Alfred Burke: Actor best known for his portrayal of the seedy private detective Frank Marker in 'Public Eye'

Tall, lean and intense, Alfred Burke swapped roles as screen villains to make the seedy private detective Frank Marker in Public Eye a television institution for 10 years.

Dressed in a grubby raincoat, down on his luck and struggling to make ends meet, Marker was one of the small screen's first anti-heroes, renting shabby offices and taking on such unglamorous cases as trudging the streets to track down debtors who were little different from himself.

"So much in this character appealed to me when I was first offered the part, particularly as it was set in south-east London, where I was born," said Burke. "And there was the challenge of making something interesting out of a man who had so few definite characteristics."

The world-weary Marker later switched his office from a Victorian attic near Clapham Junction to Birmingham, went to prison after being framed and subsequently moved to Brighton, where the loner found romance with his landlady (the actress Pauline Delany). As the detective taking on assignments to find missing persons, investigate thefts and deal with blackmail and divorce cases – all portrayed with a gritty realism – Frank Marker was the prototype for private eyes subsequently featured in Hazell and Shoestring.

After seven series and 87 episodes of Public Eye (1965-75), Burke showed his acting versatility by taking a wide range of other roles on screen and stage. He had already played the Rev Patrick Bronte in ITV's four-part series The Brontes of Howarth (1973), Christopher Fry's first scripts for television, and toured with his own one-man show about the father of English literature's three famous sisters.

Later, he was seen in Enemy at the Door (1978-80), as the humane Major Oberst Richter, commanding officer of German troops on the occupied Channel Islands during the Second World War, whose civilised manner denoted that he was neither National Socialist nor butcher. By then donning a beard, Burke succeeded in burying a stereotype. "It's terrible how we condemned a whole nation out of hand," he explained.

The actor himself was a conscientious objector during the war and spent those years as an agricultural labourer instead. Born in Peckham, south London, in 1918 to a fur warehouseman whose family had come to Britain from Ireland, Burke left Walworth Central School at 14 and took jobs as an office boy in a railway-wagon repair firm and a steward in a businessmen's club, then worked in a silk warehouse, before winning a scholarship to train at Rada (1937-39).

He had gained acting experience with a local amateur dramatics society and eventually made his professional début at the Barn Theatre, Shere, Surrey (1939), which was affiliated to the famous London Theatre Studio of Michel Saint-Denis and known for its experimental plays. After a season with the Young Vic Theatre company (1947-48), Burke acted in Pablo Picasso's Desire Caught By the Tail at the Watergate Theatre, London (1950), where he worked in the kitchen during a lean spell, spent three years with Birmingham Repertory Theatre (1950-53) and appeared in the West End hit Sailor Beware! (1954).

He landed screen roles in films such as The Constant Husband (1955), Yangtse Incident (1957), The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) and Crooks Anonymous (1962). After making his television début in Counsellor at Law (1949), he appeared in many plays and took parts as villains in Danger Man (1961), The Avengers (two roles, 1961, 1966) and The Saint (two roles, 1963, 1964), before fame came in Public Eye.

Burke's later character roles on TV included Long John Silver in an eccentric BBC adaptation of Treasure Island (1977) , a child molester in Tales of the Unexpected (1979), a dying miner in David Mercer's last play, A Rod of Iron (1980), Pitt the Elder in Number 10 (1983) and the Jersey detective's former headmaster killing his victims with hemlock in Bergerac (1987).

Although he acted Giuliano della Rovere in The Borgias (1981), the BBC's attempt to repeat the success of I Claudius, the series, about the impious Pope Alexander VI, was unintentionally hilarious and no match for its illustrious predecessor. Burke also wrote a screenplay, Where Are They Now?, under the name Frank Hanna, which the ITV company Rediffusion produced in 1964.

In contrast to the mild-mannered German officer in Enemy at the Door, Burke played the Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann in the film The House on Garibaldi Street (1979). His last screen role was as Professor Armando Dippet, the former headmaster of Hogwarts seen in flashback, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002).

On stage, he appeared in the West End in Strindberg's The Father alongside Trevor Howard (Piccadilly Theatre, 1964) and Chekhov's The Seagull starring Vanessa Redgrave and Jonathan Price (Queen's Theatre, 1985), and in Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Troilus and Cressida, As You Like It, All's Well That Ends Well, The Tempest, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. He also played the title role in Pirandello's Henry IV at the 1970 Edinburgh Festival. Just three years ago, aged 90, he acted one of the shepherds in a National Theatre production of Oedipus.

Long years of working in the theatre and taking bit parts on screen meant that the actor was never affected by stardom. "I'm one of life's pessimists," he once said. "I never expected my career to take off. I never expected Public Eye to last more than one series. Fame, if that's what you call it, did not come to me until I was 50. When you have such low expectations as I do, anything nice that happens is a marvellous bonus!"

Burke is survived by his partner of 25 years, Hedi Argent, and the two sets of twins – Jacob and Harriet, and Kelly and Louisa – he had with his wife, Barbara, who also survives him.

Alfred Burke, actor: born London 28 February 1918; married Barbara Bonelle (one son, three daughters); died London 16 February 2011.

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems & Data Lead – Oxfordshire – Permanent – Up to £24k

£20000 - £24000 Per Annum 28 days holiday, free parking, pension: Clearwater P...

Digital Media Manager

£38000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Secondary School Teachers in Norfolk

£100 - £140 per day + Competitive Pay: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary...

PMO Analyst - Risk - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: PMO Analyst - Risk - Banking - London - £350 - £4...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?