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Daniels, Phil (1958-)

Actor, Musician

Main image of Daniels, Phil (1958-)

During a period of brief but genuine big-screen stardom in the late 1970s, Phil Daniels made his name playing insolent, irreverent Cockney rebels, a persona that he has carried over into middle age.

He was born in King's Cross, London, on 25 October 1958 into a working-class family. At 13, he joined an after-school drama club run by the legendary teacher Anna Scher who taught techniques based on free improvisation. He landed his first role soon after as a street urchin in a BBC version of Verdi's Falstaff, and was getting regular acting work by the time he was 16.

Daniels' first significant appearance was as a Borstal boy in Alan Clarke's television movie Scum (BBC, 1977), a character which he reprised in the director's 1979 cinema re-make. That year he also landed a signature role, as a charismatic Mod in Quadrophenia, Franc Roddam's iconic film about Sixties teenage subcultures.

In Breaking Glass (d. Brian Gibson, 1980), Daniels was the hustling boyfriend of a punk rocker who sells out in the early days of the Thatcherite counter-revolution. He was also developing his own musical career, which would cross over intermittently into his acting work, with the new wave band The Cross.

One of his best parts, as a sardonic layabout, was in Meantime (Channel 4, tx. 1/12/1983), Mike Leigh's blistering portrait of underclass life. Daniels worked with Clarke again as a cocky snooker player in the offbeat musical Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire (1985) and was Mr. Pickwick's servant Sam Weller in The Pickwick Papers (BBC, 1985).

As screen roles dried up, he stepped up his stage work, touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987 and appearing over the next decade in West End plays such as Doug Lucie's The Green Man. In 1994, he narrated the lyrics for Blur's award-winning Britpop anthem Parklife.

On screen, Daniel appeared in Still Crazy (d. Brian Gibson, 1998), about a band of ageing rockers, voiced a crafty rat in the animated film Chicken Run (d. Peter Lord, Nick Park, 2000) and was one of the eponymous Nasty Neighbours in Debbie Isitt's 2000 film comedy.

In recent years, his highest profile has been on television: as a creepy 1960s crooner in Sex, Chips and Roll'n'Roll (BBC, 1999), a bulimic restaurant critic in Tony Marchant's acclaimed mini-series Holding On (BBC, 1997), an alcoholic regular at Al Murray's pub in Time Gentlemen Please (Sky, 2000-2002) and a cynical lawyer in Outlaws (BBC, 2004). In 2006 he joined the BBC soap opera EastEnders as the struggling single father Kevin Wicks until the character was killed off in a car crash at the end of 2007.

In Rock & Chips (BBC, 2010), a prequel to Only Fools and Horses (BBC, 1981-96), Daniels portrayed Ted Trotter, Del Boy's grandfather. He returned to the role for two more specials (2010-2011).

In 2010 he published his autobiography, Phil Daniels, Class Actor, and filmed Vinyl (d. Sara Sugarman), playing a character based on The Alarm's frontman Mike Peters.

Sheila Johnston

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire (1985)Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire (1985)

The world's first (and for some reason only) vampire snooker musical

Thumbnail image of Holding On (1997)Holding On (1997)

Epic, multi-stranded drama series set in late 1990s multicultural London

Thumbnail image of Meantime (1983)Meantime (1983)

Memorably bleak Mike Leigh film about feuding East London families

Thumbnail image of Scum (1977)Scum (1977)

The original banned BBC version of Alan Clarke's Borstal drama

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