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Waterman, Dennis (1948-)

Actor, Producer, Singer

Main image of Waterman, Dennis (1948-)

Dennis Waterman has cornered the market in street-wise, honourable cockney characters skilled in using their native wit as well as their fists, an image that has brought him considerable success.

Born on 24 February 1948 in South London, Waterman first became a household name in the BBC drama William (1962-63), an adaptation of Richmal Crompton's stories about a rebellious schoolboy (though he was replaced in the second series by Denis Gilmore). He later made the successful transition to adult actor via the soap opera Weaver's Green (ITV, 1966) and the film version of Nell Dunn's controversial novel Up the Junction (d. Peter Collinson, 1967).

His career changed forever when he was cast as Detective Sergeant George Carter in Euston Films' tough London police series The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-78). Waterman's chemistry with John Thaw, who played Detective Inspector Jack Regan, saw his role upgraded to joint lead and the creation of a hugely popular double act. A similar chemistry with another former child star, George Cole, helped to make his next Euston series, Minder (ITV, 1979-94), a massive hit. With Waterman as ex-boxer and ex-con Terry McCann, bodyguard and reluctant partner to Cole's wheeler-dealer Arthur Daley, Minder captured the entrepreneurial mood of the 1980s and arguably invented the comedy/drama genre.

As well as singing the theme tunes for Minder and his later shows, On the Up (BBC, 1990-92) and Stay Lucky (ITV, 1989-93), Waterman produced the TV movie The First World Cup - A Captain's Tale (ITV, tx 5/6/1982). Although this first production was nominated for an Emmy award, the 1989 feature film follow-up Cold Justice (d. Terry Green), produced by his company East End Films, failed to find a distributor.

He continued to develop as an actor, portraying an adulterous husband in the acclaimed adaptation of The Life and Loves of a She Devil (BBC, 1986) and tackling comedy again in Stay Lucky and On the Up. In 2003, after a decade in character roles, Waterman returned as retired Detective Sergeant Gerry Shandling in New Tricks (BBC, 2003-). A womanising, rule-bending cockney copper, the part was an acknowledgement of the actor's celebrated TV past and helped establish the series as another popular favourite.

Waterman has been lampooned in the sketch comedy Little Britain (BBC, 2003-) for his penchant for singing theme songs, but the ribbing is good-natured; like the knowing wink of New Tricks' Shandling, Little Britain's send-up confirms Waterman as one of TV's most enduring - and underrated - actors.

Robert Fairclough

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Go Kart Go (1963)Go Kart Go (1963)

Children's comedy-thriller about rival go-kart gangs

Thumbnail image of Life and Loves of a She-Devil, The (1986)Life and Loves of a She-Devil, The (1986)

Witty supernatural feminist revenge thriller by Fay Weldon

Thumbnail image of Minder (1979-94)Minder (1979-94)

A nice little earner for George Cole and Dennis Waterman

Thumbnail image of Sweeney, The (1975-78)Sweeney, The (1975-78)

Tough 1970s police drama with John Thaw and Dennis Waterman

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