Obituary: Malcolm Tierney, actor

Born: 25 February, 1938, in Manchester. Died: 19 February, 2014, in London, aged 75

Malcolm Tierney mesmerised soap fans in the mid-1980s in Brookside as the menacing, cigar-chomping Tommy McArdle. But in Scotland, Tierney made an even bigger impression as the English magistrate who slit the throat of Mrs Braveheart, in Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning historical epic.

William Wallace has secretly married the character Murron, who fights back when she is abused by English soldiers. Tierney has her tied to a post, while he patiently explains that he has gone out of his way not to be too strict with the locals. “And this day’s lawlessness is how you repay my leniency?” he says, deliberating over his words. “Well, you leave me with little choice. An assault on the king’s soldiers is the same as an assault on the king himself.”

It is a very fine piece of acting in one of the most pivotal scenes in the film – an action avenged when Wallace and his men storm his stockade.

Tierney appeared in a wide range of roles, from an imperial officer in the original Star Wars movie and a scientist on Doctor Who to Disraeli and the artist Lowry on stage. But he seemed particularly adept at villainy and had a recurring “baddie” role as Charlie Gimbert, Ian McShane’s unscrupulous rival in the antiques business in Lovejoy. Off-screen he became friends with both Ian McShane and Catherine McCormack, who played Murron in Braveheart. Like so many others, they were charmed by his sense of humour. McCormack recalled: “Some of the actors were staying in a little hotel called the Glenspean Lodge Hotel. I was sitting alone in the lounge area and Malcolm came up and introduced himself as the man who would be cutting my throat later that day, depending on the weather.” She also remembered his attempts to politicise her, but when she showed more interest in getting another drink he cut it short. “He would tell us that that session would only cost us £100, a reduced rate for friends, and the tapes of the speech would be available very soon in all good bookstores.”

He was a member of the Workers Revolutionary Party, but enjoyed the finer things in life, and last year threw a party at his home in Pimlico to which only women were invited.

The son of a boiler maker and a mill girl, he was born in Manchester, attended Manchester School of Art and his first job was as a textile designer with the Calico Printers’ Association.

He got involved in amateur dramatics while an art student, later attending drama school in London on a scholarship, and by the mid-1960s he was making his living as an actor in theatre, radio and television.

Theatre censorship was coming under increasing assault and in the late 1960s he appeared in the controversial Edward Bond plays Saved and Early Morning, which featured Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale as lesbians.

In 1971 he had a major role in A Family Life, one of Ken Loach’s early films, and his screen career developed from there, with recurring roles in Poldark and The Spoils of War before his regular gig as Tommy McArdle on Brookside.

He also continued to work regularly in theatre and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the mid-1970s. It was while appearing in an English-language play in Vienna that he met his wife Andrea Schinko in 1977.

She was an art student, working in the theatre cloakroom and putting leaflets protesting against a nuclear power plant into the pockets of all the coats, including that of the president. She and Tierney married two years later and had two daughters, and although they later split up they remained friends and continued to work together.

Tommy McArdle figures prominently in discussions on soap opera’s most villainous characters. He made such an impression on the British public that on one occasion he was appearing in a stage play and about to do some dastardly deed, when someone shouted out from the audience “Go on Tommy!”

On another occasion Malcolm, who was a bohemian character off-stage, in broad-brimmed hat, flowing coat and scarf, found himself surrounded by football fans. He was not sure how they might react to a “luvvy” in their midst, but they turned out to be fans and were charmed when he did the full-blown Tommy for them.

Tierney continued to paint and draw throughout his life and he also wrote poetry and monologues. He is survived by Andrea and their daughters Elsa, an artist and jewellery maker, and Anna, who is an actress.