DENNIS Waterman, who died this week of cancer at the age of 74, enjoyed success on the small screen to a degree most actors today can only dream of.
For 40 years, the South Londoner entertained millions on shows like The Sweeney (where he bounced off his superior Flying Squad officer Jack Regan, played by John Thaw, as the likeable George Carter between 1974 and 1978), Guardian (where he played much-loved fixer Terry McCann for George Cole’s wheel-dealer Arthur Daley between 1979 and 1989) and new tricks (where, between 2003 and 2015, he reveled alongside Amanda Redman and Alun Armstrong as Gerry Standing, a retired cop who reopens unsolved crimes).
He brought a natural warmth and Jack-the-lad charm to all of these roles and audiences held him tightly in their collective hearts as a result.
It’s hard to imagine in an age of fragmented viewing methods, but a show like The Sweeney drew around 19 million viewers at its peak, which meant that almost everyone with access to a television was, at the very least, aware of the actor and his work.
A true working-class performer, he elevated these often beautifully crafted and precisely written stories of the underworld to another level and created some amazing on-screen chemistry along the way.
It’s hard to think of a more natural on-screen couple than Waterman and Cole in Guardian for example.
The casual banter and verbal sparring of the two very different but very connected old friends trying to navigate the shady world of fakes and questionable lockdowns is as natural and unforced as anything in the story. of television. a similar ability to trigger her co-stars throughout her career.
Much of the fun of watching a series like The Sweeney today is gleaned not from the fairly standard plots of police corruption and bank robbery, but rather from the gnarly, world-weary interaction between George and Jack.
When it came to portraying the complex world of friendship and male relationships on screen, few could match the Clapham-born actor.
For the purposes of this column, it’s worth noting that the man also appeared in several major and decidedly cult big-screen productions during his time.
He was, however briefly, a leading man for the Hammer films, honoring director Roy Ward Baker’s 1970 contribution to the studio’s vampire cycle. Dracula scars as a dashing young leader who must see Christopher Lee’s Mad Earl.
His best big-screen credit, at least in my eyes, came with his performance as a working-class mod who falls in love with Suzy Kendall’s blatant newbie-class tourist in Peter Collinson’s 1968 adaptation of the classic. of Nell Dunn’s social realism. Until the junction.
Dressed in an impressive turtleneck submariner and seated astride a mirror-scalloped scooter, Waterman’s turn as Pete, the ordinary geezer who can’t understand the thinking of the “slumming” upperclass girl it” he falls in love with, is believable, easy-going, and seriously fresh. Just like Dennis really.