Tributes to ‘larger than life, flamboyant’ film star and war hero who spent last years of his life in West Sussex

Classical film star and real life war hero Ian Yule has been remembered by friends as a ‘flamboyant’ character with ‘undeniable talent’ after his death in West Sussex.

Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 10:54 am

British-born South African actor and screenwriter Ian Yule, who starred alongside huge names including Roger Moore, Oliver Reed, Bob Hoskins, Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Christopher Lee, died, at the age of 87, at Leaholme care home in Chichester on Thursday, December 3. 

Best known for his role as former SAS mercenary Tosh Donaldson in The Wild Geese (1978), Ian was born in Hendon, London in 1933 and joined the Royal Artillery as a boy soldier at 16. According to Fireforce Ventures, he fought in Korea and saw action during the landings at Incheon and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

In the early 1960s, Ian was recruited by Mad Mike Hoare’s mercenary 5 Commando, where he served during the Congo Crisis. He later joined the Rhodesian Security Forces and SADF.

In the early 1960s, Ianwas recruited by Mad Mike Hoare's mercenary 5 Commando, where he served during the Congo Crisis. Helater joined theRhodesian Security Forces and SADF.

He was said to be involved as an extra, when he was in the British Army, on Ben Hur and The Longest Day.

Ian eventually settled in South Africa where he became embroiled in the film and television world. 

Life-long friend Paul Rowlston met Ian in the late 1980s in Johannesburg, where the film star had developed a strong bond with Oliver Reed. 

“Ian was the closest thing we had to our own Oliver Reed,” Paul said. “They gravitated towards each other.

Ian Yule (right) was best known for his role as former SAS mercenary Tosh Donaldson in The Wild Geese

“They got on splendidly because they had exactly the same sort of double fisted, hard-drinking, hard-charging approach to life and it was an interesting proposition to have both of them on a film set. 

“Ian was an absolute character but also one of the finest television actors I saw and an amazing writer. He was a teller of tall tales.

“If Ian was to be believed, he fought in every single battle since Trafalgar and met every famous Hollywood celebrity from Sinatra on down. 

“He was a reasonably big star and a very accomplished, in demand, writer for quite a long time.

Ian hadan adopted family inZimbabwe

“He was one of the best screen actors I ever saw working in South Africa. He was legitimately, a talented screen actor. He had a big personality and undeniable talent. In his day, he was quite brilliant.”

Despite living a ‘very colourful life’, Ian sadly ended up with ‘very little to show for it’ and ‘very few people around him’, Paul explained.

Fireforce Ventures said Ian became ‘increasingly debilitated’ and ‘almost completely deaf and blind’ due to old war wounds.

In 2015, Ian was evacuated by the South African Legion to receive long term care in Chichester, where it was discovered that he was ‘almost completely deaf and blind’.

Fireforce Venture said Ian's story 'is the stuff of legend', adding: "There will never be another like him."

Ex-British serviceman, Graham Goodwin, from Lavant, offered to house Ian upon his return to the UK. 

He said: “He stayed with my wife and I for around two months. I got to know him quite well.

“He was the highest paid actor in South Africa at one stage but, unfortunately, he had a bit of bad advice from an agent in the past and never took any royalties on his films. He took a lump sum. If he was given better advice, he would have been set for life with royalties.

“He wrote a screenplay in South Africa, he was told it was a flop but the producer re-released it in American under another title. 

“Once he stopped working, he found himself destitute in South Africa.

“It was near Christmas when he arrived and my wife bought him a Christmas jumper and other bits of pieces. It was probably the first kindness anyone had done him in years.

“He was extremely pleased with it. He had a big, cheesy grin on his face.”

Graham said he became ‘very fond’ of Ian and was intrigued by his stories of the film world. 

He said: “Some days his memory would be fine and he would tell us some outrageous stories and other days, he wouldn’t be able to remember.

“We were like a couple of kids listening to his stories. Some were funny and some were sad.

“He could wrap a web around you and you wouldn’t even know it. That’s what made him a good actor. 

“When Ian entered a room, you noticed him. There was no mistaking Ian Yule was in the house. He was flamboyant. 

“He lived a full life.”

Ian moved to Leaholme care home in April 2016, where he remained for the rest of his life. He had left behind an adopted family in Zimbabwe, where he got married in the late 1990s, according to Paul.

Paul said Ian still kept in contact, as best he could, with his son, Sidwell. 

Despite still living and working in Johannesburg, Paul ‘made the pilgrimage’ to Chichester from time to time, to see his friend.

“He had a very tough life and reached the point where his eyesight was gone, his hearing was gone,” Paul said. “He had terrible back pain and hip trouble. 

“It got increasingly hard to speak to him over the phone. From what little money he got from his pension, he was constantly sending money over to Johannesburg to help Sidwell live his life. buying him clothes and still trying to be a father. His focus at the end of his life was to provide for his adopted family. 

“I would visit whenever I got the opportunity. Everyone needs someone.”

Leaholme care home staff said Ian was a ‘much respected resident’. 

A spokesperson said: “Ian was a character. He particularly loved to talk about his acting and the war he served in. He was very thoughtful and cared very much about others.

“He will be sadly missed by everyone that knew him.”

Fireforce Ventures, in its post on social media, said Ian’s story ‘is the stuff of legend’, adding: “There will never be another like him.”

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