Obituary: Dennis Waterman, badass star of cult series New Tricks, The Sweeney and Minder

Dennis Waterman, the actor who died aged 74, has specialized in playing unreconstructed South London Jack the L commercials in a number of popular television series, most notably The Sweeney, Minder and New Tricks.

Audiences reveled in his portrayals of world-weary cops and bodyguards, and sensed that these characters’ tastes and prejudices were probably not unlike his own.

Waterman was a generous friend and was always described as “man’s man”. He loved football, cricket and golf; Pubs were almost places of pilgrimage. He was also an inveterate womanizer for most of his career, going through four marriages, including a disastrous liaison with a combustible redheaded Polish countess, Rula Lenska. However, behind this personality was a highly professional actor who was a seasoned performer before he emerged from his youth; and this despite a background that brought no advantages.

Dennis Waterman was born on 24 February 1948 in Clapham, south London, the ninth child of Rose Waterman and her husband Harry, a British Rail ticket collector. He showed an aptitude for acting and appeared in a production of at the age of seven The winter fairy tale at the Southwark Shakespeare Festival.

At the age of 11 he was cast in the film as the kidnapped diabetic child Night train to Inverness (1960). A year later he was accepted into the Royal Shakespeare Company and spent nine months in Stratford-upon-Avon. When he was chosen to play the lead role in the BBC TV series Wilhelm In 1962 he had never heard of Richmal Crompton’s Just William books, judging the character as “a classy jerk.”

In 1964 he starred alongside Sir Ralph Richardson in Graham Greene’s on the West End stage Carve a statuethen joined the company at the Royal Court, where he acted in Edward Bond’s controversial play Sblessed. It was around this time that he began living with Penny Dixon, a former drama student who became his first wife in 1972.

In 1968, Waterman had his first starring role in a film Up the intersection (1968). He played Pete, the tough guy who attracts Chelsea girl Polly, who is a Battersea slum. Polly’s role was filled by Suzy Kendall, and she and Waterman had an affair, although she was Dudley Moore’s girlfriend at the time. The Sweeney first aired in 1974 and made Waterman a household name. Waterman as DS George Carter and John Thaw as DI Jack Regan were slick cops who knew all the angles and wore trendy flared pants and oversized sideburns. When they apprehended a bad guy, often after a hair-raising chase in their Ford Granada, they’d tell him, “You’re stolen!”

The Sweeney became a cult series with 53 episodes sold in more than 50 countries. During the show’s production, Waterman began a relationship with actress Patricia Maynard. Their daughter Hannah (later actress Hannah Waterman) was born in 1975; They married two years later and had a second daughter, Julia, in 1979.

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Waterman’s second major film partnership came with in the 1980s minder, in which he played Terry McCann, the loyal if somewhat dimwitted bodyguard of this Prince of Cunning Arthur Daley (George Cole). The series is comic-rich, sort of Only Fools and Horses with attitude.

Waterman was still married to Patricia Maynard when he became involved with Rula Lenska. They had a long and passionate affair, and in January 1982 he left his wife and children. They finally married in 1987.

The marriage lasted 11 years before ending in an orgy of bitterness when Rula Lenska sold the story of her abusive marriage to a tabloid. Waterman admitted he was “blown away” one night. He added that he was “deeply ashamed”. Meanwhile, his ex-wife Patricia wrote to Maynard The Daily Telegraph to defend him.

In 2011, after his divorce from Rula Lenska, he married his fourth wife, Pamela Flint.

Waterman’s third long-running television series was New Tricks, which launched in 2003, is a comedy drama about a group of grumpy retired cops formed to investigate unsolved crimes. It became one of the most popular shows on British television.

He was also a guitarist, singer and songwriter. In 1976 he released his first album, Below Wind of angelsfollowed a year later by Aquarius. In addition to starring in Minder, he sang the title track, I could be so good for youwhich was a top 3 hit in the UK in 1980.

He is survived by his wife Pam Flint and daughters.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Obituary: Dennis Waterman, badass star of cult series New Tricks, The Sweeney and Minder

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