Christopher Hancock

Actor best known as the 'truly revolting' Charlie Cotton in 'EastEnders'

Friday 19 November 2004 01:00
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Charlie Cotton was the despicable small-time villain in the BBC soap EastEnders who had deserted his wife Dot shortly after he forced her to have an abortion - just a year after their wedding. He returned to her time and again, only to sponge off her and leave once more. Even Christopher Hancock, the actor who played Charlie, complete with stick-on sideburns, on and off for six years, admitted: "He's a truly revolting character, a loser."

Christopher Anthony Arthur Hancock, actor: born Bishop Auckland, Co Durham 5 June 1928; married Ann Walford (two daughters; marriage dissolved); died Lincoln 29 September 2004.

Charlie Cotton was the despicable small-time villain in the BBC soap EastEnders who had deserted his wife Dot shortly after he forced her to have an abortion - just a year after their wedding. He returned to her time and again, only to sponge off her and leave once more. Even Christopher Hancock, the actor who played Charlie, complete with stick-on sideburns, on and off for six years, admitted: "He's a truly revolting character, a loser."

A long-distance lorry driver, Charlie was not even clever in his cunning, in the way that his ruthless son, "nasty" Nick, proved to be. He was lazy and pathetic. Whenever he was down on his luck, Charlie returned to Dot, a devout Christian who took pity on him. But she was shocked to discover first that he had had an affair with her half-sister, Rose, then that he had bigamously married Joan Leggett. Charlie finally died in a lorry crash, in 1991.

Born in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, in 1928, Christopher Hancock was a boy chorister at Durham Cathedral - like his younger brother, Stephen, who went on to play Ernest Bishop in Coronation Street and Laurence Lovell in The Archers. Christopher trained at the Old Vic Theatre School, before becoming a member of the Old Vic company.

Later, Christopher Hancock acted in the new Nottingham Playhouse's first repertory season (1963-64), starting with Corialanus, directed by Tyrone Guthrie. Despite appearing alongside such big stars as John Neville, Leo McKern and Ian McKellen, he managed to make an impression as Sicinius, with the Nottingham Evening Post's critic noting:

The people's tribunes are amusingly played by Christopher Hancock and George Selway, both wearing top hats and brandishing long staves with all the arrogance of upstart politicians who are little more than jeer-leaders.

Hancock returned to the Playhouse to take roles in Richard II and Measure for Measure (both 1965). He later appeared on the West End stage in the comedy It's a Two Feet Six Inches Above the Ground World (Wyndham's Theatre, 1970) and the musical Billy (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 1974).

On television, he had character roles as Sir Henry Norreys in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1971), Ezra Jennings in The Moonstone (1972), Mr Greenish in The Brontës of Haworth (1973) and Mr Richardson in Love for Lydia (1977). He also played Wagstaff in the first two series of the sitcom The Gaffer (1981-82), which starred Bill Maynard as the managing director of a light-engineering company always on the brink of disaster.

But it was as the bad penny Charlie Cotton in EastEnders (1986-91), which he joined 20 months after its launch, that Hancock became a household face, if not name. He later returned as Charlie's ghost in the special EastEnders: the return of Nick Cotton (2000), which focused on the son whose evil reign in Albert Square encompassed burglary, pimping, blackmail and murder.

Hancock admitted to being in no doubt about the power of the soap's bosses, following his brother Stephen's axing from Coronation Street after demanding a better pay deal for actors not on long-term contracts. "What happened to Stephen has weighed heavily on my mind," he said. "When I'm on EastEnders, I'm very careful about what I say and do. Stephen learned that nobody's indispensable."

Anthony Hayward

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