Michael Attwell

Actor and political cartoonist


Michael John Attwell, actor and cartoonist: born Watford, Hertfordshire 16 January 1943; (one son, one daughter with Inger Cederstrand; one daughter with Caroline Cornish); died London 18 March 2006.

In true EastEnders fashion, Michael Attwell arrived in the all-friction television soap as Pauline Fowler's brother, Kenny Beale, became embroiled in a family storm and left while it was still exploding in everyone's faces.

The actor's run in the serial was short, but his character's reputation preceded him. Pat Wicks, a former Clacton-on-Sea Miss Butlin's beauty contest winner and Albert Square's tart-with-a-heart minus the heart, had slept with Kenny while married to his younger brother, Pete Beale. As a result, the parentage of the couple's two sons, David and Simon, was always in doubt.

Pete left Pat, who married Brian Wicks, walked out on him after constant beatings and returned to Albert Square, where Simon ("Wicksy") lived with Pete, believing him to be his father.

Kenny, who had emigrated to New Zealand, arrived in 1988 with his daughter Elizabeth, just as Pat was reunited with her old flame Frank Butcher. The inevitable rows about David and Simon's parentage followed but, in the end, Pat confessed she had slept with both Kenny and Pete at around the same time - as well as Den Watts and Brian Wicks - and could not be sure which was the father. With glee, she added that both brothers had been lousy in bed.

Attwell caused explosions of a different kind as the political cartoonist Zoke - named after two of his children, Zoë and Jake - in The Sun, the Sunday People and News of the World. One of his most memorable cartoons was of Michael Foot, with walking stick, under the heading "A Labour Party Film - E.T. The Eternal Trauma" and captioned: "He is afraid. He is totally alone. He is two million light years from No 10 Downing Street!"

Born in Watford in 1943, Attwell was a talented artist as a child but always wanted to act. After training at Rada, he went into repertory theatre at the Newcastle Playhouse, where the cast appeared naked in the rock musical Orgy - although Attwell, as Pentheus, was one of the few to wear a posing pouch. His other notable stage roles included Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls (both Haymarket, Theatre, Leicester), Buckingham in Richard III (Young Vic Theatre) and Bill Sikes in the musical Oliver! (Albery Theatre).

He supplemented his theatre income by producting cartoon strips for comics such as Bunty, Buster, Whizzer and Chips and The Hotspur, before turning his hand to political works at a time when colourful characters such as Margaret Thatcher, Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock led the two major parties. This finished when he landed the role of Kenny Beale in EastEnders and the News of the World wanted him to file a diary from the set but he refused.

Attwell had made his television début as Henry St John in The First Churchills (1969) and become a prolific character actor on screen, seen in episodes of many popular series over almost 40 years.

More prominently, he played Razor Eddie Malone in the cockney thieves drama Turtle's Progress (1979-80), Private Norman Pain in the wartime romp Then Churchill Said To Me (starring Frankie Howerd, 1982), Bill Sikes in a BBC adaptation of Oliver Twist (1985), Ray Cromer in the "Cromers and Prestons" family melodrama Westbeach (1993) and M Dufosse in the Second World War mini-series Monsignor Renard (featuring John Thaw as a French Catholic priest, 2000).

He also took two roles, 18 years apart, in Doctor Who, as Isbur, one of the alien race from Mars, in "The Ice Warriors" story (1967), and Bates, one of the Cybermen's slaves on their home planet of Telos, in "Attack of the Cybermen" (1985).

Attwell recently played Derek Crisp, the doorman, in Hotel Babylon (2006), a series based on Imogen Edwards-Jones's exposé of life behind the scenes in a five-star London hotel. Next month, he can be seen as Archie Stone in Agatha Christie: Marple - The Sittaford Mystery.

The actor Jim Carter, who first worked with the 6ft 4in Attwell at the Newcastle Playhouse, recalled him as an "eccentric golfer", explaining:

At that size, he could hit the ball an awful long way, but not necessarily in the right direction! Michael was a huge bloke, but so benign and gentle and easy-going. We had known each other for 34 years and just laughed together. He had this huge laugh.

Attwell's daughter Zoë, now a designer on the New York Post, previously worked for The Independent.

Anthony Hayward

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?