Barry Foster
Foster in 1972
John Barry Foster

(1927-08-21)21 August 1927
Died11 February 2002(2002-02-11) (aged 74)
Guildford, Surrey, England
Alma materRoyal Central School of Speech and Drama
Years active1954–2002
Judith Shergold
(m. 1955)
Children3; including Joanna Foster

John Barry Foster (21 August 1927[1] – 11 February 2002)[2][3] was an English actor who had an extensive career in film, radio, stage and television over almost 50 years. He was best known for portraying the title character in the British crime series Van der Valk (1972–1992) and Bob Rusk in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972).

Early life

Foster was born on 21 August 1927 in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, the son of a toolsetter. His family moved to Hayes, Middlesex when he was a few months old. He received his formal education at Southall County School.[4]

After leaving school, Foster trained as a plastics organic chemist at the local EMI Central Research Laboratories, while unsuccessfully submitting ideas to advertising agencies.[4] Having been "called to the Colours" under the National Service Act 1948, Foster served with the Royal Air Force.[5]

He subsequently trained as an actor, having won a scholarship to train at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.[2] He arrived there aged 20 and soon acquired the affectionate nickname "Fozza", which stayed with him for the rest of his life. It was at the Central School that he became friends with actor and playwright Harold Pinter.[6] Foster appeared on stage in three of Pinter's plays: The Basement, The Tea Party and A Slight Ache, in 1987.


Foster's professional stage debut came in 1952 as Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice in County Cork. In 1955, he made his London stage debut as the Electrician in The Night of the Ball at the New Theatre (now the Noël Coward Theatre). His first film role was in The Battle of the River Plate (1956), as part of the crew of HMS Exeter, in which he played Able Seaman Roper. Over the next decade and a half, he performed in Joseph Losey's King and Country (1964), The Family Way (1966), Robbery (1967), Inspector Clouseau (1968) and Battle of Britain (1969).[7] He had a regular role on the TV series The Troubleshooters (1965).[8] In 1970, he played a Fenian paramilitary leader in David Lean's epic film Ryan's Daughter.[9]

In 1972 Foster played two roles, on opposite sides of the law. The first was the cynical Dutch detective Van der Valk, a role he played, on and off, until 1992. The second was a serial murderer in Alfred Hitchcock's film Frenzy. Frenzy was Hitchcock's next-to-last film, made towards the end of an acclaimed and commercially highly successful career, and caused controversy for the scene in which Foster was required to simulate a rape and a murder, reportedly driven by Hitchcock's desire to prove that he was still relevant as a director in a more permissive age. Michael Caine had previously rejected the role and criticised the nature of the film.[10]

Shortly after the third series of Van der Valk, Foster took on the role of Sherlock Holmes in a series of radio plays in 1978.[11] He recorded 13 episodes of the Holmes canon, with David Buck as Dr Watson. Foster was seen on BBC television in Fall of Eagles (1974, in the role of Kaiser Wilhelm II) and as the condescending chief of British Intelligence in the adaptation of the John le Carré novel Smiley's People (1982). During this time, Foster appeared in the films Sweeney! (1977), spun off from the TV series; The Wild Geese (1978); Merchant Ivory's Heat and Dust (1983); The Whistle Blower (1986); and Maurice (1987).[12]

From the 1990s, Foster mainly performed on stage. He took on the role of Inspector Goole in J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls in a production directed by Stephen Daldry. In 2000, he starred as Prospero in The Tempest, directed by Julia Stafford Northcote at Stafford Castle. From 2001 to 2002, he performed in a run of Yasmina Reza's stage play 'Art' in the West End of London.[6]

Personal life

Foster married Judith Shergold in 1955 in Birkenhead, the marriage producing two daughters and a son. After Foster's death, a trust was set up, titled the Barry Foster Memorial Award, to help disabled children become involved in the theatre.[13] Foster was a talented amateur pianist, with a penchant for jazz music.[14]


Foster became ill while appearing in a play in the West End on 8 February 2002 and was taken to hospital. He died of a heart attack aged 74 on 11 February 2002 at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, Surrey, not far from where he lived.

A funeral service was held for him on 21 February 2002 at St Stephen's Church at the village of Shottermill, near Haslemere. His body was cremated at Guildford Crematorium, and his ashes divided, part being interred at St Stephen's and the remainder being interred in France.[15]





  1. ^ "Birth details at". 10 December 2022. Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  2. ^ a b Purser, Philip (11 February 2002). "Barry Foster: Versatile actor best known for his portrayals of Orde Wingate and a Dutch detective". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  3. ^ "Barry Foster". The Telegraph, London. 12 February 2002. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Barry Foster". The Independent. 13 February 2002.
  5. ^ 11 February 2002 Death Notice for Barry Foster, 'Family Announcements' online archive database. Archived 15 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b "BFI Screenonline: Foster, Barry (1927–2002) Biography".
  7. ^ "Barry Foster | Movies and Filmography". AllMovie.
  8. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Mogul/Troubleshooters, The (1965–72)".
  9. ^ "Ryan's Daughter (1970) – David Lean | Cast and Crew". AllMovie.
  10. ^ "Michael Caine Explains Hitchcock Feud", Daily Express, 22 March 2010.
  11. ^ Brown, Hugo. Retrieved 5 February 2015. ((cite web)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ "Barry Foster". BFI. Archived from the original on 7 April 2018.
  13. ^ 'The Arts Professional', 17 November 2003.
  14. ^ Obituary notice for Barry Foster, 11 February 2002. Archived 15 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Entry for Barry Foster, Resting Places: The Burial Sites of more than 14,000 Famous Persons by Scott Wilson (3rd ed., McFarland & Company. Inc., 2016).