Doug Robinson, daring stunt performer whose work included Where Eagles Dare and a string of Bond movies – obituary

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Doug Robinson, right, rehearsing a fight scene with Mickey Spillane preparing for a rare acting role in The Girl Hunters (1963) - Keystone Press Agency/Avalon
Doug Robinson, right, rehearsing a fight scene with Mickey Spillane preparing for a rare acting role in The Girl Hunters (1963) - Keystone Press Agency/Avalon

Doug Robinson, who has died aged 91, was a leading stunt performer who spent almost half a century dicing with death in everything from the Hollywood epic Ben-Hur to James Bond movies.

One of his most memorable daredevil scenes came when doubling for Telly Savalas – compete with skull cap – in the 1979 war film Escape to Athena.

In one sequence, Savalas’s Greek resistance leader sabotages an open-top German staff vehicle by draining the brake fluid – only to be caught by the enemy and put in the back of it. As it hurtles along narrow streets, “Savalas” overpowers an armed officer to make his getaway, with Robinson using his judo experience to flip backwards out of the vehicle and hit the ground.

Another spectacular scene, again in a war drama, Where Eagles Dare (1968), featured Robinson driving a German motorcycle, flying over the handlebars when it hits a fence at speed and throwing himself into a forward roll to land on his back in snow.

Not surprisingly, Robinson was in demand by the producers of the Bond films for 20 years, as well as appearing in two unofficial 007 releases, the spoof Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983), which brought Sean Connery back to the role.

Robinson’s baptism into the “official” 007 movies was painful. For You Only Live Twice (1967), he and Vic Armstrong, also then cutting his teeth in the stunt world, were among the “ninjas” abseiling down the inside of a dormant “volcano” – Blofeld’s lair – holding on to ropes and bolt guns when he was shot in the backside.

“Suddenly I felt this pain. I yelled, ‘Who did that?’ and everyone kept quiet.” Years later, Armstrong told him that he was the guilty party, his finger presumably having slipped on the trigger. It was, Robinson reflected, a “bloody good job we were using blanks!”

For A View to a Kill (1985), Robinson played one of the henchmen of the villainous industrialist Zorin, who break into the house of the heiress Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts). When Roger Moore blasts him with a shotgun loaded with “rock salt” on a staircase, he tumbles down the steps: “The producer said, ‘That was the best stair fall I’ve ever seen.’ The truth is I slipped and pretty much actually fell down the stairs.”

Together with his brother Joe (best known for his role as a jewel smuggler killed off by Connery with a fire extinguisher in Diamonds Are Forever), Doug Robinson ran a gym in London where they trained actors such as Connery, Albert Finney, Brian Blessed and Peter Bowles.

They also taught Honor Blackman judo for her TV role as Cathy Gale in The Avengers and wrote with her Honor Blackman’s Book of Self-Defence (1965).

Later, in Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) when performing a fight scene that required him to be thrown through a set wall he found himself landing at the feet of Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, who was visiting the studio . “I’m quite used to men falling at my feet,” he recalled her as saying, “but this is ridiculous.”

Douglas Bowerbank Robinson was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on February 8 1930 to Stella (née Hurle) and Joseph Robinson. His father and grandfather, John, were both heavyweight wrestlers.

Robinson’s family moved to South Africa and he followed when he was five. On leaving school, he became a miner in Port Elizabeth, then in 1951 travelled to Britain, where the following year his brother – who had already trained at Rada – won European Heavyweight Wrestling Championship, billed as “Tiger Joe” Robinson.

Doug had some success in the ring, too, and settled in Britain in 1954, the year he made his film acting début in the crime drama Meet Mr Callaghan. During a brief stage career, he played the gigolo Fabrice alongside John Gielgud in Noël Coward’s play Nude with Violin (Globe Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, 1956) and appeared at the Old Vic (1959-60).

Robinson played a prison warder in the film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1963) and on television was seen in a 1960 episode of Hancock’s Half Hour, grabbing Tony Hancock by the scruff of the neck, and in four different roles in The Avengers (from 1962 to 1964).

He also appeared alongside Honor Blackman as one of the Argonauts in the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts. But he was given the chance to break out of straightforward acting roles by joining the stunt team on the epic Ben-Hur and demonstrating his skills as a boxer in The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll (1960), a wrestler in the Norman Wisdom-starring comedy A Stitch in Time (1963), a judo expert in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and a horse rider in the historical drama Cromwell (1970).

He also performed stunts in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Batman (1989) and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), and other stars he doubled for over the years included Doug McClure in Warlords of the Deep (1978) and Gene Hackman, in the role of Lex Luthor, in Superman II (1980).

As a stunt arranger, Robinson worked on Zulu Dawn (1979) and Jane and the Lost City (1987), as well as episodes of the TV series The Bill in 1989. He retired in 1998.

Robinson’s four marriages, to Ulrica Thielke, Shirley Kemp, Jennifer Sanders and Stephanie Bemister, all ended in divorce. He is survived by the son and two daughters of his fourth marriage.

Doug Robinson, born February 8 1930, died December 16 2021

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