Hi there and welcome to Ado's Blog. I am obsessed with nostalgia, especially 1960s & 1970s nostalgia and I enjoy nothing more than reflecting on days and times that have sadly long since gone! So join me, as I take a nostalgic gander down Memory Lane and celebrate all things past and occasional present, both good and bad! (All images used that are copyrighted are copyrighted to their respective publishers and are only used here for review purposes.)
Friday, 8 April 2011
Remembering Alfred Burke - Public Eye
Alfred Burke, starred as the downbeat private detective Frank Marker in the popular television series Public Eye (1965-75). The character was intended as a British rival to Raymond Chandler's American gumshoe Philip Marlowe. Tough, unattached and self-sufficient, Marker could take a beating in the service of his often wealthy clients without quitting. "Marker wasn't exciting, he wasn't rich," Burke said. "He could be defined in negatives."
An ABC TV press release introduced the character as a "thin, shabby, middle-aged man with a slightly grim sense of humour and an aura of cynical incorruptibility. His office is a dingy south London attic within sound of Clapham Junction. He can't afford a secretary, much less an assistant, and when he needs a car, he hires a runabout from the local garage."
Tall, sharp-featured, saturnine and with an incisive voice, Burke was perfectly cast as Marker. He thought up the character's name himself – originally the detective was to be called Frank Marvin. In 1972 the role brought him a Bafta nomination for best actor. The following year, Marker was voted the most compulsive male character in a TV Times poll.
Burke – who was always known as Alfie – was born in Peckham, south-east London, to Irish parents. His father, William, worked in a fur warehouse. He left school in 1933 to take a job as an office boy with a firm that specialised in repairing railway wagons. Soon afterwards he became a steward in a City club for businessmen, but left after an uncharacteristic dispute with a barmaid which ended with her squirting a soda siphon in his face.
He dared not tell his parents that he was out of work, so he ran away to Brighton, returning to London to take a job in a silk warehouse in Cheapside. He began to perform with a local amateur dramatic group run by a headteacher who persuaded him to apply for a London county council scholarship to Rada. Before the principal, Sir Kenneth Barnes, and his colleagues, Burke declaimed, "Is this a dagger I see before me?", read a Tennyson poem and played two parts from The Last of Mrs Cheyney. He took up his place at Rada in 1937.
Two years later he appeared on stage professionally for the first time, in The Universal Legacy at the Barn theatre in Shere, Surrey. The second world war then intervened. Burke registered as a conscientious objector, and was directed to work on the land. After the war, he went back to theatre work at Farnham, Surrey, where he met Barbara Bonelle, a stage manager, who became his wife.
Burke then did a series of tours with the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (which became the Arts Council). The tours were aimed at bringing culture to "the people" – in his case, in the Welsh valleys and the Lake District. In the late 1940s, he joined the Young Vic company and went on to spend time in Manchester at the Library theatre, at the Nottingham Playhouse and in London, appearing in Pablo Picasso's play Desire Caught By the Tail at the Watergate theatre. He was at Birmingham Rep for the three parts of Henry VI, which transferred to the Old Vic in London in 1953.
By the late 1950s, Burke had established himself as a serious stage actor and a useful character actor in films including the war movies Bitter Victory (1957) and No Time to Die (1958). He played the industrial agitator Travers in The Angry Silence (1960), in which a worker (Richard Attenborough) is shunned by his colleagues for refusing to take part in a strike. In 1964 he appeared in the science-fiction movie Children of the Damned, a sequel to Village of the Damned.
On TV, he took roles in episodes of The Saint, The Avengers and Z Cars, as well as several editions of ITV's Play of the Week. In 1964 his own script, Where Are They Now?, written under the pen name of Frank Hanna, was produced as a Play of the Week. The following year, he slid into the arms of a welcoming public as Marker. In between starring in seven series of Public Eye, he had leading roles at the Leeds Playhouse in Luigi Pirandello's Henry IV, in 1970, and in Pictures in a Bath of Acid, as the writer August Strindberg, in 1971.
Burke enhanced his TV popularity with parts including the father in The Brontës of Haworth (1973), Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1977) and Major Richter, a German commandant in occupied Guernsey, in the series Enemy at the Door (1978). He portrayed Richter as essentially decent, despite the dire obligations of war. After a recurring role in the series Sophia and Constance (1988), based on Arnold Bennett's novel The Old Wives' Tale, he continued to take small TV parts throughout his 70s and 80s. He had his highest-profile role for years when he appeared – albeit briefly – as Armando Dippet, the former Hogwarts headteacher, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002).
He and Barbara had two sets of twins – Jacob and Harriet, and Kelly and Louisa – and they remained on good terms. He spent the last 25 years with Hedi Argent. They all survive him, along with 11 grandchildren.
Alfred Burke, was born 28 February 1918 and died 16 February 2011, aged 92.