Michael Leader 1938-2016

Written by Andy Keast-Marriott
The actor Michael Leader has died after a short illness.

He was best-known for his 31-year stint as Eastenders extra Michael the Milkman, appearing in the first episode. He was a stalwart as a background artist on scifi shows, including Red Dwarf, Blakes 7 and '80s Doctor Who (The Leisure Hive/The Visitation/The Kings Demons/Mawdryn Undead).

He was best known among Star Wars fans as the stormtrooper who knocked his head while boarding the Deathstar in A New Hope (1977), although this particular acclamation was contested by a fellow extra. He spoke at many signings and scifi conventions around the world, and in particular, his fond memories of working with Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor) were both heartfelt and amusing, as were Davison's anecdotes of him.

Born in 1938, he was the son of well-known bandleader Harry Leader. He would later play the resident bandleader throughout the run of '80s comedy "Hi de Hi". His other diverse background comedy roles included Keeping Up Appearances and Yes, Minister.

A founder member of The Laurel and Hardy Appreciation Society, his long-standing friendships across the entertainment industry included the likes of Rolling Stones founder member and hellraiser Brian Jones, Doris Day and Dame Barbara Windsor. It was Windsor who insisted that he played a small part in her exit storyline in Eastenders, when he he chauffeured her around the Square in his milk float and was given some dialogue with her to mark the importance of their friendship, and his contribution to propping up the Queen Vic bar.

Leader had a reputation across Showbiz as a true professional and a friend of rising talent, with the tributes on Eastenders' Facebook page and on Twitter, including from Bonnie Langford (Mel), a testament to the support and encouragement he gave to younger members of the cast.

The Leader, as we called him, will be sorely missed at the 'Club for Acts and Actors' in London's Covent Garden, a popular haven for many Doctor Who actors and fans. Married three times, he is survived by a daughter and many pals who will remember his humour, his remarkably funny anecdotes and his unstinting friendship

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