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Obituary: Jeremy Kemp – stage and screen actor who excelled at playing authority figures

Jeremy Kemp Jeremy Kemp

Actor Jeremy Kemp’s screen career was dominated by roles in uniform, most indelibly including his television breakthrough as PC Bob Steele in the first series of the gritty, agenda-changing police serial Z-Cars in 1962, and BAFTA-nominated German fighter pilot Lieutenant Willi von Klugermann in the 1966 Hollywood war drama The Blue Max.

His stage career was considerably more varied, having graduated in 1958 from the Central School of Speech and Drama (where fellow students included Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave) with the Laurence Olivier and Carleton Hobbs awards, the latter securing him a placement with the BBC Radio Drama Company.

The same year, he was seen in Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs at the Royal Court and Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart with the Old Vic, where he remained for two seasons, notably playing Malcolm to Michael Hordern’s Macbeth.

At Nottingham Playhouse, he was a suitably menacing Bill Sikes in Oliver! (1960) and followed Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s North Country domestic comedy Celebration to the Duchess Theatre in 1961.

He returned to the West End alongside Alec Guinness and Anthony Quayle in Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy at the Phoenix Theatre in 1966 and made his memorable Royal Shakespeare Company debut as the dedicated but sleazy teacher Howarth in Simon Gray’s Spoiled in 1971.

In Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, he was a sensitive and vulnerable Aston opposite John Hurt’s sibling Mick and Leonard Rossiter’s Davies at the Mermaid Theatre in 1972 and, in one of his last stage appearances, Buckingham to John Wood’s Richard III at the National Theatre in 1979.

A varied television career was dominated by a trio of successful war dramas, including the last series of Colditz (1974), the blockbuster mini-series The Winds of War (1983), and its sequel War and Remembrance (1988-89).

His small-screen Shakespeare included the Duke of Norfolk (Henry VIII, 1979) and Leontes (The Winter’s Tale, 1981) for the BBC, and Cornwall to Laurence Olivier’s King Lear for Granada in 1983.

There was some controversy attached to his portrayal of Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Slipper as he pursued Larry Lamb’s Great Train Robber Ronald Biggs to Brazil only to return to the UK empty handed in The Great Paper Chase (1986), Slipper successfully suing the BBC, which has never repeated it.

Kemp’s other film work included Operation Crossbow (1965), Darling Lili with Julie Andrews (1970), the star-laden A Bridge Too Far (1977), and the Richard Curtis-scripted Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). An active, campaigning member of Equity, he also served as president of the Stage Golfing Society.

Jeremy Kemp was born Edmund Jeremy James Walker in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, on January 3, 1935, and died on July 19, aged 84.

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