Tony Scannell obituary

Stage and small screen actor best known for his portrayal of the spiky but likable DS Ted Roach in the TV series The Bill

The actor Tony Scannell, who has died aged 74, will be best remembered as the fiery maverick DS Ted Roach in the long-running television series The Bill, debuting in its second episode in 1984. During his stint the programme metamorphosed from a one-hour post-watershed series to a twice- then thrice-weekly year-round fixture of ITV’s primetime schedule, regularly pulling in more than 15 million viewers.

The Bill was a deliberately unglamorous depiction of British policing, portraying its officers as ordinary, flawed individuals. Roach was a hard-nut cop of the old school – a dogged investigator unafraid to bend the rules. Scannell’s performance was extremely watchable, making the detective a dyspeptic, spiky but likable tough guy, delivering his dialogue with a splenetic energy and jabbing finger, his sharp copper’s instinct often battling the effects of the previous night’s whisky intake.

Roach’s testy relationship with the top brass matched Scannell’s own with the programme’s producers, and he left in 1993. His final episode provided an apposite departure involving fisticuffs, a clandestine romantic assignation, drinking on duty, and the culmination of his long-running feud with the by-the-book Inspector Monroe (Colin Tarrant). Ordered to apologise for thumping his nemesis, Ted refused and quit, storming out with a snarled lament about the changing face of the force.

Scannell’s authentic, committed turn made Roach a popular character and he reprised the role for two episodes in 2000 before being killed off in 2004, setting in motion a storyline for three ex-colleagues.

Born in Kinsale, County Cork, Tony was the eldest of the five children of Tommy Scannell, a professional footballer who was once capped for Ireland, and his wife, Peggy (nee O’Donovan). When Tony was five his father signed as a goalkeeper for Southend United, and the family moved to England as a result. However, Tony stayed behind in Cork to live with his grandmother so that he could be educated at the local Presentation Brothers college. After school he served briefly as an apprentice toolmaker before moving to England at the age of 15 to rejoin his family, who were by then living in Folkestone in Kent.

There he worked variously as a TV salesman, a singing bingo caller and a deckchair attendant before a five-year stint with the Royal Air Force, serving as a reconnaissance photographer in Cyprus. He became a radio disc jockey for the British Forces Broadcasting Service there, and helped out backstage at the camp’s theatre group in order to avoid guard duty. When he left the forces that experience, along with the encouragement of future Bill co-star Larry Dann, secured Scannell employment as an assistant stage manager at the Cambridge Arts theatre in 1968. 

He trained at the East 15 Acting School in Loughton, Essex, and immediately upon graduating played Elyot in Jack Watling’s showcase production of Private Lives (Frinton, 1974). He then joined Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, appearing at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, in, among other productions, Dracula (1974) and Bloody Mary (1975). He toured in Happy as a Sandbag (as Max Miller and Winston Churchill, 1977) and Hull Truck’s The New Garbo (1978), and performed in Four Weeks in the City for the National Theatre (Cottesloe, 1978). 

Tony Scannell as Tony Booth with Sue Johnston as Pat Phoenix in the 1998 TV movie The Things You Do For Love.
Tony Scannell as Tony Booth with Sue Johnston as Pat Phoenix in the 1998 TV movie The Things You Do For Love. Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

He made his TV debut in 1976 and played small roles in Enemy at the Door (1978), The Professionals (1979) and the film Flash Gordon (1980) before getting better parts in Armchair Thriller (The Circe Complex, 1980), Strangers (1981) and The Gentle Touch (1981). When the call came to audition for The Bill he was working as a salvage diver.

In later years he was a regular in the Channel 5 soap opera Family Affairs (as the conman Eddie Harris, 1997-99), made a good account of himself as Tony Booth – opposite Sue Johnston’s Pat Phoenix – in the TV movie The Things You Do for Love: Against the Odds (1998), displayed knowing comic timing in Charlie Brooker’s Unnovations (2001), guested in Waking the Dead (2007) and starred in the film The Haunting of Harry Payne (also known as Evil Never Dies, 2014). He made his West End debut in Wait Until Dark (Garrick theatre, 2003) and became a regular in pantomime (Abanazer a speciality). 

No stranger to tabloid intrusion, and despite being declared bankrupt in 2002, he had few regrets – he said he enjoyed the celebrity life to the full even if he had not always known how to handle it. He met the actor Agnes Lillis during a 1993 production of An Evening with Gary Lineker at the Jersey Opera House – she introduced him to Buddhism and he became a member of the Buddhist movement SGI-UK. This, and settling with Agnes to enjoy a quiet family life in Suffolk in 1995, gave him a contentment that had eluded him in his hedonistic days. They formed a theatre company – Eastbound – which performed short tours of local theatres and taught adult acting evening classes at the Seagull theatre in Lowestoft.

He is survived by Agnes and their children, Tom and Sophie, and by a daughter, Julya, from a relationship with Penny Ansell, and a son, Sean, from his 1971 marriage to Melanie Self, which ended in divorce.

• Thomas Anthony Scannell, actor, born 14 August 1945; died 26 May 2020


Toby Hadoke

The GuardianTramp

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