Warren Clarke Is My Acting Hero

If you watch enough British TV as I do you begin to wonder if there are only a handful of the same actors who appear in nearly every show (anyone care to name a series Brian Blessed hasn't appeared in?). Part of this of course is because an actor is so talented and perfect for a part that nobody else would be suitable. And if you have a part for a middle-aged, slightly over-the-hill working-class man who thinks with his wits but may not be the smartest man on the planet, who are you gonna call but Warren Clarke?

Warren Clarke is one of that breed of character actors who has graduated to starring parts but still often raises the question, Where have I seen him before? His career goes back, way back, to 1971 when he appeared as one of Alex's "droogs" in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Even then his large body was put to comic effect, but always with that edge of menace maintained. His early TV appearances include S.O.S. Titanic, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Masada, and The Jewel in the Crown. Frequently cast as a Russian or German, bit parts in movies like Hitler's S.S.: Portrait in Evil and Top Secret soon followed. In 1988 he appeared in a special Comic Relief episode of Blackadder as Oliver Cromwell.

Finally in 1989 he had his first starring role in Nice Work, a four-part drama as Vic Wilcox, a mid-lands business executive who as part of a training scheme is "shadowed" in his job by a young woman. Despite their being complete opposites in just about everything, she ends up sleeping with him during a convention. For her it's just an opportune one night stand, but Vic of course thinks they now have a relationship.

Two years later Clarke starred in the hilarious Sleepers along with Nigel Havers, both playing deep-cover Soviet operatives planted in Britain in the mid-sixties and then completely forgotten about until the Iron Curtain falls. But their training was so good and they've been playing their roles for so long, that they are now more British than the British. But everyone is afraid what might happen if the proper signal is activated and they attempt to complete their mission. Produced by Verity Lambert, this mini-series soon appeared on Masterpiece Theatre here in America.

He then did two series for Tony Grounds, 1991's Gone To The Dogs, where he played a vulgar but rich greyhound owner, and 1992's Gone To Seed, where he, Alison Steadman, and Jim Broadbent played triplets trying to save their deceased mother's property from developers.

In 1994 he took over a part originated by another Warren, Warren Mitchell (most famous for playing Alf Garnett on Til Death Us Do Part, the precursor to Archie Bunker), in Moving Story which ran for two seasons on ITV. The series focused on the dramatic misadventures of a team of movers who each week got embroiled in some drama usually involving their clients. Wearing round, tiny glasses, a goofy mustache, white gloves, and a bowler hat, Clarke served as the father figure to the young men working with him, all the while honing his Trivial Pursuit skills in hopes of appearing on the quiz show Mastermind someday.

In that same year he appeared in the ITV comedy series The House of Windsor, as the scheming power-behind-the-throne who knows all the secrets in the royal household. Though still loyal to his working class roots, Clarke here perfected his all-knowing "man of the people" part that he is most famous for. In a similar vein, in the drama Giving Tongue he played a small but pivotal part as a clerk in the House of Lords who explains to a young apprentice (and to the audience) just how the Lords works (or doesn't) with the House of Commons in drafting laws.

In 1996 he finally played a title role, as Andy Dalziel in adaptations of Reginald Hill's series of books about Northern detectives, Dalziel and Pascoe. Constantly mocking and showing up his college-educated partner Pascoe, Clarke is perfectly cast as "the fat controller" (as Pascoe's wife refers to him, almost jealous with the amount of time and attention her husband gives him). Clarke, as he always does, exudes character with every look and line, delivering each one with perfection.

In the 1997 mini-series The Locksmith, he played a tormented man whose ex-wife is nearly killed in a robbery and who goes over-the-top to catch the man responsible, while at the same time trying to resume relations with his estranged hippy daughter. The amount of anguish Clarke conveys is genuine, and you really feel his anger, sense of retribution, and finally remorse, as he goes through his inevitable actions. A superb series where Clarke really delivered in the pivotal starring role.

In 1998, in addition to returning in more Dalziel and Pascoe stories, Clarke appeared in A Respectable Trade as a Bristol-based slave trader who marries a woman above his station but who ultimately leads to his downfall, not comprehending how society is so rigidly constructed to keep people like him from crossing class lines. Clarke brought a necessary compassion to the part of Josiah Cole, whose affinity for the sea is genuine, but whose hands are ultimately tainted by blood. And in a change of pace, with In The Red, a comedy about politics and the BBC, Clarke played a drunken radio journalist who gets the story of a lifetime when a serial killer is on the loose, but manages to survive both the killer and BBC politics on his instincts and street sense.

In the 2000 movie Greenfingers, Clarke plays the no-nonsense but sympathetic warden of an alternative prison, in a fact-based movie about prisoners who become prize-winning gardeners. And he appeared on TV with Pauline Quirk in Down To Earth. In 2003 he played an ex-con in the BBC's The Debt. In 2008 he co-starred with Anthony Stewart Head ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") in the comedy drama The Invisibles about a gang of former jewel thieves.

He 2011 he appeared in the BBC1 sitcom In With The Flynns as the retired father to two brothers.

Warren Clarke continues to create a tremendous stable of memorable characters, each unique, but each endowed with his dynamic personality. His name in the credits is always a sign of quality entertainment and time well spent. With his working-class ethos and sense of decency in all his parts, he is my acting hero.

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