London’s Burning actor Al Hunter Ashton died on April 27, 2007, aged 49. The 19-stone TV star and scriptwriter, who played fire station bully Pitbull, suffered a heart attack.
Hunter Ashton appeared in more than 100 TV programmes and films as a writer contributed to series such as EastEnders, The Bill and Holby City. He also wrote the acclaimed screenplay for Alan Clarke’s TV film about football hooliganism, The Firm (1988), starring Gary Oldman.
Born Alan Hunter in Birmingham on June 26, 1957, he left school at 15 and worked at a Longbridge plant. He started his stage career in the mid seventies as a male stripper and stand-up comic before studying acting at Manchester Polytechnic’s School of Theatre and Television.
After graduating, he toured with TIE companies and made stage appearances at both the Liverpool and Derby Playhouses. He began writing professionally and in 1985 wrote a BBC Schools TV play Teaching Matthew.
As an actor he had roles in many TV sitcoms including Bread, The Brittas Empire, Birds of a Feather, Mr Bean and Watching and he gained national fame when he played the alcoholic chauffeur Ray Grice in Crossroads, a role which won him the award of ‘Slob of the Year’ from Daily Mirror readers in 1987. He was also Vinny in the detective series Brokers Man with Kevin Whately.
He scripted the award-winning film Alive and Kicking, starring Lenny Henry and Robbie Coltrane, and won a Bafta award for Safe, his controversial film about homeless children. He also wrote and appeared in his own children’s TV series See How They Run (written with TV director Tim O’Mara). The series won the Royal Television Society Award for Best Children’s Drama and was Bafta nominated. His 30 minute drama Alison remains the most repeated drama on BBC Schools TV.
Hunter Ashton was involved in many charitable causes and completed several charity cycle rides.
In 2003 he narrowly escaped jail from beating up his estranged wife’s new boyfriend with a baseball bat. He was given community service after admitting assault.
At the time of his death he had a number of new TV scripts planned and was due to appear alongside James Nesbitt in a new BBC drama Jekyll next month.
His agent Richard Ireson said: “Al went far too early. We had great plans for his writing. He was very prolific for a writer, in any medium. The breadth of his work was amazing. He was extremely pro-active and knew everybody.”
Friend Barry Gunner said: “In his private life, Al was a gentle, generous and big-hearted friend, a devoted father of three, and a football fanatic and lifelong supporter of Birmingham City FC. It is no coincidence that some of his most successful writing such as The Firm and Alive and Kicking, explores problems that concern young people, set against a backdrop of football.”