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Robert Powell (born 1 June, 1944) is an Englishmarker television and film actor, probably most famous for his title role in Jesus of Nazareth and as the fictional secret agent Richard Hannay. His distinctive voice has become well known in advertisements and documentaries.

He is also known for his role as Mark Williams in BBC One medical drama, Holby City, and in the sitcom The Detectives alongside Jasper Carrott.

Life and career

Powell was born in Salfordmarker, the son of Kathleen (née Davis) and John Wilson Powell. Educated at Manchester Grammar Schoolmarker and Salford Universitymarker, Powell took up acting while an undergraduate. He had a small role in the original version of The Italian Job playing one of the drivers, but had to wait a few years for his first success, playing scientist Toby Wren in the BBC's sci-fi series, Doomwatch in 1970. Having been at his request killed off in the last episode of the original series, Powell became a pin-up and a household name, following up with starring roles in several BBC serials, including television adaptations of the novels Sentimental Education and Jude the Obscure. He also appeared in the 1975 series Looking for Clancy, based on the Frederic Mullally novel Clancy.

For several years, Powell continued as a television regular, with occasional forays into film, notably as Mahler in 1974. He also notably played Captain Walker in the 1975 Ken Russell film version of Tommy. His role had no lines at all and apart from a few early scenes during the overture with Ann-Margret, he is primarily seen through the mind of his son as played by Barry Winch (Young Tommy) and Roger Daltrey. In one of those scenes Captain Walker is shown in a crucifixion pose.

He then played Jesus Christ in the series Jesus of Nazareth following a successful second audition with Franco Zeffirelli. The series had an all star cast, including Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Rod Steiger and James Mason. For this role, Powell was nominated for a BAFTA award, and collected the TV Times Best Actor award for the same performance.

In 1975, Powell married his girlfriend, the Pan's People dancer Babs Lord. This happened quickly and quietly, partly because he was about to start filming for Jesus of Nazareth, and partly to overcome problems if she flew out to see him on location in Moroccomarker. Both felt it would be easier if they were married.

On 23 November, 1977, they had their son, Barney, followed in 1979 by a daughter, Kate.

In 1978, Powell took the leading role of Richard Hannay in the third film version of The Thirty-Nine Steps. It met with modest success, and critics compared Powell's portrayal of John Buchan's character favourably with his predecessors. His characterisation did indeed prove to be enduring, as almost ten years later a television series entitled simply Hannay appeared with Powell back in the role, (although the Buchan short stories on which the series was based were set in an earlier period than The Thirty-Nine Steps). Hannay ran for two seasons.

In 1980 Powell appeared in the film Harlequin playing the Harlequin of the title who seems to have the power to cure the son of a powerful politician. For this performance, he won the Best Actor Award at the Parismarker Film Festival. In 1982, he won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his role in Imperativ.

Powell then agreed to a request from his old friend and golf partner, comedian Jasper Carrott, taking the part of an incompetent detective in a succession of sketches that formed part of Carrott's television series. The Detectives was so popular that it was turned into a sitcom, Powell's first and only venture into this genre.

In 1984, Powell made his U.S. film debut in What Waits Below (as known as Secrets of the Phantom Caverns).

In 1986, Powell narrated and co-starred in William C. Faure's popular miniseries Shaka Zulu...with soccer legend Henry Cele in the title role. In 1992, he starred in the New Zealandmarker World War I film Chunuk Bair, as Sgt Maj Frank Smith. In 1993-1995, he was the voice actor of Dr. Livesey in The Legends of Treasure Island.

Nowadays Powell appears in person less often, but his distinctive voice is frequently heard on voice-overs, advertisements, and as a narrator of television programmes such as Great Crimes and Trials and The Century of Warfare. He has also narrated many audio books including The Thirty Nine Steps, abridged versions of many of Alan Garner's books, and several abridged novels for 'The Talking Classics Collection'. Powell has also lent his voice to musical works, such as David Bedford's album The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, or the 2002 rock opera The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman, where he played the role of John Watson. He also made use of his narrating skills on a rock album by Rick Wakeman called The Cost of Living.

On 29 October, 2001 a state-of-the-art theatre named after him was opened at the University of Salfordmarker. In early 2005 he became a regular in the UK TV soap, Holby City. On 9 February, 2008 he performed as narrator Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf with the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Natalia Luis-Bassa in the North of England. He currently has a regular spot narrating literary passages on BBC4's The Book Quiz.

Main filmography



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