Saturday, 8 October 2011

R.I.P. George Baker aka Inspector Wexford

I was sorry to read of the death of George Baker, at the age of 80, today. Many people assume he made his name playing Inspector Reg Wexford in the long-running adaptations for TV of those very enjoyable Ruth Rendell novels set in fictional Kingsmarkham, and I'm sure that's the role he will remain best known for. But there was much more to him than that.

Baker was a staple of film and TV during my youth. Apparently he was one of those considered for the role of James Bond, but he wasn't always a good guy. I remember him playing a criminal, Stanley Bowler, in The Fenn Street Gang, a sitcom spin-off from Please, Sir! And so good was he that a further spin-off series, Bowler, came into being, although it didn't last long. But Baker did the menacing yet pretentious villain (his door chime was Beethoven's Fifth) very well.

When I was a student, and visited the BBC, he was there in his toga, recording an episode of I, Claudius, in which he had a leading role. But the Ruth Rendell Mysteries enabled him to bring his greatest strength as an actor, his essential warm humanity to the part of a shrewd and likeable cop.

Ruth Rendell has already indicated she has no plans for any more Wexford novels, probably a good decision as the character has, I think, reached his sell-by date. But the series includes some great titles, and on television, Baker brought the stories, and the character, splendidly to life.


Anonymous said...

Martin - An excellent tribute to a fine actor. Thank you

Maxine Clarke said...

Indeed, to me he will always be Tiberius in I Claudius.

Rendell has published a Wexford novel recently, The Vault - which came out after I read various reports that she'd hinted she was not going to write more. I think The Vault is pretty good actually, I wouldn't agree that this series is past its sell-by date. It's much better than many by authors half her age, or even a quarter her age ;-)

Dorte H said...

George Baker has indeed given us many hours of great entertainment, and as you say, especially in his role as Wexford. I hope BBC will remember him by sending us some of the films again.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, Dorte, thank you.
Maxine, I have been a huge Wexford fan for many years, but have felt that there's been a falling-off, from the original exceptionally high standards, in recent years. I'm listening to an audio book of End in Tears at present and it hasn't really grabbed me. There hasn't been anything as good as, say, A Sleeping Life for a long time. Though I haven't read The Vault, I've read some poor reviews. But you've encouraged me to give it a try, and I'd certainly agree that, compared to most other crime writers, Rendell is still a superstar.

Janet O'Kane said...

I've recently had to study the BBC's I, Claudius for my OU course and had forgotten what a brilliant performance George Baker gave in that. Tiberius was an unsympathetic part, and, I fear, Baker's skill in making him more to be pitied than loathed was overshadowed by other cast members' brilliance. He'll always be remembered for Wexford but in my opinion he deserved more recognition.

Martin Edwards said...

Janet, I agree. Hope your writing goes well, by the way. Long time no see!