Toke's father was a vicar and he was christened John Townley, but his first name was then changed by his parents to the surname of an ancestor. After he left school he worked as a clerk in industry, acting in his spare time. He didn't become a professional actor until his early 30s, first appearing at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. He appeared in many BBC television programmes during the early pioneering days at Alexandra Palace.
Between 1951 and 1970, in the heyday of the British studios, Townley appeared in almost thirty films, including Lady Godiva Rides Again, Doctor at Sea, The Quatermass Experiment, The Admirable Crichton, Carry On Admiral, Doctor in Distress and Scars of Dracula.
He went on to appear in many film and television roles over the years, including The Avengers. He was also an accomplished flautist and played the instrument on screen.
Many of his roles were country bumpkins, so it was an appropriate move when Townley joined Emmerdale as Annie Sugden's father, Sam Pearson, complete with cloth cap and collarless shirt, when the serial began in 1972. He appeared in over 800 episodes of Emmerdale Farm. Loved and admired by the rest of the cast of the rural soap opera, Townley was said to be a private person, living alone at a Leeds hotel. He died of a heart attack whilst still in the soap so his character was killed off.
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