Character actor and familiar face on stage and screen, who starred in films by Ken Loach and Woody Allen and acted opposite Pete Postlethwaite
The character actor John Benfield began his career at the relatively late age of 28, but became a familiar and dependable presence in theatre, film and television drama for four decades.
His stage work included Sam Mendes’ 1994 production of Glengarry Glen Ross at the Donmar Warehouse in London, Macduff to Pete Postlethwaite’s Macbeth on tour in 1997, and the lead role of Salter in Caryl Churchill’s A Number at Manchester’s Library Theatre in 2009.
In film, he worked for Ken Loach in Hidden Agenda (1990), Woody Allen in Cassandra’s Dream (2007) and the Wachowski Brothers in Speed Racer (2008), playing Cruncher Block. But he will probably be best remembered for more than 50 TV roles, including that of DCS Michael Kernan, the foil to Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect from 1991.
Born in Wanstead, his father a margarine salesman, Benfield worked as a chauffeur and an ambulance driver before reading history as a mature student at the University of Nottingham, where he joined the drama society.
After training at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, he made his stage debut in 1979 in Twelfth Night at the Bubble Theatre in London as a “fine Malvolio… starchier than Jeeves and more dangerous than the MC in Cabaret”, according to The Stage. The following year he was part of the ensemble for the BBC’s Shakespeare Project, which screened all 37 plays over six years.
Burly, with a gruff voice and a craggy face, Benfield was often cast as tough characters completely at odds with his gentle, easy-going manner in real life. A consummate professional who loathed pretension, he took his work seriously, but not himself.
John Benfield was born on November 9, 1951 and died of a rare sarcoma cancer on June 16, aged 68. He is survived by his wife Lilian, who he married in 1989, and their son Fred.