Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Blessed, Brian (1936-)


Main image of Blessed, Brian (1936-)

Although he is known for a personality best described as much larger than life - and for his formidable lung power - Brian Blessed's acting career has encompassed a variety of roles which demonstrate considerable versatility, showing him equally capable of still, brooding menace, hearty bonhomie and explosive rage.

Born in West Riding, he left school at 14 when his father was injured in a mining accident, taking a variety of jobs before serving as a parachutist during his National Service. After graduating from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, he won his major television break in the spectacularly successful police drama Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78), becoming a household name as PC 'Fancy' Smith, 'a Ted in a copper's uniform'. Leaving the series in 1965, he subsequently played Porthos in The Three Musketeers (BBC, 1966-67) and made appearances in The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69) and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (ITV, 1969-70), but it was not until I, Claudius (BBC, 1976) that he got his next defining role. As Augustus, Rome's first emperor, he dominated early episodes, sparking off Siân Phillips' scheming Livia and George Baker's hangdog Tiberius. The first in a series of charismatic authority figures, Augustus allowed Blessed to display his full range, switching in an instant from silken charm to boiling fury.

After memorable guest roles in Survivors (BBC, 1975-77) and Blake's 7 (BBC, 1978-81), he provided a boisterous turn as Basilios, the human incarnation of Greek god Dionysus, in The Aphrodite Inheritance (BBC, 1978). By now he had grown the bushy beard that would become his trademark, taking on a broad, bear-like persona which began to veer into self-parody after his scene-stealing performance as Vultan in Flash Gordon (d. Michael Hodges, 1980).

More king-sized roles followed, notably bloodthirsty Richard IV, father of the first incarnation of The Black Adder (BBC, 1983), perennially incapable of remembering the name of his slithering offspring. He proved equally voluble as Long John Silver in John Silver's Return to Treasure Island (ITV,1986). From the late 1980s he was a regular collaborator on Kenneth Branagh's Shakespearean adaptations, providing an amiable Exeter in Henry V (1989) and a chilling Ghost in Hamlet (1996).

Latterly he has increasingly specialised in voice work, lending his sonorous tones to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (US, 1999) and even a car navigation device, and remains one of Britain's most instantly recognisable and entertaining character actors, as well as a notable explorer and mountain climber.

Richard Hewett

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)

Keith Michell's virtuoso performance as the much-married monarch

Thumbnail image of Blackadder (1983-89)Blackadder (1983-89)

Much-loved historical sitcom starring Rowan Atkinson

Thumbnail image of I, Claudius (1976)I, Claudius (1976)

Epic, gory and salacious drama of murder and intrigue in ancient Rome

Thumbnail image of Son of Man (1969)Son of Man (1969)

Potter's typically provocative retelling of the Crucifixion

Thumbnail image of Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88)Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88)

Ironic stories of menace and the macabre with a sting in the tail

Thumbnail image of Z Cars (1962-78)Z Cars (1962-78)

Groundbreaking cop drama introducing new grit and realism

Related collections

Related people and organisations