British Actor

Dennis Waterman has the distinction of being well known to the British television public, somewhat known in Australia and almost completely unknown to the North American audience. As a screen character, Waterman, whether playing in dramatic series or in comedy, is intimately dependent on a strong partner and in comedy especially mostly acts as a straight figure to the comic excesses of his partners. When he plays solo as in a recent feature film, the thriller Circle Of Deceit (1993), he shows himself to lack colour and charisma.

Waterman was born in London in 1947 and became a child actor, appearing in the feature film Night Train To Inverness (1958) and in a West End production of the musical The Music Man. In 1961 he landed the title role of William in the children's television series William, produced by the BBC. This 13 half-hour episode series was based on the very popular series of childrens' books by Richmal Crompton, adapted by writer C.E.Webber.

Waterman spent the following year in Hollywood working on the CBS situation comedy Fair Exchange. He was one of four British actors imported for the series, which concerned two families, one from New York, one from London, who arranged to swap teenage daughters. Waterman played a younger boy in the London family who suddenly had to contend with a teenage American "sister". The series was unusual only because it had extended the situation comedy format to hour-long episodes. However it only provoked lukewarm interest and was dropped after three months. It was briefly revived in half-hour episodes but fared no better.

Waterman's voice broke, his appearance changed and the child actor faded. In 1976 he landed the role of Detective Sergeant George Carter in the British police crime series The Sweeney produced by Thames Television's Euston Films. The Sweeney was premised on a fictional version of Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, a police car unit concerned with major crime such as arned robberies and getaways.(The series title came from Cockney rhyming slang: Sweeney Todd-The Flying Squad). The Sweeney was the best British police series of the 1970s. It was well made, carrying excellent action scenes, good stories and fine acting from leads John Thaw as Detective Inspector Jack Regan, Waterman as his assistant and Garfield Morgan as their boss, Detective Chief Inspector Hoskins.

The Sweeney offered Waterman not only considerable fame but also a second career. As a child actor his accent had been middle-class and he had projected sensitivity and vulnerability. In The Sweeney he conveyed energy, toughness, and a gritty Cockney sense of how the world really worked. Although his character was second-fiddle to John Thaw's Jack Regan, Waterman still managed to infuse Carter with considerable colour and guts.

Waterman's career was boosted even further by his next series, the enormously popular Minder. This series, which introduced the character of Arthur Daley, a shady London car dealer, and Terry McCann, his ex-convict bodyguard and partner, has been described as a perfect blend of dark humour and colourful characterization. Minder was built around inspired casting in partnering George Cole as Arthur with Waterman as Terry. Cole was a vetern of British cinema who had created a memorable forerunner to Arthur Daley in the figure of the Cockney spiv, Flash Harry, in three very funny St. Trinian films in the 1950s and 1960s. Drawing partly from the figure of Carter in The Sweeney, Waterman's Terry was tough and Cockney street-wise. What was new was the fact that Waterman was playing comic straight-man as the often hapless Terry who was usually no match for Arthur. Although Minder was named after the figure of Terry, it was Cole/Arthur who was the mainstay of the series, a fact underlined by the revival of Minder in 1991, some six years after Waterman's departure, with Gary Webster filling the minder role.

In 1986 Waterman's on-screen woman troubles began with the four hour miniseries BBC 2's The Life and Loves of a She Devil. A gruesome black comedy which combined outrageous fantasy with close-to-the-bone social comment, She Devil was an enormous popular success. The series concerned an unfaithful husband (Waterman) whose ex-wife, the figure of the title, wreakes a truly memorable set of punishments on the by-now hapless male. In portraying Waterman as a womaniser who is finally unable to control the feminine forces that he had unleashed, She Devil added an interesting new dimension to the actor's screen persona.

In 1989 Waterman returned to comedy-drama with the series Stay Lucky for Yorkshire Television. The title, which referred to nothing in particular, was somewhat indicative of the series' problems as a whole. Like The Sweeney and Minder, Stay Lucky concerned a partnership, although in this instance one that was romantic as well as professional. Set aboard a houseboat, the series concerned a set of predictable oppositions between male and female leads--Waterman as Thomas and Kay Francis as Sally. He was a Cockney, nuggety, street-wise and realistic; as a Northerner, she was glamorous, sophisticated and headstrong.

Stay Lucky attempted to mix the comedy of the sexes with the darker world of London crime and poverty but the mixture did not quite jell. However the series was at its strongest when it gravitated to the former theme, with Waterman usualy generating solid comic exasperation, not at the outrageous schemes of an Arthur Daley, but at the outlandish stratagems of a willful,attractive woman.

Waterman's most recent series has been the BBC 1 situation comedy serial, On The Up. Altogether 18 half-hour episodes were made between 1990 and 1992 and the comedy/drama blend was much more successful. The series concerned a Cockney self-made millionaire Tony (Waterman) who is less successful running both his marriage--to a beautiful, headstrong, upper-class woman--and a household of servants/friends.

-Albert Moran


Dennis Waterman
Photo courtesy of British Film Institute

DENNIS WATERMAN. Born in London, England, 24 February 1948. Attended Corona Stage School. Married 1) Penny (divorced); 2) Patricia Maynard (divorced); children: Hannah and Julia; 3) Rula Lenska. Stage debut, at the age of 11, 1959; by the age of 16 had spent a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon and worked in Hollywood; star, William series and other productions, 1962; star, The Sweeney and the Minder series; later appeared mainly in comedy parts; has also had some success as a singer. Address: ICM, 76 Oxford Street, London W1N 0AX, England.


1962 William
1962 Fair Exchange
1974-78 The Sweeney
1979-85, 1988-91 Minder
1986 The Life and Loves of a She-Devil
1989-93 Stay Lucky
1990-92 On the Up
1995 Match of the Seventies (presenter)
1996 Circle of Deceit


1985 Minder on the Orient Express


1959 Member of the Wedding
1960 All Summer Long
1974 Regan
1982 The World Cup--A Captain's Tale (also co-producer)


Pirates of Blood River, 1961; Up the Junction, 1967; My Lover, My Son, 1969; A Smashing Bird I Used to Know, 1969; A Promise of Bed, 1969; I Can't... I Can't/Wedding Night, 1969; The Scars of Dracula, 1970; Fright, 1970; Man in the Wilderness, 1971; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1972; The Belstone Fox, 1973; The Sweeney, 1977; The Sweeney II, 1978; A Dog's Day Out; Cold Justice; Father Jim.


I Could Be So Good for You, 1980; What Are We Gonna get 'er Indoors, 1983; Down Wind with Angels; Waterman.


Night Train to Inverness; The Music Man; Windy City; Cinderella; Same Time Next Year.


See also British Programming; Minder; Sweeny