For more than 40 years, George Sewell was one of television’s most prolific and gifted actors, famous for such roles as Detective Inspector Brogan in Z Cars, Det Chief Inspector Craven in Special Branch and Col Alec Freeman in the cult sci-fi series UFO.
He also had a successful film career, notably appearing as Con McCarty in Mike Hodge’s tough crime thriller Get Carter (1971) with Michael Caine, and he played gritty character roles in Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life (1963) and Robbery (1967) with Stanley Baker. In 1975, he starred in Stanley Kubrick’s award-winning production of Barry Lyndon.
He was born in Tottenham, London on August 31, 1924, and left school at 14. He worked briefly in the printing trade before serving in the RAF during the Second World War.
When demobbed, he joined the Merchant Navy as a steward for the Cunard Line, serving on the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth Atlantic crossings to New York. Later he worked as a courier for a holiday tours company travelling around Europe.
A chance meeting with the actor Dudley Sutton led to him auditioning for Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in the Frank Norman and Lionel Bart musical Fings Ain’t Wot They Use T’ Be (1959). Sewell appeared in both the Stratford and subsequent West End production and then went on to appear in Littlewood’s productions of Sparrers Can’t Sing (1962) and Oh, What a Lovely War! (1963), in which he played Field Marshall Haig. The latter transferred to Paris and Broadway.
Sewell soon went on to appear in numerous tough character roles in television in the sixties in series such as Gideon’s Way, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Z Cars, Softly Softly, The Power Game and Public Eye. He appeared in several BBC Wednesday Plays including Ken Loach’s original production of Nel Dunn’s acclaimed working class drama Up the Junction.
He played Col Alec Freeman for three years in Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s UFO, the popular sci-fi series in which a secret defence agency protects Earth from space invaders.
Sewell’s most fondly remembered TV role was as the snappily dressed DCI Alan Craven in the ITV police drama Special Branch (1969-74). The series featured investigations by an elite division of Scotland Yard into international crime and espionage and boasted the distinction of being the first British crime drama to show policemen wearing trendy clothing. More recently, Sewell played superintendent Frank Cotton in The Detectives (1993), a send-up of his character in Special Branch.
Sewell’s many other TV credits included Paul Temple, The Sweeney, Callan, Minder, and 1979 he played Inspector Mendel opposite Alec Guinness’ George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. His most recent television appearances were in Heartbeat and Doctors.
He had been suffering from cancer and died on April 2, 2007. He is survived by his wife, Helen, and daughter, Elizabeth.
His agent, Peter Charlesworth, said: “You could not meet a more generous or nice actor in the business than George Sewell.”