Clive Hornby: Jack Sugden in 'Emmerdale'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For almost 30 years, Clive Hornby played Emmerdale's longest-running character, Jack Sugden, the flat cap-wearing elder son of the matriarchal Annie Sugden, who was facing widowhood after the death of her farmer husband Jacob when the serial began – as Emmerdale Farm – in 1972.

Jack was the prodigal son who had left for London with ambitions to become a writer after bitter rows about farming methods, but arrived back in the fictional Yorkshire village of Beckindale on the day of his father's funeral. He helped to turn the ailing farm around but had a stormy relationship with his younger brother, Joe.

The actor Andrew Burt originally played Jack, who left again after two years to pursue his literary ambitions and reappeared briefly in 1976. When the storyline called for his resurrection four years later, Clive Hornby took over the role and became the ITV soap's longest-serving actor, staying until last January, when he left because of ill health.

During his years in the serial (1980-2008), Hornby saw his character marry three wives – Pat Merrick, Sarah Connolly and Diane Blackstock, the first two of whom died – and have affairs with the auctioneer Karen Moore, Jack's married old flame Marian Wilks and his brother's stepdaughter, Rachel.

The hot-headed Jack found a focus for his anger when he protested against proposals to site a nuclear dump in Beckindale and spent seven days in jail for contempt of court, but the battle was won. He was also a hero of the hour when a plane blew up, Lockerbie-style, over the village in 1993, using his tractor and water pipes to replace the destroyed bridge over the stream, allowing access for emergency vehicles.

The following year, Beckindale was renamed Emmerdale, just as the programme had been in 1989, heralding a shift away from the farm and towards the raunchy goings-on in the village.

Over the years, Hornby saw comparisons between himself and his character. "He's getting older and more content," he told me in 1997. "And he has responsibilities, as I do. I have a responsibility to my son and his education. I'm like any other dad. Sometimes, I'm a bit intolerant, but I adore my son and love him dearly. If I were a single person, I might not have done Emmerdale for so long, but I have responsibilities. I've built up an established, well-liked character and I still enjoy being in the programme."

Born in Liverpool in 1944, Hornby trained as an accountant but resigned after six months as an accounts clerk to play drums in the pop group The Dennisons, who quickly became popular in the city. They even performed on the same bill as The Beatles at the Cavern Club and the Aintree Institute, before the Fab Four found national fame, and had two Top 50 singles, "Be My Girl" (1963) and "Walkin' the Dog" (1964). "A lot of people thought The Dennisons would take over from The Beatles, but we just drifted into different areas and split up," Hornby recalled.

Deciding on a career in acting, he worked as an assistant stage manager at the Liverpool Playhouse for a year, before training at Lamda, in London. He then performed in repertory theatre in Greenwich, Guildford, Northampton, Dundee, Salisbury and Newbury.

On television, Hornby appeared in episodes of the RAF sitcom Get Some In! (1975), the Gerry Anderson-produced series Space: 1999 (1975-77) and A Life at Stake (1978). He also acted alongside George Cole in Minder (1979). "Originally, I was going to be the guy who had the garage where Arthur Daley got his dodgy cars from," said Hornby. "But then I did another job and couldn't continue in that role.

The actor also had a small part in the film No Longer Alone (starring Belinda Carroll and James Fox, 1978), but his brief appearance in Yanks (1979) ended up on the cutting-room floor.

The opportunity to join Emmerdale came along while Hornby was in a West End production of Murder at the Vicarage. Fact followed fiction when, in 1984, he married the actress Helen Weir, who played his screen wife Pat in Emmerdale, and the couple's son, Thomas, was born two years later. Weir left the serial shortly afterwards and the couple divorced eight years ago.

Meanwhile, Hornby was happy to continue in a secure job, as a character he enjoyed playing. "The great thing about Jack is I get to do things I wouldn't normally do – like throw tables about, chuck dressers around and fight in cow slurry."

Anthony Hayward

Clive Hornby, actor: born Liverpool 20 October 1944; twice married (one son); died 3 July 2008.