Obituary: Bob Peck

BOB PECK was an "unstarry" actor who brought a compelling integrity and authority to his many screen and stage roles. Even after reaching a wide audience in the highly praised television nuclear thriller Edge of Darkness, the Yorkshireman remained shy and glad to be low-profile, preferring to get on with performing rather than giving interviews.

Edge of Darkness, the 1985 BBC serial written by the Z Cars creator Troy Kennedy Martin, changed the course of Peck's career and his life - at the age of 40. Until then, most of his time had been spent on stage, including nine years with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The six-part thriller, in which Peck played a Yorkshire police detective investigating his own daughter's murder, became one of the most talked- about programmes of the 1980s and the corporation's fastest repeat when BBC1 started a rerun just 10 days after it had finished on BBC2. Its story of government collusion in the production of plutonium at a secret nuclear plant struck a chord two years after President Reagan's "Star Wars" speech, at a time when people were beginning to question Britain's alliance with America.

Despite this exposure, and a Bafta Best Actor award, Peck ruminated that he could "still shamble round Sainsbury's looking as nondescript as the next man" and insisted that he simply wanted to be seen as "someone who is able to play a character and make him look ordinary". He continued to do so in a thoroughly accomplished manner through more than two dozen screen roles and further stage performances with the National Theatre and Young Vic companies.

It was a career to which Peck, born in 1945 and brought up in Leeds, had been drawn at school. At the age of 15, he joined the National Youth Theatre in London but described himself as "completely unhappy and lonely" during the six-week experience, putting it down to his inability to mix with people.

However, he still enjoyed acting and, while studying at Leeds College of Art, performed in amateur dramatics. After the playwright Alan Ayckbourn directed the society in a production of his play Mr Whatnot, he invited the teenager to spend the summer as an actor and assistant stage manager at the Scarborough Library Theatre, of which he had just become artistic director.

Ayckbourn recalled discovering "an actor of strength, extraordinary natural technical ability, wit and truth". As a result, Peck made his professional acting debut in Scarborough and subsequently performed in repertory theatre in Exeter.

Returning to London, in 1974, he landed a part in Lindsay Anderson's production of Life Class, by the Wakefield miner's son David Storey. The play, which drew on Storey's own experience of art college, opened there before transferring to the West End. Peck was clearly on his way and, after a spell at Birmingham Rep, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon for a nine-year stint (1975-84) during which his roles included Macbeth, Iago, Kent, Malvolio, Caliban and Lear, and he worked with directors such as Ronald Eyre and Trevor Nunn.

While with the RSC, Peck made his first screen appearances. He could be seen credited simply as "Customer" in the Ronnie Barker sitcom Open All Hours and as "Ron" in an episode of Rising Damp. More significantly, he acted in Alan Bennett's television play Sunset Across the Bay (1975), directed by Stephen Frears, and played Macduff in a television production of Macbeth (1979), repeating one of his RSC roles.

He also gained film experience as a police inspector in Royal Flash (1975) and a minister in Bird of Prey 2 (1984). His two contrasting roles in the celebrated RSC four-act, nine-hour production of Charles Dickens's "Yorkshire novel", Nicholas Nickleby (1981) - John Browdie and Sir Mulberry Hawk, the hero and the villain - were seen in the television film The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1982), screened in Channel 4's first weeks on the air.

Having married the actress Jill Baker and started a family, Peck decided to leave the security of the RSC to seek more television roles, partly in the hope of spending more time with his family. "I realised I could stay there for a long time and I would never know whether I could have made it as a TV or film actor," he explained.

He was fortunate enough to walk into the part of single-parent Detective Inspector Ron Craven in Edge of Darkness, alongside Joanne Whalley as his radical scientist daughter Emma. Troy Kennedy Martin had envisaged John Thaw in the starring role. But the director, Martin Campbell, favoured an unknown actor and opted for Peck. The actor's brother was, in fact, a policeman in Leeds, but Peck spent two days with the Bradford force in the course of his research to see how they worked.

However, he refused to mutate into a radiation-ravaged tree over hundreds of years after falling to a sniper's bullet, as the end of Kennedy Martin's script demanded. Peck won the argument and, instead, screamed his daughter's name, "Emma!"

The serial, whose prophesies included a Gulf War, was watched by 4.5 million viewers on BBC2 and 8 million on BBC1. As well as winning Peck a Best Actor award from Bafta, Edge of Darkness was presented with the Best Drama honour.

Although Peck returned to the stage by starring at the National Theatre in Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval and Athol Fugard's The Road to Mecca (both 1985), offers to act on screen followed thick and fast.

Most notably, he played a repressed don in Simon Gray's television play After Pilkington (1987) and Dante in Channel 4's A TV Dante: the Inferno cantos I-VIII (1989), directed by Peter Greenaway and Tom Phillips, starring John Gielgud and reuniting Peck with Joanne Whalley. Other parts included a doctor rejected by the woman he loves in Children Crossing (1989), a Royal Marines major in the Falklands in An Ungentlemanly Act (1992), Gradgrind in Peter Barnes's adaptation of Hard Times for BBC Schools (1994) and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (1996).

As in Edge of Darkness, an "awkward" theme was explored when Peck played a man whose cosy life with a new girlfriend is shattered when he is menaced by his estranged wife's lover in Mick Ford's One Way Out (1989). He made significant contributions to Catherine Cookson's The Black Velvet Gown (1991), as a reclusive former teacher who gains a hold on his widowed housekeeper, Centrepoint (1992), in the rare role of a villain, Natural Lies (1992), acting a happily married man who discovers that his first love has killed herself in mysterous circumstances, and The Scold's Bridle (1998), once again playing a detective.

Peck also found himself in demand with film directors for both starring and cameo roles, although his best pictures were mostly those in which he took the lead. In the writer-director Andrew Grieve's much admired production of On the Black Hill (1987), based on Bruce Chatwin's novel, Peck was in his best "dour" mode as the puritanical Welsh-farmer husband of a woman who has stepped down the social scale to marry him.

The finely observed drama The Kitchen Toto (1987) featured Peck as a British chief of police during the final years of colonial rule in Kenya in the Fifties, while Steven Spielberg cast him as the game warden Robert Muldoon in the dinosaurs yarn Jurassic Park (1993).

More disappointingly, he acted in pictures such as the science-fiction drama Slipstream (1989), a Lord of the Flies remake (1990), Surviving Picasso (1996, alongside Anthony Hopkins) and Smilla's Feeling for Snow (1997, from Peter Hoeg's best-selling novel).

In between film and television work, Peck returned to the stage in director David Thacker's productions of two Arthur Miller plays at the Young Vic Theatre - Two Way Mirror (1989), with Helen Mirren, and The Price (1990), alongside David Calder - was directed by Jack Shepherd as revolutionary Tom Paine in In Lambeth (1989) at the Donmar Warehouse, and played Goldberg in Sam Mendes's National Theatre production of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party (1994). Also at the National in 1994, he played the overbearing patriarch John Rutherford in Githa Sowerby's 1912 Rutherford and Son, as a "north-country Lear, craggy, ruthless and utterly self-centred"; Paul Taylor in The Independent described his performance as "magnificently overbearing and authentic".

Robert Peck, actor: born 23 August 1945; married 1982 Jill Baker (one son, two daughters); died Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey 4 April 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most