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Steven Berkoff (born 3 August 1937) is an Englishmarker actor, writer and director. He is patron of the Nightingale Theatre, in Brighton, Englandmarker, a fringe theatre venue, which is (as are most fringe venues in England), a small room over a pub. He is best known for playing General Orlov in the James Bond film Octopussy,

Personal history

Berkoff was born as Leslie Steven Berks, in Stepneymarker, in the East End of Londonmarker, on 3 August 1937, the son of Pauline (Hyman) and Alfred Berks (Berkovitch), who was a tailor. He attended Raine's Foundation Grammar Schoolmarker from 1948 to 1950, Hackney Downs Schoolmarker and trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, in London, in 1958 and at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq, in Parismarker, in 1965. He lives with his companion Clara Fisher in East Londonmarker.



As well as being an actor, Berkoff is a playwright and director.

He joined the Repertory Company at Her Majesty's Theatre in Barrow-in-Furnessmarker for approx 2 months in 1962 .

His earliest plays are adaptations of works by Franz Kafka: The Metamorphosis (1969); In the Penal Colony (1969); and The Trial (1971); these complex psychological plays are nightmarish and create a disturbing sense of alienation in their audiences.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote a series of verse plays including: East (1975); Greek (1980); Decadence (1981); West (1983); Sink the Belgrano! (1986); Massage (1997); Sturm und Drang; and The Secret Love Life of Ophelia (2001).

Critic Ned Chaillett has described Sink the Belgrano!, a critical take on the Falklands War, which premiered at the Half Moon Theatremarker, in Stepneymarker, on 2 September 1986, as "a diatribe in punk-Shakespearean verse"; and Berkoff himself described it as "even by my modest standards ... one of the best things I have done" (Free Association 373).

Berkoff employs a style of heightened physical theatre known as "total theatre". Drama critic Aleks Sierz describes his Berkoff's dramatic style as "in yer face":

In the late 1980s, he directed an interpretation of Salome by Oscar Wilde in the Gate Theatremarker, Dublinmarker and later in the United Kingdommarker.

In 1998 his solo play Shakespeare's Villains, produced and co-directed by Marc Sinden at London's Haymarket Theatremarker, was nominated for a Society of London Theatre Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment. Sinden had previously appeared in Berkoffs' 1994 film of Decadence with Joan Collins. Berkoff and Sinden worked together again in 1999 on the 25th anniversary revival of East, which was produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (winning the Stage Award for Best Ensemble work at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe), at the Theatre de Silvia Monfort, Parismarker and at the Vaudeville Theatremarker in London's West Endmarker, where it was filmed in front of a live audience and released as a best-selling DVD.

Film and television

In Hollywood films, Steven Berkoff has played villains such as the corrupt art dealer Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop; gangster George Cornell in The Krays; the sadistic Soviet officer Col. Podovsky in Rambo: First Blood Part II; and General Orlov in the James Bond film Octopussy.

He also appears in the 1967 Hammer film Prehistoric Women, in the 1980 film McVicar, alongside Roger Daltrey and in the Australian biographical film on the early life of Errol Flynn entitled Flynn (1996) (entitled My Forgotten Man in some markets).

In Stanley Kubrick's films A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon, Berkoff plays a police officer and a gambler nobleman (Lord Ludd), respectively. He also appears in the independent feature Naked in London (2006).

As a television actor, he had an early TV role in an episode of The Avengers. He also had an early role as a regular playing a Moonbase Interceptor pilot in the Gerry Anderson TV series UFO. His other television roles include: Hagath in the episode "Business as Usual" in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Stilgar in the 2003 miniseries Children of Dune; a gangster (Mr Wiltshire) in episode 8 of the BBC's Hotel Babylon series; a lawyer (Freddie Eccles) in an episode of ITV's Marple entitled By the Pricking of My Thumbs; and Adolf Hitler in the mini-series War and Remembrance, role he originally baulked at taking, primarily on moral grounds; he later relented.

Berkoff also appears as himself in the "Science" episode of the British current affairs satire Brass Eye (1997), warning against the dangers of the fictional environmental disaster "Heavy Electricity".

Other work

Berkoff speaks a voiceover in "The Mind Of The Machine" (1998), a top 20 hit in the UKmarker by dance band N-Trance.

Berkoff appears in the opening sequence to Sky Sports' coverage of the 2007 Heineken Cup Final, modeled on a speech by Al Pacino in the 1999 film Any Given Sunday.

With Andy Serkis and others, he provides motion capture and voice for the PlayStation 3 game Heavenly Sword, playing one of its main villains, General Flying Fox.

Also with Serkis, he appears briefly in a cameo in the 2008 film The Cottage.

In 1996, he appeared as the Master of Ceremonies in a BBC Radio 2 concert version of Kander & Ebb's Cabaret.

He appears in the British Heart Foundation's two-minute public service advertisement, Watch Your Own Heart Attack, broadcast on ITV, on 10 August 2008.

Berkoff stars also in the UK Post-Apocalyptic thriller Devil's Playground, who is directed by Mark McQueen.

Awards, award nominations, and other honours

Attending the Alton College ceremony honouring him, he stated:

He taught a drama masterclass later that day and performed his Shakespeare's Villains for an invited audience of 100 that evening.

Critical assessment

According to Annette Pankratz, in her 2005 Modern Drama review of Steven Berkoff and the Theatre of Self-Performance, by Robert Cross, "Steven Berkoff is one of the major minor contemporary dramatists in Britain and – due to his self-fashioning as a bad boy of British theatre and the ensuing attention of the media – a phenomenon in his own right." According to Pankratz, Cross "focuses on Berkoff's 'theatre of self-performance,' that is, the intersections between Berkoff, the public phenomenon and Berkoff, the artist."

Allusions in popular culture

In the 1989 romantic comedy The Tall Guy, struggling actor Dexter King (Jeff Goldblum) auditions unsuccessfully for an imaginary 'Berkoff play' called England, My England. In the audition, characters dressed as skinheads swear repetitively at each other, and a folding table is kicked over. Afterwards, Dexter's agent Mary (Anna Massey) muses: "I think he's probably mad..."

"I'm scared of Steven Berkoff" is a line in the lyrics of "I'm Scared" (1992), by Queen's guitarist Brian May, released on his first solo album Back to the Light (1993). Brian May has declared himself as a great admirer of Berkoff.

Legal controversy

In 1996 Berkoff prevailed as the plaintiff in Berkoff v. Burchill, a libel civil action which he brought against Sunday Times journalist Julie Burchill, after she published comments suggesting that he was "hideously ugly"; the judge ruled for Berkoff, finding that Burchill's actions "held him to ridicule and contempt."


  1. Peter Purves' autobiography "Here's one I wrote earlier...", hardback edition, Green Umbrella Publishing, page 70. ISBN 9781906635343.
  2. SOLT
  3. iMDB
  4. The Stage
  5. Spend the Apocalypse in the Devil's Playground


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