Born to a Cockney family, Morse was a 15-year-old school dropout and errand boy when he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He performed the role of the Lion in Androcles and the Lion and as a result came to know George Bernard Shaw, a patron of the academy. His first paid job as an actor while still a student was in If I Were King. At graduation he starred in the title role of Shakespeare's Henry V, presented as a Royal Command Performance for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Upon graduation, Morse won the BBC's Radio Prize which led to several parts and a leading role in The Fall of the City. Later, among dozens of other roles, he played the lead in William Shakespeare's Hamlet and starred as Paul Temple in the radio series Send for Paul Temple Again. He later performed on CBC radio beginning in 1951 and continuing to the 1980s, including the long-running series A Touch of Greasepaint, the Joe McCarthy-inspired The Investigator and 1984. He also starred in a number of U.S. productions in the 1970s and 1980s for producer Yuri Rasovsky, including The Odyssey of Homer, which won a Peabody Award.
Morse's final radio performance, Rogues and Vagabonds - A Theatrical Scrapbook, aired on internet radio KSAV 7 August and 9 August 2007, prior to being released on compact disc. The hour-long special audio drama was composed of a half-dozen vignettes and performances culled from theatrical history, including William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.
Morse was a member of repertory theatre companies in Peterborough, Nottingham and other cities where he gained experience as an actor while playing more than 200 roles. In 1941 he joined the national tour of The First Mrs. Fraser starring Dame Marie Tempest and A.E. Matthews. He debuted on the London West End stage in The School for Slavery. Other West End productions included Escort, The Assassin and A Bullet in the Ballet. He was directed by John Gielgud in Crisis in Heaven. Morse developed a theatrical partnership with actress Nova Pilbeam, and they worked together both in film and on stage, most notably in the hit stage productions of The Voice of the Turtle and Flowers for the Living.
Morse made his film debut in the 1942 comedy The Goose Steps Out starring Will Hay and continued with roles in Thunder Rock, When We Are Married and This Man is Mine (released as A Soldier for Christmas in North America) with Glynis Johns and Nova Pilbeam. Other notable films include Kings of the Sun with Yul Brynner, Justine, and Puzzle of a Downfall Child with Faye Dunaway. He also appeared in the thrillers Asylum (1972) with Peter Cushing, Funeral Home with Kay Hawtrey and Lesleh Donaldson, (1980), and The Changeling with George C. Scott (1980). He worked on several Lacewood animated productions, notably as the voice of Dragon in The Railway Dragon, alongside Tracey Moore who played Emily. In 1999 he filmed the dramatic comedy Taxman with Billy Zane, released as Promise Her Anything and on DVD as Nothing to Declare. His final film appearance was in I Really Hate My Job, released in 2007.
Morse performed on Broadway in Hide and Seek, Salad Days, and the lead of Frederick Rolfe in Hadrian the Seventh, which he also played in Australia, co-starring with Frank Thring. He directed the historic Broadway debut[why?] of Staircase starring Eli Wallach and Milo O'Shea, seen at the time as a groundbreaking depiction of homosexual life. He also starred in the U.S. national tour of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker as Davies.
He first presented a version of his one-man show Merely Players in 1959, which explored the experiences of actors through history, with the definitive version of the show debuting in 1984 for a Canadian national tour. Morse was perhaps the only actor to have performed in every play of William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.
Morse served as Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival of Canada for the 1966 season and as an Adjunct Professor at Yale Drama School in 1968.
In 1995, he premiered the Elizabeth Sharland play The Private Life of George Bernard Shaw in Toronto, also starring Shirley Knight. The play featured Morse in the role of George Bernard Shaw with ten actresses portraying the various women in Shaw's life. Morse later performed the play in 1997 at the British Theatre Museum in London.
With his son Hayward Morse, he starred in the 2004 North American debut of Bernard and Bosie: A Most Unlikely Friendship by Anthony Wynn, performed at the University of Florida, Sarasota. This two-act stage drama is based on the correspondence between playwright George Bernard Shaw, played by Morse, and Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas (the intimate friend of Oscar Wilde), played by Hayward.
The following year, Morse appeared in the world premiere performance of the science fiction play Contact by Doug Grissom, co-starring Ryan Case and presented in Tampa, Florida.
Morse guest starred in more than a thousand drama, comedy, and talk show presentations in the U.S., Canada and Britain. Early American appearances include the U.S. Steel Hour, Encounter, and Playhouse 90. He also guest starred on such TV series as Naked City, The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, The Defenders, The Invaders, The Starlost and The Saint. In The Outer Limits episode "Controlled Experiment" he starred with Carroll O'Connor and Grace Lee Whitney. In The Starlost episode "The Goddess Calabra" he guest starred with John Colicos.
In his later years, Morse guest-starred in a number of Canadian-produced series, including La Femme Nikita and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, as well as such British series as Doctors, Waking the Dead and Space Island One.
Morse's first television series was Presenting Barry Morse, which aired for thirteen weeks in the summer of 1960 on CBC. Some of his best known television roles included: Lt Philip Gerard on the 1960s series The Fugitive with David Janssen; "Prof. Victor Bergman" in the 1975-76 season of Space: 1999 with Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and Zienia Merton; 'Mr. Parminter' in The Adventurer with Gene Barry; and "Alec 'The Tiger' Marlowe" in The Zoo Gang with Sir John Mills, Lilli Palmer and Brian Keith. In 1982 he played the Reaganesque U.S. President Johnny Cyclops in the satirical sitcom Whoops Apocalypse in the UK and hosted the series Strange But True for the Global and BBC
Morse appeared in a number of television mini-series, including The Winds of War and War and Remembrance (both with Robert Mitchum), The Martian Chronicles, Sadat and Frederick Forsyth's Icon. Other notable miniseries appearances include A Woman of Substance, Master of the Game and Race for the Bomb.
The book based on his long-running stage play Merely Players - The Scripts was published in 2003. His first autobiography Pulling Faces, Making Noises was released in 2004.
Stories of the Theatre was published in 2006 and features material from his CBC radio series A Touch of Greasepaint, which aired from 1954 to 1967.
His long-awaited theatrical memoir, Remember With Advantages - Chasing 'The Fugitive' and Other Stories from an Actor's Life (ISBN 9780786427710), (written with Robert E. Wood and Anthony Wynn), details his life and career. The book features a foreword written by Academy Award-winning actor Martin Landau and was released by McFarland and Company publishers in spring 2007.
Morse wrote the Afterword to Destination: Moonbase Alpha - The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to SPACE: 1999 (ISBN 9781845830342), published in 2010 by Telos Publishing. Written by Robert E. Wood and featuring a colour photo section of models created for the series by Martin Bower, as well as a foreword by Zienia Merton, the book is the most comprehensive work ever published on the cult science fiction series Space: 1999. Morse is extensively quoted throughout the book, as are numerous other series cast and crew.
After a short courtship, Morse married actress Sydney Sturgess on 26 March 1939, during their work together in repertory theatre in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. The couple had two children, Melanie Morse (1945–2005) and Hayward Morse (b. 1947).
In 1951, the Morse family moved to Canada, where he worked in radio and theatre, and participated in the first television broadcasts of CBC Television from Montreal, and later Toronto. Morse became a Canadian citizen in 1953.
Barry Morse long supported a number of charitable organisations, including the Toronto-based Performing Arts Lodges of Canada, the Royal Theatrical Fund, the London Shakespeare Workout Prison Project, Actors' Fund of Canada, the Samaritans, BookPALS and Parkinson's disease treatment and research.
The cause of Parkinson's disease held a special place in Morse's heart as his wife of more than sixty years, actress Sydney Sturgess, battled the illness for fourteen years before her death in 1999. In later years he also became an advocate for senior citizens in his adopted homeland of Canada.
Barry Morse died 2 February 2008 at University College London Hospital, aged 89, from undisclosed causes. His body was donated to medical science.The Goose Steps Out (1942) with Will Hay
Thunder Rock (1942)
This Man Is Mine (1946)
Daughter of Darkness (1948)
No Trace (1950)
Kings of the Sun (1963)
Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970)
The Telephone Book (1971)
Running Scared (1972)
Welcome to Blood City (1977)
Love at First Sight (1977)
One Man (1977)
Power Play (1978)
The Shape of Things to Come (1979)
Klondike Fever (1980)
The Changeling (1980)
Funeral Home (1980)
The Hounds of Notre Dame (1980) - Bishop Williams
A Tale of Two Cities (1980) - St. Evremonde
Strange But True (1981) - Host
Murder by Phone (1982) - Fred Waites
Glory! Glory! (1989) - Rev. Dan Stuckey
Al lupo al lupo (1992) - Mario Sagonà
Promise Her Anything (1999) - Reverend Adam Putter
I Really Hate My Job (2007) - Old Man #2 - Georg