Tuesday, 18 November 2014

RIP Warren Clarke

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Around a week ago it was announced that British actor Warren Clarke had passed away aged 67 following a short illness. Having allowed the news to sink in, and been delayed by my job from responding more immediately, I feel the time is right for me to offer some thoughts.

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Warren Clarke, like Herbert Lom and Bill Wallis before him, was part of a long line of British character actors, who carved themselves indelibly into the public's imagination through a performance or character which defined their career. For Lom, it was the long-suffering and ultimately insane Dreyfuss in the Pink Panther series; for Wallis, his appearances in Blackadder (but particularly Blackadder Goes Forth); and for Clarke, it was Andy Dalziel in Dalziel and Pascoe, based on the detective stories of Reginald Hill.
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Clarke's performance as the no-nonsense, grumpy and often wayward Dalziel was one of the highlights of my TV landscape for many years. He and Colin Buchanan formed an entertaining and believable partnership which at its best rivalled that between John Thaw and Kevin Whately in Inspector Morse. But Clarke had considerable range which is not recognised as often as perhaps it should be.
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While his film career is not as prolific as many of the actors to whom I have paid tribute, Clarke's big-screen debut role in A Clockwork Orange remains inspired. Dim is the perfect foil to Malcolm McDowell's tremendous performance as Alex DeLarge, and Clarke manages to bring reality to both the pity-inducing slow-motion sequence in the river and Dim's sadistic revenge once he has joined the police. The film is always worth revisiting as a work of cinematic brilliance, but it's also a good example of how Stanley Kubrick was more of an actor's director than many people realise.
The rest of Clarke's career plays on both his warmth and his often grotesque physicality. Down to Earth remains an underrated drama-comedy, and his chemistry with Pauline Quirke is very fine indeed. His appearance in Bleak House is every bit as glittering as Gillian Anderson's acclaimed performance as Lady Dedlock. And his brief comedic turn in 'Amy & Amiability' from Blackadder the Third remains one of the highlights of the third series of that sitcom.
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Any of these are fitting ways to pay tribute to Clarke, but I would especially recommend A Clockwork Orange for anyone who doesn't believe that there was more to him than irascible Northern detectives. I'll be revisiting Kubrick's magnum opus myself in due course on this blog, and now seems a perfect time for you to do the same. RIP.

Daniel

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