One of Scotland’s finest actors who played tough guys, steely villains and stalwart military figures
Maurice Roëves. right, with Anthony Andrews in Danger UXB, 1979. Photograph: Fremantle Media/Rex/Shutterstock
The actor Maurice Roëves, who has died aged 83, was one of Scotland’s most popular performers. He carved out an impressive screen career on both sides of the Atlantic – beginning with an episode of Doctor Finlay’s Casebook in 1966 and concluding with a cameo role in the surrogacy drama The Nest (2020). Handsome, with piercing eyes and a granite jawline, he played tough guys, steely villains or stalwart military figures with directness, authenticity and spiky energy.
In John Byrne’s Bafta-winning BBC One rock’n’roll drama Tutti Frutti (1987), which provided early leading roles for Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson, Roëves was compelling viewing as the guitarist Vincent Diver, an ageing lothario and “iron man of Scottish rock”.
Born in Sunderland, he was the eldest of three children of Rhoda (nee Laydon) and Percival Roëves but the family moved first to Newcastle upon Tyne and then to Partick, Glasgow, when Maurice was six (he thereafter considered himself Glaswegian) so that his father could work at the Spillers flour mill.
Maurice left Hyndland secondary school early to work with his father, becoming a sales manager after a break for his national service with the Royal Scots Greys Armoured Corps. He then studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), where he won the gold medal for acting.
Upon graduation in 1964 he started working at the Citizens theatre, Glasgow, as an assistant stage manager, playing small roles beside his backstage chores. His first major part came as Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice and a visiting Disney scout secured his casting in the film The Fighting Prince of Donegal (1966). His big screen career blossomed from there, and he soon starred as Stephen Dedalus in the controversial adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1967) and played a member of the central family in Richard Attenborough’s production of Oh, What a Lovely War! (1969).
His tough countenance and physical robustness found him especially convincing in uniform and he played battle-hardened officers in The Eagle Has Landed (1976), Escape to Victory (1981, with Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and a host of international footballers) and Who Dares Wins (1981). He enjoyed box-office success as Colonel Monro in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans (1992), played God in Irvine Welsh’s The Acid House (1998) and provided solid support in Beautiful Creatures (2000), The Damned United (2009) and Macbeth (2015).
He established himself quickly on TV, proving to be a dependable character actor and an edgy leading man. He took the title role, a luckless drop-out artist, in Scobie in September (a thriller set against the backdrop of the Edinburgh festival, 1969) and its follow-up, The Scobie Man (1972). He played a kidnapper in the political thriller Scotch on the Rocks (1973), the stoical section sergeant in the bomb disposal drama Danger UXB (1979), a dogged police inspector in The Nightmare Man (1981) and the chilling Robert Henderson in the soap River City (2006-07).
He guest-starred in many popular TV shows, from A Family at War (1971) to Doctors (2013) via two episodes in EastEnders (2003) as Geoff, the alcoholic policeman father of Kate Morton (Jill Halfpenny).
Maurice Roëves as Jimmy Gordon with Timothy Spall as Peter Taylor, right, in The Damned United, 2009. Photograph: Allstar/BBC/Sportsphoto
He also had the rare distinction of appearing in both Doctor Who and the Star Trek franchise: in the former he brought genuine grit to his turn as a murderous gun runner in The Caves of Androzani (1984), frequently voted the best story in the show’s long history. His alien Romulan in Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of his many forays into American television, which also included a stint on the soap Days of Our Lives (1985-86) and parts in Baywatch (1992), Cheers (1993) and Murder, She Wrote (1994).
He also played Chief Super intendent David Duckenfield in Jimmy McGovern’s campaigning docudrama Hillsborough (1996) and Matt Busby in Surviving Disaster – Munich Air Crash (2006), and flexed his comedy muscles in The New Statesman (1991), Rab C Nesbitt (1992) and Two Doors Down (2016).
On stage he was Macduff to the Macbeth of Alec Guinness at the Royal Court in 1966, assuming the lead for the last two weeks of the extended run. He made it to the West End in The Turning Point (Duke of York’s theatre, 1974) and the National theatre in Gagarin Way (2002). A favourite role was the title character, a drunk undergoing a philosophical journey, in The Killing of Michael Malloy (Tiffany theatre, West Hollywood, 1993). He threw himself into pantomime with gusto at the Glasgow Pavilion (1997) and he starred in Rutherford and Son at the Manchester Royal Exchange (2006).
He did two one-man plays at the Edinburgh fringe: There Was a Man (1977, as Robert Burns) and, aged 75 and holding the stage for a full 90 minutes, Just a Gigolo (2012), as the Italian soldier who married DH Lawrence’s ex-wife and inherited the rights to Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Off screen he was a gregarious, loyal company man who served as a mentor to younger colleagues.
He is survived by his third wife, Vanessa (nee Rawlings-Jackson), whom he married in 2001, his daughter, Sarah, from his first marriage to the actor Jan Wilson, which ended in divorce, Vanessa’s children, Christopher, Jonathan and Alice, and by his siblings, Kathleen and Gordon.
- John Maurice Roëves, actor, born 19 March 1937; died 14 July 2020