Actor best known as a gruff, hard-drinking detective in the TV series Dalziel and Pascoe
Warren Clarke, who has died aged 67 after a short illness, was a burly actor with a hangdog expression who came to prominence in anti-establishment films and stage plays before becoming one of television’s best-known faces.
He exploded on to the screen in Stanley Kubrick’s futuristic drama A Clockwork Orange (1971), the film based on Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novella set in a Britain facing mass juvenile delinquency. Clarke played Dim, one of the “droogs” in the gang led by a charismatic sociopath (Malcolm McDowell) whom the state tries to rehabilitate through brainwashing. The scenes of rape, murder and mugging were passed for screening by the film censors, but subsequent claims that the film led to copycat violence caused Kubrick – who described the story as a “social satire” – to withdraw it from British distribution in 1974. Only after the director’s death in 1999 was it again screened in cinemas.
Clarke appeared alongside McDowell again in the satire on capitalism O Lucky Man! (1973). It was directed by Lindsay Anderson, with whom Clarke had worked at the Royal Court theatre, in London, which over the previous decade had become a home to the new voices challenging the old order in British society. Like many of the cast, Clarke took several roles.
It was another two decades before the actor became a star in his own right – portraying a character firmly on the right side of the law. He played the hard-drinking Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel in all 12 series of the BBC crime drama Dalziel and Pascoe (1996-2007), based on the books by Reginald Hill. “The man’s a chauvinist pig whose idea of a good night out is swilling back 10 pints in the pub, with his supper waiting for him and the little woman tucked up in bed with a welcoming smile,” Clarke told the Daily Mirror in 1997. “Blokes like Dalziel just see women as sex objects.”
He was born Alan Clarke in Oldham, Lancashire. His father was a stained-glass window maker and his mother a secretary. On leaving school at 15, he took a job as a copy boy on the Manchester Evening News, but he wanted to become an actor and performed with amateur companies. He also worked at Huddersfield Rep. When, aged 18, Clarke took the role of Huckleberry Finn in Tom Sawyer at the Liverpool Playhouse (1965), he was one of the few cast members to emerge unscathed from the Guardian critic’s review, which noted that he “plays him with placid deliberation … against the surrounding cacophony, but the style is right”. Clarke then turned professional.
He started his screen career at Granada Television, based in Manchester, with three different bit parts in both the sitcom Pardon the Expression (1965, 1966) and Coronation Street (1965, 1966, 1968). Further character roles came in popular series such as The Avengers (1968) and Callan (1970). He also had an uncredited role in the film The Virgin Soldiers (1969).
In 1970, before being cast in A Clockwork Orange, Clarke played a childlike asylum patient in the David Storey stage play Home, directed by Anderson at the Royal Court. Anderson also directed him in Storey’s The Changing Room (1971). Another of the Angry Young Men of stage and cinema, Tony Richardson, directed Clarke, as Caligula, in John Mortimer’s adaptation of I Claudius (Queen’s theatre, 1972). In 1975, Clarke was in the Anthony Shaffer play Murderer at the Garrick theatre. He then spent two seasons (1976-77) at the National Theatre in plays including Volpone (directed by Peter Hall) and Lark Rise (by Bill Bryden).
However, when a string of screen roles came his way, Clarke virtually left the stage behind. Although he appeared in films such as Hawk the Slayer (1980), Top Secret! (1984) and ID (1995), he found greater satisfaction in television. As well as one-off character roles, he played Josiah Beaumont in The Onedin Line (1978), Paul England in three series of the sitcom Shelley (1980-82), “Sophie” Dixon in The Jewel in the Crown (1984), Colonel Werner Krieger in the first run of the wartime drama Wish Me Luck (1988) and Boythorn in the 2005 BBC adaptation of Bleak House.
Over 20 years, Clarke also had lead roles as the football club chairman Martin Fisher in The Manageress (1989-90), the trade unionist and former KGB agent Albert Robinson in Sleepers (1991), Jim Morley in the greyhound-racing sitcom Gone to the Dogs (1991) and Winston in its follow-up, Gone to Seed (1992), Roland Pierce in The Locksmith (1997), Brian Addis in the first two series (2000-2001) of the rural drama Down to Earth, Syd Woolsey, one of the two retired master burglars, in the comedy-drama The Invisibles (2008) and the corrupt police officer Bill Molloy in Red Riding (2009), based on the books by David Peace. From 2000, Clarke was consulting producer on Dalziel and Pascoe and directed three episodes.
He returned to the stage to play Winston Churchill – a role he had previously taken on television in the 1974 drama Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill – in Three Days in May (Trafalgar Studios, 2011), about deliberations in the British war cabinet at the time of Dunkirk.
Clarke’s final role was as Charles Poldark, uncle of the 18th-century Cornish squire Ross Poldark, in a BBC remake of its popular 1970s period drama Poldark, which will be screened next year.
He is survived by his second wife, Michele, and their daughter, Georgia, as well as Rowan, the son from his first marriage, which ended in divorce.
• Warren Clarke (Alan James Clarke), actor, born 26 April 1947; died 12 November 2014