Glamorous star of the BBC's Paul Temple and voice of Captain Scarlet
Tall, slender and with a quietly amused expression, Francis Matthews, who has died aged 86, was ideally suited to play Francis Durbridge's gentleman sleuth Paul Temple, in the popular television adaptations of the 1960s and 70s. But his 60-year career also spanned horror films, comedy and modern classics, and as the voice of Captain Scarlet he reached a new generation of admirers.
Paul Temple, which started in 1969 and ran for 64 episodes, was one of BBC1's first colour series. From its second season onwards it was co-produced with a West German company, enabling extensive film sequences and overseas locations, the glamour of which, as well as being beyond the reach of the BBC alone, transferred to Matthews and his co-star Ros Drinkwater, playing his wife, Steve. The couple appeared almost impossibly elegant to television audiences of the day, George Sewell as their down-at-heel sidekick helping to underline their suavity.
His Home Counties image notwithstanding, Matthews was a man of the north, born in York, to Henry, a shop steward at Rowntree, and Kathleen. Visits to the theatre were a childhood highlight, and after a Jesuit education at St Michael's college in Leeds, his entreaties for backstage work at that city's Theatre Royal paid off. He first acted in a Bradford production of The Corn Is Green in 1945, before national service in the Royal Navy intervened. Following a countrywide tour with Dame Flora Robson in 1954 of No Escape, by the Welsh novelist Rhys Davies, Matthews made his West End debut in 1956. His television debut, for the BBC in its single-channel days, was in Prelude to Glory (1954). For Durbridge, he first did My Friend Charles (1956), as a seemingly affable fellow revealed in the last episode to be a drug-dealing villain.
Matthews's first film was the Raj tale Bhowani Junction (1956), directed by George Cukor for MGM, in which he played one of the men in Ava Gardner's life. He later told Gardner's biographer, Lee Server, that he was briefly involved with the star. His clean-cut qualities were also at work in several horror movies. He was an eager assistant to Peter Cushing in Hammer's The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), then played Boris Karloff's son in Corridors of Blood (1958), with Christopher Lee. Matthews grappled with Lee, on the same sets, in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965) and Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966).
While making The Dark Island (1962), a BBC Scotland thriller series with Robert Hardy, Matthews became engaged to his fellow actor Angela Browne. They married the following year. Matthews was on Broadway in September 1966, but Help Stamp Out Marriage!, by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, ran for less than a month at the Booth Theatre.
On and off screen, he enjoyed himself with the comedians Morecambe and Wise – particularly Eric Morecambe, with whom he shared the hobby of making home movies. He was a Secret Service stooge in the pair's debut film The Intelligence Men (1965) and at their request he had a cameo, fawning over Eric, in That Riviera Touch (1966). He worked with them again on several of their television shows, including their 1971 and 1977 Christmas specials
Overhearing an interview in which Matthews did a jokey impression of Cary Grant, the producer Gerry Anderson cast him in his puppet saga Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (ATV, 1967-68). Matthews, who once listed "talking to children" among his hobbies, was probably pleased with the series' enduring appeal, although later, participating in conventions and interviews, he observed of the fans: "They dress up and stare at you when you're signing the autograph, as if you're some kind of extraordinary god!"
Having worked with the writer Alan Plater and producer David Rose on Z-Cars (1965), he did two series of Trinity Tales (1975) for them. In this reimagining of the Canterbury Tales, with boozy rugby fans replacing pilgrims, Matthews called on his working-class upbringing to play Eric the Prologue.
There was a touch of Reggie Perrin in Middlemen (1977), in which Matthews floated ideas for absurd businesses. Charles Wood's autobiographical Don't Forget to Write! (1977-79), starring George Cole as a playwright with low self-esteem, was much liked within the industry and by the discerning public. Graham Greene's May We Borrow Your Husband? (1986), adapted by and starring Dirk Bogarde, cast him as one of a gay couple. There were paternal roles in Heartbeat (2002) and The Royal (2003), and a Rik Mayall vehicle, All About George (2005). On radio, Matthews played Charles Paris, Simon Brett's ham actor turned detective.
Stage work included roles in My Fair Lady, as Higgins, on a European tour, in Frederick Lonsdale's Aren't We All?, with Rex Harrison and Claudette Colbert, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket (1984), Middle Age Spread at the Apollo (1980) with Rodney Bewes, Badger in the National Theatre's Wind in the Willows at the Old Vic (1995) and The Kingfisher at the Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford, and on tour (2006), with Honor Blackman. The following year, he played Herr Schultz in the Lyric's revival of Cabaret, with Blackman again.
His wife died in 2001. He is survived by their three sons, Paul, Damien and Dominic, and five grandchildren.
• Francis Matthews, actor, born 2 September 1927; died 14 June 2014