British screen star Edward Woodward is set to return to the stage after a 15-year absence. Woodward will play 1950s TV legend Gilbert Harding in a new play by Leonard Preston. Goodbye Gilbert Harding launches a two-month, UK-wide tour at the Theatre Royal Plymouth on 12 September 2002 before continuing to six further venues until 2 November.

Woodward himself is probably most familiar internationally for his own TV persona in the American series The Equalizer, though his many other film and television roles include Callan, The Wicker Man, La Femme Nikita, The Professionals and Common as Muck.

Having made his stage debut in 1955, Woodward went on to seasons with the RSC and the National as well as appearances both in the West End and on Broadway before moving primarily into screen work. His many stage credits include The Dark Horse, On Approval, The Male of the Species, Richard III and Private Lives. His last major stage role was in 1987, starring alongside his wife, Michele Dotrice, in A Dead Secret. Woodward was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1978.

Goodbye Gilbert Harding is based on the life of the eponymous Harding, a journalist and broadcaster and famed as 'the rudest man in Britain' in the 1950s. He was a regular panellist on the long-running TV game show What's My Line? and shocked audiences with his sharpness and curt remarks. Written using the original memoirs of the TV star's private secretary, Preston's play explores the man behind the public image and the cost of celebrity.

Woodward is joined in the cast by Jonathan Cullen, Frances Cuka, Christopher Saul, Helen Bourne and Joshua Henderson. Goodbye Gilbert Harding is directed by David Giles (Smoking with Lulu and TV's The Forsyte Saga) and designed by Kenneth Mellor, with ighting by Adrian Barnes and sound by Matt Dando.

Following Plymouth, the tour visits Richmond, Guildford, Cambridge, Eastbourne and Brighton.

- by Sarah Beaumont