Obituary: Mick Dillon

Daily Telegraph


Mick Dillon, who has died aged 80, was a jockey, stunt man and actor, and the only man to "double" for Buster Keaton.

Keaton insisted on doing all his own stunt work, but by the time he was on location in Spain for A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966), which also featured Phil Silvers and Michael Crawford, he was old and frail, and the job of running through a wood in the middle of a chariot race was beyond him. Dillon took his place, and was promptly knocked over by a chariot in rehearsals. Keaton died just months later.

Danger was a staple of Dillon's work. In the Beatles' film Help! (1965) he doubled for Ringo Starr, first disappearing through a hole in a stage while playing a drum kit and then hanging by one boot from a skilift. In the Bond movie You Only Live Twice (1967) Dillon slid down a rope into a mock volcano; for The Charge of The Light Brigade (1968) he fell off a horse in place of David Hemmings. In an episode of The Goodies he walked along the top of a double-decker bus doubling for a "sleep-walking" Bill Oddie.

Dillon broke a collar-bone crashing through the wing of a steeplechase fence in Dead Cert (1974), but this was a minor inconvenience compared to the injury he suffered when he fell out of a vintage racing car rounding a hairpin bend for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) - on that occasion he fractured his skull.

Michael Patrick Dillon was born on June 15 1926 at Epsom, Surrey, the son of a head lad in a racing stable. His grandfather, Patsy Dillon, was a racehorse trainer at Tralee, Co Kerry, whose methods were far from conventional. He used to put his apprentices on yearlings and tie their legs together underneath the horse; if the boys fell off, they would be thrashed.

All Patsy's sons were sent to be apprenticed in England, and two of Mick's uncles went on to become top-class jockeys. Bernard won the 1910 Derby on Lemberg, but is probably best remembered for his tempestuous marriage to the music hall star Marie Lloyd. Joe, meanwhile, won the 1903 Irish Derby on Lord Rossmore when he was only 15, and rode in four Grand Nationals.

Mick Dillon was educated at Lintons Lane Secondary School, Epsom, where he became head boy. Given his background, however, he was always destined to go into racing, and he began riding out for Bobby Dick in 1936; he was later apprenticed to Cecil Ray and Johnny Dines. The abiding memory of his first ride in public, at Nottingham in April 1941 as a 14-year-old, was a voice from behind in the 29-runner field shouting: "Put that whip down, you bloody little fool!" This was the soon-to-be-crowned champion jockey, Harry Wragg.

Dillon joined the RAF in June 1944, but on the day he was called up his father, Jack, insisted that he go to Stockton to ride a mare called Lady Electra, who duly won. The air commodore must have been a racing man, for Dillon escaped punishment when he arrived a day late.

His increasing weight caused Dillon to turn to National Hunt racing, and he was still riding jumpers in the late 1950s, when the world of films offered a new career. Jockeys were wanted for a starting gate scene in the Norman Wisdom film Just My Luck (1957), and Dillon was soon on the stunt register of Equity.

He shared shifts with two other stunt men inside Gorgo (1961), a disgruntled monster from the deep that emerged from the river Thames and proceeded to trample all over some of the capital's most famous landmarks. Dillon also appeared in an ill-fitting plant mutation costume (it barely concealed the carpet-slippers worn to eliminate the sound of footsteps) in The Day of The Triffids (1963), and was inside a Dalek that disappeared down a lift shaft in Dr Who and the Daleks (1965).

In the Royal Ballet's adaptation of Tales of Beatrix Potter in 1974 it was Dillon, not the dancer Michael Coleman, who received a dunking when Jeremy Fisher was yanked off a giant lily-pad as he tried to land a fish.

As an actor, Dillon seemed uncomfortable with the script when he took a leading role as a racehorse trainer in the BBC's children's series Jockey School in 1982. He was, though, much more at ease in BBC2's racing drama Whip Hand (1974). The director, Les Blair, let the actors choose the words; and Dillon was, according to one reviewer, "absolutely confident and convincing as the head lad".

Dillon later worked as a starting stalls handler on racecourses until his retirement in 1986.

Mick Dillon died on July 23. He married, in 1948, Brenda Freeman; she died in 2001, and he is survived by their two daughters and one son.