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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried