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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine