Saturday, May 13, 2017

In Memory 2010: Alfred Burke Public Eye

From The Guardian

For 10 years, the actor Alfred Burke, who has died aged 92, 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.

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.

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