Dennis Waterman: An actor and singer whose career spanned more than six decades

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Dennis Waterman: An actor and singer whose career spanned more than six decades
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Dennis Waterman was a familiar face on British television for more than six decades.

From tough cop George Carter in The Sweeney to good-hearted detective sergeant Gerry Standing in New Tricks, he was known for playing action-packed characters who had more than meets the eye.

Not one to focus on a single role, Waterman was also an accomplished singer, stage actor and film star.

Dennis Waterman (left) and George Cole at the Theatre Royal in London (PA) (PA Wire)
Dennis Waterman (left) and George Cole at the Theatre Royal in London (PA) (PA Wire)

Born in 1948 in Clapham, south-west London, as the youngest of nine children, he was surrounded by arts at a young age thanks to his older sister Joy, who ran her own amateur dramatics society and encouraged the rest of the Waterman children to join.

His mother also dabbled in music by playing the piano in a way which Waterman once described as an “East End knees-up job”.

Waterman joined the Corona Theatre School in 1959 following a suggestion from another one of his sisters and soon got work in the industry.

His film debut came in 1960 in the Night Train For Inverness. Also at the age of 12, Waterman was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon.

He followed with the television series Just William, and spent a year in the West End playing Winthrop Parroo in The Music Man.

At 16, he starred on the West End in Carving A Statue, which marked the beginning of a recording career and a three-year engagement at the Royal Court.

During that time, his versatility as an actor was stretched in productions ranging from Edward Bond’s Saved, through to Twelfth Night and Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance.

Minder stars Dennis Waterman (left) and George Cole (right) with Chris Routh (PA) (PA Wire)
Minder stars Dennis Waterman (left) and George Cole (right) with Chris Routh (PA) (PA Wire)

Further stints on television and in the theatre led to him landing a role in Nell Dunn’s Up The Junction in 1967, playing Pete, a man from his native Clapham, who meets an upper class girl from Chelsea, west London, and begins dating her.

Waterman became a household name after playing the role of DS George Carter in crime series The Sweeney, in which he co-starred with John Thaw. The worldwide popularity led to two film box office smashes, Sweeney I and Sweeney II.

He later reflected fondly on his time in the show, stating in his Life And Times documentary: “We knew we were doing something really quite special and very different from British television.

“There was no worry then, which I think was a help. There was no great panic about whether it was going to be a success in the ratings.

“We just knew we had very good scripts, we had great directors, and we thought we weren’t that shabby. John [Thaw] and I were great mates and, it sounds horrible, but it was just a joy to go to work every day.”

His Sweeney success was later topped with critically acclaimed television series The Minder, where Waterman played bodyguard, or “minder”, Terry McCann for 10 years from 1979. He demonstrated his vocal talents by singing the theme song, I Could Be So Good for You, which peaked at number three in the UK charts in 1980.

Dennis Waterman, Denis Lawson, Amanda Redman and Nicholas Lyndhurst in New Tricks (BBC/PA) (PA Media)
Dennis Waterman, Denis Lawson, Amanda Redman and Nicholas Lyndhurst in New Tricks (BBC/PA) (PA Media)

His passion for singing led Waterman to release music with record companies EMI and DJM.

He released three albums – Down Wind Of Angels, Waterman and So Good For You – in the 1970s and 1980s and performed around the UK on a tour, dubbed Friends On Tour, with Sheena Easton and Gerard Kenny.

Echoing the success of Sweeney, Minder was adapted into a film based on the TV series entitled Minder On The Orient Express, which was broadcast on Christmas Day in 1985.

After leaving Minder, Waterman returned to the stage for several years, starring in shows including Jeffrey Bernard in Unwell in Australia, Ireland and the UK, and My Fair Lady in the West End.

In the latter part of his career, he played Gerry Standing in the show New Tricks from 2003 to 2014.

Afterwards he semi-retired, splitting his time between his homes in Berkshire and Spain. His final film role was in the Australian comedy drama Never Too Late in 2020.

Waterman is survived by his wife, Pam, and two daughters, Julia and Hannah, who were born following his marriage to actress Patricia Maynard.

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