arthur Of The Britons.'
In 1975, he portrayed alcoholic airline pilot Don Stacy in two episodes of the popular BBC family saga 'The Brothers'. This was to be his final role. He had been ill for some time and was finally admitted to hospital in January 1976. Six months later, the battle against lung cancer proved one fight too many for Mike Pratt.
Although his appearance in 'The Brothers' was a brief one, it attracted a ble following and in August, 1976, one month after his death, the remaining cast of the series plus a number of other celebrities, including Glenda Jackson, John Le Mesurier and Kenneth Haigh, staged a special show in his honour at London's Aldwych Theatre. Proceeds went to his family.
As Kenneth Cope sums up: 'Michael was a great loss, both to the industry and as a friend.'