Robert Powell

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Robert Powell
Born(1944-06-01) 1 June 1944 (age 68)
Salford, Lancashire, England
Years active1969-present
Spouse(s)Barbara "Babs" Lord (2 children)
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Robert Powell
Born(1944-06-01) 1 June 1944 (age 68)
Salford, Lancashire, England
Years active1969-present
Spouse(s)Barbara "Babs" Lord (2 children)

Robert Powell (born 1 June 1944) is a British television and film actor, best known for the title role in Jesus of Nazareth (1977) 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.



Early life

Powell was born in Salford, Lancashire the son of Kathleen (née Davis) and John Wilson Powell.[1]


Powell was educated at Manchester Grammar School, an independent school for boys in the city of Manchester in North West England, and later at the University of Salford. One of his classmates was Ben Kingsley, another famous actor, from nearby Pendlebury also in Salford.


Powell took up acting while an undergraduate. He had aspired to become a lawyer and in 1963-4 attended an external London University LLB degree Course at the Manchester College of Commerce but at the same time quietly took acting roles under Trevor Nunn. At the College of Commerce he swapped roles with Bernard Brandon in a week long College Revue of Comedy Sketches to see which role gave him "the best laughs". This early comedy experience was later to be fulfilled with Jasper Carrot. After this he secured a post at a repertory theatre in Stoke-on-Trent. He had a small role in the original film version of The Italian Job (1969) playing one of the gang, but had to wait a few years for his first success, playing scientist Toby Wren in the BBC's science fiction series, Doomwatch in 1970. Having been killed off in the last episode of the original series, at his request, 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 (1970) and Jude the Obscure (1971). 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, as the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler in the Ken Russell biopic Mahler (1974) and Captain Walker in Russell's film version of Tommy (1975). His role in Tommy 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 Jesus of Nazareth (1977) following a successful second audition with Franco Zeffirelli. The two-part television film 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 TVTimes Best Actor award for the same performance.

In 1975, Powell married his girlfriend, the Pan's People dancer Babs Lord, 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 Morocco. 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 Paris 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).[2]

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 Zealand 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,[3] 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 two rock albums by Rick Wakeman called Cost of Living and The Gospels (1987).

On 29 October 2001 a state-of-the-art theatre named after him was opened at the University of Salford.[4] In early 2005 he became a regular in the UK TV medical drama, Holby City, where he remained for six years before departing to return to theatre.[5] On 9 February 2008 he performed as narrator in Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf with the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Natalia Luis-Bassa in the North of England.[6] He currently has a regular spot narrating literary passages on BBC4's The Book Quiz.



  1. ^
  2. ^ Mann, Roderick (October 27, 1983). "Man who played 'Jesus' to make U.S. film debut". Los Angeles Times: p. E1.'JESUS'+TO+MAKE+U.S.+FILM+DEBUT&pqatl=google. Retrieved September 12, 2009. "Six years after making his initial impact on American audiences as the star of Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 television film "Jesus of Nazareth," British actor Robert Powell has just finished his first American-made film." 
  3. ^ "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at CD Universe". 
  4. ^ Quilliam, Wendy (2001-10-30). "What a performance!". University of Salford News. 
  5. ^ Powell, Robert (25 January 2011) (audio). Steve Wright in the Afternoon: with Holby City actor Robert Powell and travel expert Paul Evans (Radio interview). Radio interview with Steve Wright. Tim Smith; Janey Lee Grace. Steve Wright in the Afternoon. BBC Radio 2. Archived from the original on 27 January 2011. Retrieved 27 January 2011. "I've been there for six years, and that was five years longer than I ever anticipated staying, and it just struck me that it was probably time to move on and go back to [my] roots." 
  6. ^ Baldwin, Andrew (2008-01-18). "Classic tale for actor of many parts". Huddersfield Daily Examiner. 

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