John Fraser as Flt Lt John Hopgood in The Dam Busters
The actor John Fraser, who died on 6 November, is one of the last people who had a credited part in the Michael Anderson 1955 film The Dam Busters. Many of the online obituaries described him as having a “starring role”, but that is a bit of an overstatement, given that he only has a few lines. In his hilarious 2004 autobiography, Close Up, he mentions it just once as one of a string of four films he made in the mid 1950s in quick succession.
In The Dam Busters John Fraser played Flt Lt John Hopgood, the pilot of AJ-M on the Dams Raid. What is rarely noticed is that AJ-M’s bomb aimer was also called John Fraser, and that he was one of the three men who survived being shot down on the attack and spent the rest of the war in a PoW camp. (Readers of this blog will also know of the long running saga about his stolen logbook, and the efforts of his daughter Shere to recover it.)
John Fraser (the actor) is of interest to social historians in that he was a gay man taking his first steps in the acting trade when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. A number of other closeted gay men from that period, such as Laurence Harvey and Dirk Bogarde appear in the cast of thousands in Close Up. It also includes louche individuals such as Stephen Ward, who sent him to a London brothel in an attempt to change his sexuality.
In a distinguished career Fraser made many more films, with starring roles in El Cid, Tunes of Glory and The Trials of Oscar Wilde, where he played the playwright’s young lover, Bosie, and was nominated for a BAFTA. He also appeared in a number of stage roles which led to a brief career as a pop singer, with a hit called “Why don’t they understand?”. This resulted in appearances on Six Five Special and a concert with Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele at the Albert Hall. (You can hear him sing the song here on YouTube.)
Publicity photograph of John Fraser – once dubbed “the handsomest man in Britain” – at the height of his 1950s popularity.