Mark Eden, actor whose wicked Alan Bradley in Coronation Street was branded ‘Britain’s Biggest Rat’ – obituary

Dastardly: Eden as two-timing Alan Bradley, in the Rovers Return, 1989
Dastardly: Eden as two-timing Alan Bradley, in the Rovers Return, 1989

Mark Eden, who has died aged 92, was a versatile film and stage actor but was best known as Alan Bradley, the two-timing, wife-beating “bad boy” killed by a Blackpool tram in ITV’s Coronation Street in 1989.

As tormentor-in-chief of Rita Fairclough (Barbara Knox), the square-jawed Eden played Bradley with such gripping realism that shortly after his on-screen departure – a cliffhanger watched by a record 29 million viewers – a blue-rinsed matron reportedly accosted him in a shop and beat him over the head with an umbrella.

Having played the short-lived role of Wally Randle, Elsie Tanner’s boyfriend, in 1981, Eden returned full-time to Coronation Street as the villainous Bradley in 1986. His estranged daughter Jenny was being fostered by Rita Fairclough when Bradley turned up after an eight-year absence.

Barbara Knox as Rita Fairclough with Mark Eden as Alan Bradley - Television Stills
Barbara Knox as Rita Fairclough with Mark Eden as Alan Bradley - Television Stills

Although Bradley and Rita began an affair, he was also involved with other women, and once drunkenly tried to rape his secretary. Rita refused his offers of marriage but installed Bradley at 7 Coronation Street as her common-law husband.

Posing as Rita’s widower Len, he remortgaged her house and set up his own business. When she found out, Bradley tried to murder her and, although handed a two-year jail sentence, walked free, having spent six months on remand.

When Rita suddenly disappeared, police started digging at the building site opposite her house where Bradley was working, and it was presumed that he had finally killed her. But she had suffered a breakdown and turned up in Blackpool, where he tracked her down, only to be flattened by a passing tram as he tried to drag her to his car.

Eden was unhappy at being written out, part of a move to bring the Street up to date in a year in which the show had expanded from two to three episodes a week. His character’s dramatic demise helped boost Coronation Street’s ratings and restore it to its traditional dominance as the most watched programme on British television.

Bradley went on the run – but came to a sticky end - Shutterstock
Bradley went on the run – but came to a sticky end - Shutterstock

Subsequently Bradley was voted one of Coronation Street’s most dastardly villains and branded Britain’s Biggest Rat by the tabloids, trouncing even JR Ewing of Dallas and EastEnders’ Dirty Den. On December 8 2009, Eden unveiled a blue plaque outside a hotel on Blackpool’s seafront to mark the 20th anniversary of the screening of the famous episode. The hotel overlooked the spot where Bradley had met his end under a corporation tram.

Mark Eden was born Douglas John Malin on February 14 1928 in north London, the son of a painter and decorator, and was evacuated at the outbreak of war to rural Northamptonshire. Returning to the capital in early 1941, he left St Aloysius’ Catholic boys’ school in Somers Town when he was 14, taking a series of unskilled jobs including a milk round.

For two years he was treated for tuberculosis at the King George V sanatorium in rural Surrey, where an English teacher suggested he help out in the library. While cataloguing the books, he became enthralled by the writings of Shakespeare, Dickens and the great poets.

In the early 1950s he found work at fairgrounds like Dreamland Park in Margate and travelling fairs. (He later wrote Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland, a play based on the real-life murder of an American airman, stabbed in a fight.) On hot days, when fairground business was slack, he worked “on the smudge” as a beach photographer.

Having joined the Everyman Theatre Group in Ramsgate, and gaining further acting experience in rep at Swansea and Nottingham, his first significant break came when he was cast as Dave Simmonds in Arnold Wesker’s Jewish family trilogy Chicken Soup with Barley, Roots and I’m Talking About Jerusalem (Royal Court Theatre, 1960).

Although not Jewish, he persuaded the casting director to let him audition and he landed the part by imitating the Yiddisher cadences and inflections he had learned from a pair of Jewish East Enders also working the crowds as seaside photographers.

He took small roles in numerous films including Heavens Above! and The L-Shaped Room (both 1963), Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), in which he and Nanette Newman were cast as the distraught parents, and shared a brief scene with Alec Guinness in Doctor Zhivago (1965).

Eden also appeared on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company, cast in a John Whiting comedy, A Penny for a Song (Aldwych, 1962), alongside Judi Dench and Marius Goring. Nervous at being sidelined as a spear-carrier, he turned down an invitation from Peter Hall to join the RSC full-time.

In 1965 he was in Tennessee Williams’s Night of the Iguana, co-starring with Siân Phillips, which transferred from Croydon to the Savoy in the West End. Alan Brien in The Sunday Telegraph praised Eden’s “self-critical, humorous, quizzical performance” as the defrocked priest.

Eden riding a racing bicycle in a scene from the television drama Crime Buster in 1968 - Popperfoto
Eden riding a racing bicycle in a scene from the television drama Crime Buster in 1968 - Popperfoto

His television roles included a reporter in Quatermass and the Pit in 1958, Doctor Who (1964), in which he played Marco Polo with what the Telegraph judged “sartorial dash”, and Number 100 in The Prisoner (1967). He was also “shamefully wasted” (Sunday Telegraph) in ATV’s Crime Buster series in 1968.

A couple of lean years at the end of the 1960s led to Eden being declared bankrupt in 1973. Meanwhile he played Detective Inspector Parker in television adaptations of Lord Peter Wimsey stories in Clouds Of Witness (BBC, 1972) and Murder Must Advertise (1973).

As well as performing, Eden also wrote stage plays, including, in 1994, a comedy drama with Tony Blair’s father-in-law Anthony Booth called The Handicap Stakes, based on Booth’s experiences in a rehabilitation centre. There were also radio plays, a musical about the Beach Boys and a memoir, Who’s Going To Look At You? (2010).

Mark Eden was thrice married, firstly, in 1953, to Joan Long, with whom he had a son, David, also an actor and who predeceased him in 2017. After their divorce, Joan married the actor John le Mesurier and had an on-off affair with the comedian Tony Hancock. Eden’s second wife, Diana Smith, 18 years his junior, whom he married in 1974, acted under the name Diana Eden. Their daughter Polly became a scriptwriter.

In 1993 Eden married Sue Nicholls, who plays Audrey Roberts in Coronation Street.

Mark Eden, born February 14 1928, died January 1 2021