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Kinnear, Roy (1934-1988)


Main image of Kinnear, Roy (1934-1988)

During a prolific but tragically curtailed career, Roy Kinnear evoked a lovably flustered everyman, his squashed frame accompanied by worried eyes and a hopefully cheerful smile. His initial fame came with That Was the Week That Was (BBC, 1962-63), but he was soon a familiar screen presence.

Despite often playing Cockneys, he was born in Wigan on 8th January 1934, and educated at George Heriot's School in Edinburgh - this may explain why his TV debut was in an STV children's series, Mr. Fixit (ITV (Scotland), 1959). His time at RADA must have confirmed that he would never be a leading man, as Peter O'Toole, Alan Bates and Frank Finlay were classmates.

By 1960, he had found his niche with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, and had a characteristic role in her only film, Sparrows Can't Sing (d. Littlewood, 1962). She later affirmed that "his success was due to his talent, not his shape."

Arguably, the least dated TW3 sketches are those that paired Kinnear with Millicent Martin as a downmarket couple, including some that predated an innovation sometimes credited to Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74) by running after the closing credits. Written by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, the sketches were a clear template for sitcom Inside George Webley (ITV, 1968-70), with Patsy Rowlands partnering Kinnear.

He had recurring roles on The Dick Emery Show (BBC, 1963-81), as Emery's skinhead Dad, and as one of Alf's drinking chums in Till Death Us Do Part (BBC, 1966-75) and in its big-screen spin-off The Alf Garnett Saga (d. Bob Kellett, 1972). Of his starring sitcoms, Cowboys (ITV, 1980-81) was popular and The Clairvoyant (BBC, pilot 1984, series 1986) less so, while Hardwicke House (ITV, 1987) was cancelled after two episodes.

Despite his profile, he often turned up in quite small parts; he was the gravedigger in Hamlet at Elsinore (BBC, tx. 19/4/1964), and worked with Alan Clarke; and Henry Livings. He did turns on Jokers Wild (ITV, 1969-74) and Blankety Blank (BBC, 1979-89); and a curious promotion for Peterborough, as a Roman soldier. But, as he once said, actors don't retire; their phones just stop ringing.

Film historian Ian Christie maintains Kinnear can be spotted in Oh... Rosalinda!! (d. Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger, 1955). Richard Lester was his most frequent big-screen director, from Help! (1965) onwards; Steven Soderbergh, with Lester's assent, identified Juggernaut (1974) as their best collaboration. Sidney Lumet also used him well in The Hill (1965), and The Deadly Affair (1966). Occasional Hollywood excursions included Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo (1977) and Hammett (1982).

While filming in Spain, for Lester's The Return of the Musketeers (1989), he was thrown from a horse and died on 20th September 1988. Roy Kinnear: An Actor's Life (tx. 10/10/1988), was a BBC2 tribute, while out of respect to his family, the Casualty episode, 'A Wing and a Prayer', in which he appeared, was postponed, and broadcast during a repeat run (tx. 19/8/1989).

Gavin Gaughan

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Thumbnail image of Heavens Above! (1963)Heavens Above! (1963)

Comedy of clerical misunderstanding starring an on-form Peter Sellers

Thumbnail image of Sparrows Can't Sing (1962)Sparrows Can't Sing (1962)

Lively slice of East End life starring a pre-Carry On Barbara Windsor

Thumbnail image of Watership Down (1978)Watership Down (1978)

Lively, grisly animated version of Richard Adams' children's classic

Thumbnail image of Dick Emery Show, The (1963-81)Dick Emery Show, The (1963-81)

'Ooh you are awful...'. Skits and sketches from the cross-dressing comic

Thumbnail image of George and Mildred (1976-79)George and Mildred (1976-79)

Spin-off to Man About The House, featuring the bickering Ropers

Thumbnail image of Hamlet at Elsinore (1964)Hamlet at Elsinore (1964)

The Shakespeare play staged at the real Elsinore castle

Thumbnail image of That Was the Week That Was (1962-63)That Was the Week That Was (1962-63)

Groundbreaking and controversial BBC satirical programme

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