Tony Manders, 65, is the director of Death Follows, a thriller being filmed at various locations across the Swindon area. The former senior Army officer and civil servant is also an actor with more than 90 screen appearances to his credit. Married with children and grandchildren, he lives in Royal Wootton Bassett.

TONY Manders is originally from Birmingham, where his father was a printer and his mother had a variety of jobs.

His start in the entertainment industry was anything but conventional.

“I got a scholarship to Sandhurst and spent 32 years in the Army. I came out as a Lieutenant Colonel and then I joined the Civil Service.

“I did 12 years and finished at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham, where I ran a team of occupational psychologists. Our job was to help senior military and civilian leaders to be better leaders, which was quite fascinating.

“I only ever remember wanting to join the Army. I think I might have done one or two little bits of drama at school. I was always interested in drama but my first recollection of doing anything about it was when my then commanding officer said: ‘Manders, we want to give the lads some entertainment. Will you put something on for them?’

“I scouted around for talent that we had in the unit. There’s an immense amount of talent hidden in most groups of people if you can just find it, from people that can recite poems or sing songs or put sketches on. I ended up doing quite a bit of that.”

One day he was short of someone to do something on stage, did it himself and discovered an ability to perform as well as run shows.

Many of those shows, ranging from serious plays to variety, were staged for soldiers’ loved ones.

“Sometimes, especially if you’ve got families who are struggling when their other halves are away for long periods of time, there’s a need to take them out of their lives for a short while, and I think plays or entertainment of that nature is a way to do that.

“It was a kind of training ground for the lads, too. If I got a young lad and managed to persuade him to go up on stage and give a recital or be part of a sketch in front of, say six hundred people, when I say to that lad next week, ‘I want you to give a presentation on this aspect of work to half a dozen people,’ he’s no longer stage shy. He’s no longer nervous.

“The things you learn in the Army – which is about managing resources, getting the right thing to the right place at the right time, planning, preparing for the unexpected – all of those skills are transferable to anywhere in life.”

In around 1991 Tony was posted to an important role in London. He relieved the pressure of gruelling hours by signing for a drama course with LAMDA — the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art — for one night a week.

His final exam yielded a prestigious Gold Award.

At the end of his military career, work had brought him to the Swindon area. He joined the Western Players in 1999 and has appeared in more than 30 of the Swindon group’s productions.

In about 2011 a student filmmaker got in touch with the group to ask whether anybody was interested in appearing in a short about a sinister house.

Tony answered the call and found himself fascinated by the filmmaking process, although he has no preference between film and stage work.

“If you asked me do I prefer roast beef or apple pie, how am I going to compare those?”

Tony began working as an extra, and has appeared in Casualty, Wolf Hall and Bond film Spectre. He does not regard those non-speaking appearances as true acting roles, but relished the opportunity to see the film and TV production process at first hand.

There have also been 98 speaking appearances in projects ranging from student films and web series to low-budget features and respected festival fare. He won a Best Actor award at the Reading Fringe Festival for a short film called Redcap in which he played, of all people, a gnome catcher.

He played a World War One general in a short film called Unto a Good Land, which received many glowing reviews and can be found on YouTube.

In October of 2013 he decided to give up his Civil Service role and act full time. His ambition to direct films came after he wrote a mystery drama, handed production duties to others and was unhappy with the end product.

“I’m not saying it was bad, but it wasn’t what was in my head. I’d given up the ability to make it the film I wanted to be. That was the germ of doing something myself.”

After a chance meeting with John Pasternak, a stunt expert, special effects co-ordinator and self-taught cinematographer, the two formed a production company, Silverback Movies. The name is a joking reference to old but still strong gorillas.

Death Follows, their first full length feature, is set for completion in the autumn.

“We’ve pulled together a team of local people, by and large, for both cast and crew, and deliberately chosen local venues to film it.

“A lot of my work in the past has dragged me to Bristol, Cardiff or London, but I think we’ve got loads of fabulous locations locally and I want to show them off. There’s a lot of talent in the area, too, and to me that’s key.

“There’s a huge amount of talent locally. Why would you go to London to get people? Why would you go to Bristol to get people? We’ve got them here.”

The DSLR camera and cheaper sound and lighting equipment have brought filmmaking within the financial reach of more people than ever before.

Tony’s advice to would-be filmmakers?

“Go out and do it – and I put one rider on that: remember to look after the people.

“If you want the best on-screen performances, you’ve got to cover the bases – shelter, warmth, food, drink. That allows the actor to do what you want them to do, which is portray the character to the best of their ability.”

Tony’s website is and Death Follows has a Facebook presence.