Obituary: Warren Clarke, actor

Much-loved character actor best known for role as detective in TV's Dalziel and Pascoe. Picture: BBC
Much-loved character actor best known for role as detective in TV's Dalziel and Pascoe. Picture: BBC
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BORN: 26 April, 1947, in Oldham. Died: 12 November, 2014, in London, aged 67.

Warren Clarke was one of the best- known faces on television and a much-loved actor in a host of TV dramas.

In the mid-1990s Clarke gained wide praise for his portrayal of the grumpy Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel in the hit series Dalziel and Pascoe. But his career encompassed a host of excellent roles in television dramas: including Blackadder, Coronation Street and The Onedin Line. Clarke was also seen in the BBC series, Down to Earth, in which he co-starred with Pauline Quirk, about a family who relocated to rural Devon.

Clarke, with his distinctive, rather avuncular manner, was often cast as an uncompromising thug. His face had a lived-in appearance but it was wonderfully expressive on screen and captured pathos, anger and laughter with a charismatic ease. Clarke also played establishment figures: most notably Winston Churchill.

Warren Clarke was raised by his father, who was a stained-glass window maker, and his mother, who was a secretary, in a council house in a Manchester suburb. They both died when Warren and his sister were in their twenties. Clarke was passionate about football as a life-long supporter of Manchester City. He started working at the same fruit market as John Thaw (the future Inspector Morse) in Manchester but he had acted at school and was keen to pursue a career in the theatre.

He applied to several local Lancashire repertory companies and admitted that he somewhat embellished his theatrical experience. “I lied so badly” he once admitted, “that the woman who was interviewing me thought I might as well give him a job’”.

He gained valuable stage experience and played three TV roles in Coronation Street. In the late 1960s he came to London where he got work with the ground-breaking English Stage Company at the Royal Court. He had a small role in the film The Virgin Soldiers, based on Leslie Thomas’s book, but the director Stanley Kubrick spotted Clarke at the Royal Court and cast him in 1971 in his now notorious film A Clockwork Orange.

Clarke played the role of Dim, one of the “droogs” who enjoyed “ultraviolence” in the gang led by Alex, played by­ ­Malcolm ­McDowell. The film caused huge controversy but Clarke’s performance was well-received. In 1973, Clarke was in Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! and the following year he was cast as Winston Churchill in the TV mini-series Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill with Lee Remick in the title role and Clarke giving an exceptional performance as her brilliant son.

Such a high-profile series led to Clarke being cast in The Onedin Line, Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy, The Jewel in the Crown (as a delightfully camp “Sophie”), Cromwell in Blackadder and in Bleak House.

Clarke’s career on television demonstrated his remarkable ability to play a wide variety of characters. But he is undoubtedly best remembered for the BBC series Dalziel and Pascoe based on the novels by Reginald Hill. First seen in 1996, Clarke played the blunt and politically very incorrect detective opposite Colin Buchanan’s academic and more correct Pascoe. They were complete opposites and their rivalry and different methods brought an edge to the series – it ran until 2007 and proved hugely popular with viewers.

Clarke balanced the unlovable and abrasive Dalziel with a lighter, more humanitarian, side. He once said of Dalziel: “One of the reasons I did the series was because I loved the fact that Dalziel doesn’t bow to the liberal views of society.”

The last role he completed was as Charles Poldark in a BBC revival of the 1970s’ TV drama Poldark. It is scheduled to be shown next year.

In the theatre Clarke admitted that he found repeating the same performance six nights a week undemanding.

However, he made significant stage appearances notably at the National Theatre (Tales From the Vienna Woods) and David Storey’s The Changing Room, again directed by Lindsay Anderson. In 2011 he played Churchill in Three Days in May directed by Alan Strachan. In a towering performance, amidst clouds of cigar smoke, Clarke brought a real humanity to the prime minister in the early days of the war.

For Clarke acting was never glamorous or a question of soul-searching. He shunned publicity and first nights and turned down many roles.

“I want to see the script, the character.

“I’ve been offered stuff in Hollywood but it was stuff I didn’t want to be involved with.”

He gained much happiness from his family life. Clarke and his second wife had their first baby after 20 years of marriage and he was devoted to his young daughter. “Oh my God, I’m old enough to be her grandfather,” he said gleefully.

Clarke’s first marriage was dissolved. He married Michele in 1970. She and a son by his first marriage and a daughter from the second survive him.

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