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Bob Hoskins (1942-2014)


Click here for previous articles by Jerry Dowlen from the Books Monthly Archives


Bob Hoskins: Goodbye to the popular star of ‘Pennies from Heaven’, ‘The Long Good Friday’, ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘Last Orders’.

The death of Bob Hoskins at age 71 in April 2014 has left us saying a reluctant goodbye to a favourite son of British cinema and television.

Tell me that Bob Hoskins is in a film and I instinctively think of a cockney ducker-and-diver, living on his wits. He was an enormously popular character. It was very noticeable in his obituaries that no one in the showbiz world had a bad word to say about him. And the public took him to their hearts as a "lovable rogue": the archetype "little man" who although often a victim is ultimately a survivor.

In terms of Bob Hoskins and screen adaptations of accomplished literary works I'd like to highlight his memorable roles for the scriptwriter Dennis Potter in BBC television's 'Pennies from Heaven' and for the novelist Graham Swift in the cinematic version of 'Last Orders'.

'Pennies from Heaven': BBC television series (1978)

Bob was an unknown before he burst into our living rooms as the lead star of Dennis Potter's innovative and imaginative musical drama set in the 1930s.

He established himself as a household name with his touching interpretation of Arthur Parker, the earnest, frustrated but ever-optimistic plate-spinning chancer. Parker was a travelling salesman (sheet music) with parallels surely to George Orwell's fictional George Bowling in his novel 'Coming Up for Air' (1939),

Bowling and Parker shared the same profession; wore 1930s herring-bone suits; struggled to live on their modest salary in the outer London suburbs; and considered themselves to be stifled by married life. Bowling ultimately accepted his lot, but Parker was allowed by Dennis Potter to meet Eileen (Cheryl Campbell). She later enjoyed the euphemistic status of being his "travelling companion" as the pair of them went on the run.

Dennis Potter was in the vanguard of taboo-breaking post-war television writers who clashed with the guardians of good taste (the BBC council; Mary Whitehouse). 'Pennies from Heaven' had its baring and its daring moments, and Parker was an immoral character at times, but the six-episode drama was not the most extreme example of Potter's predilection to shock our suburban sitting-rooms. 

'Last Orders': MBP, Scala and Winchester Films (2004)

In the infamously violent movie 'The Long Good Friday' (1980), a big success at box-office, Bob convincingly portrayed the head of a gangster syndicate operating from Docklands in London.

In another top-rank gangster movie 'Mona Lisa' (1986) Bob again starred in the lead role. But this time he was at the opposite end of the spectrum: a small time ex-convict employed as a car driver and odd-jobber on the fringe of the sex, drugs and prostitution underworld of seedy Soho.

Bob was verging on veteran status as a British film star by the time that he co-starred in the Fred Schepisi directed 'Last Orders' (2001). The movie was an adaptation of the Booker Prize winning novel by Graham Swift.

The story was a poignant one: the death of local butcher Jack Dodd (Michael Caine) brought much emotional baggage to the surface, requiring what is nowadays referred to as "closure" for his family and friends. A male group journeyed from a south London pub on a fractious journey to Margate, to scatter Jack's ashes in the sea and thereby exorcise a number of unhealed wounds from the past.

Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings, Bob Hoskins. Helen Mirren, Ray Winstone. Six of the very top stars of British screen acting their socks off: what a superb movie this was! And although outnumbered by five to one in the male to female stakes, Helen Mirren in my opinion emerged as first among equals. She stole the show as Jack's widow, the quiet and stoic Amy who asks for very little from life, and whose companionship with Bob Hoskins becomes touchingly closer when she is faced with widowhood and financial uncertainty.

'Last Orders' for Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren was a reprise of their pairing in 'The Long Good Friday' when, twenty years earlier, they oozed wealth and power as confident upwardly mobile London penthouse dwellers.

Now in 'Last Orders' they each looked old, faded and diminished: but as ever, the Bob Hoskins character had a little glint in his eye, and a trick or two to turn, to help bring a positive ending. It was exactly this feature of Bob Hoskins the real-life man and the screen actor that endeared him to the British public.   

In the closing scenes of the film we saw two simultaneous "last orders". The five men decided to order a last pint, at the nearest pub on the sea front, after their long car journey and the disposal of Jack's ashes. Meanwhile in outer London at a nursing home Amy was instructing her severely retarded grown-up daughter that the time had come for her to carry on alone, for Amy had decided to stop making her weekly visit to see her: a visit that Jack always said was pointless, because the daughter never once gave Amy any sign of recognition.

And now alas in real life it has become "last orders" for Bob Hoskins himself. He will be sadly missed, but his legacy as a favourite British actor will always be with us.

Jerry Dowlen
June 2014


Previous articles by Jerry Dowlen in the Books Monthly Archives include:


Muriel Spark & Jane Gardam

The Story of Edith Nesbit

Anthony Gilbert and Michael Gilbert

Rebels With A Cause

Inspector Winter: Gwendoline Butler's First Detective

The Carlton, The Commodore, and the Embassy - Orpington's Three Cinemas

The Bergerac Police Adventure Series

It's All In The Mind - Margery Allingham and Graham Greene

Berlin: Cold War Spy Thrillers

The Life and Centenary of Barbara Pym

D H Lawrence: The Sniggering Legacy of Lady Chatterley's Lover...



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