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Powell, Robert (1944-)

Actor, Presenter

Main image of Powell, Robert (1944-)

Throughout his career Robert Powell has proved himself equally adept at playing heroes or villains in costume dramas, comedies, contemporary thrillers and recently even soaps, although he will probably always remain best known for starring in Jesus of Nazareth (ITV, 1977).

Born on 1 June 1944 in Salford, he attended Manchester University where he first became interested in acting. With his piercing blue eyes, sonorous voice and brooding good looks, Powell was soon appearing in major supporting roles and in 1969 alone appeared in such disparate projects as a two-part episode of Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78), Nigel Kneale's play about the consequences of violence Bam! Pow! Zap! (BBC, tx. 5/3/1969) as well as the classic caper The Italian Job (US/UK, d. Peter Collinson). His first major roles came with the ecological thriller series Doomwatch (BBC, 1970-72) and the six-part Thomas Hardy adaptation Jude the Obscure (BBC, 1971), which for the first time pointed to that elusive quality in Powell's screen persona that has made him particularly good in dark or equivocal roles. Director David Hemmings exploited this enigmatic quality superbly in the suicide drama Running Scared (1972) and the James Herbert adaptation The Survivor (Australia, 1980). The two also appeared in Simon Wincer's flamboyant supernatural thriller Harlequin (Australia, 1980).

After starring in Ken Russell's comparatively restrained biopic Mahler (1974). Powell's big break came with Jesus of Nazareth, a massively successful mini-series that remains a worldwide Easter perennial. Although a straightforward telling of the Gospels, Powell's performance as Jesus also displayed considerable passion and his final scenes on the cross remain extremely powerful.

Frequently cast in traditionally heroic roles, Powell was excellent as Richard Hannay in Don Sharp's lively remake of The Thirty Nine Steps (1978) and the adventure series Hannay (ITV, 1988). Frequently asked to play strong authority figures, Powell was notable as the doctor revered by natives in the big budget Empire mini-series Shaka Zulu (US/South Africa/West Germany, 1986) and was an amiably stuffy Professor Higgins to Twiggy's Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (ITV, 27/12/1981).

One of Britain's busiest voice-over artists, he has been heard in countless documentaries and commercials. He also showed a pleasing sense of humour playing opposite Jasper Carrott in the popular comedy series The Detectives (BBC, 1993-97). More recently he has joined the cast of the BBC's evening soap Holby City (1999-) as the shady Mark Williams. Since 1975, he has been married to Babs Lord of dance troupe Pan's People.

Sergio Angelini

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Thumbnail image of Doomwatch (1970-72)Doomwatch (1970-72)

Ecologically driven sci-fi series that caused a stir in the early 70s

Thumbnail image of Jesus of Nazareth (1977)Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

Robert Powell plays Jesus Christ in Franco Zeffirelli's famous miniseries

Thumbnail image of Thriller (1973-76)Thriller (1973-76)

Popular anthology of suspenseful tales

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