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Best of British Biographies – Roger Allam

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We’re all allowed favourites. Similarly, we’re all allowed someone we admire. Someone we want to be like, someone we secretly copy and could imagine ourselves actually being. It probably changes over the years. A bit like actors play Romeo, then they move on to Hamlet, before finally ending up as Lear so who you idolise tends to change over the years. One person that I aspire to be right now is Roger Allam.

What I admire about Roger Allam is his range and talent; he can do comedy and he can do drama, period and contemporary. But what I admire most is his voice. It is rich, deep and authoritative. Anybody who’s heard me speaking knows that I don’t have a particularly impressive voice. Actually hearing it always comes as a bit of a shock as, in my head, I sound like Roger Allam; rich, resonant, cultured, and sonorous.

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It’s Weasily Done

1979 – Sus with Paul Barber & Stuart Barren

As with a lot of actors over here, Roger started out on the stage and, before long, he was working with the RSC. However, it was a different kind of stage work that really got him noticed. 1985 saw the premiere of the English language version of a stage show that was set to shatter records. It would have been open continuously were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic which caused it to close from 16th March 2020 to 25th September 2021.

That show was Les Misérables and Roger Allam’s vocal chords were the source of the original bass-baritone that was Javert.  He opened at the Barbican and moved with the production when it transferred to the Palace Theatre. After a year or so Allam sent that larynx back to the classic theatrical catalogue with performances in, amongst others, Measure For Measure, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, The Seagull, and an opportunity to flex his singing talents again in The Fairy Queen.

My Heart Is Stone And Still It Trembles

1985 – Les Misérables with Colm Wilkinson

The end of the eighties saw Mr Allam’s initial appearances on screen rather than stage. He had a part in the 1989 adaptation of Tom Sharpe’s Wilt alongside, what was, one of the biggest comedy double acts of the time, Smith and Jones. Thirty years is a long time and I can remember seeing the film and being quite disappointed; I’d enjoyed both Tom Sharpe’s books and Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones’ TV work but, for some reason unbeknownst to me, neither made a successful transfer to the big screen. For the life of me, though, I can’t remember Roger in it.

However, it was on television that he made more appearances. Throughout the nineties he made guest appearances in virtual every police procedural on British TV at the time: Inspector Morse, The Bill, Heartbeat, and Midsomer Murders all saw him popping up for an episode. Interestingly enough, the Inspector Morse appearance would turn out to be a future echo…more of that later, though!

I’m Bored Of This. I’m Going For A Twix.

2007 – The Thick Of It

Guest appearances on TV kept coming his way until 2007 saw him land the role of Peter Mannion in the political comedy The Thick Of It.  If you have even a passing interest in politics and aren’t worried by seeing a former Doctor Who as the angriest, rudest, sweariest man to ever appear on a TV screen, then I recommend The Thick Of It. It is an endless tirade of very clever insults and put-downs. A repeatable Peter Mannion one…”Have you ever Googled your own name? It’s like opening a door to a room where everyone tells you how shit you are.”

On his way to entering the political bear pit, Peter also had a couple of sword and sorcery type outings; one was Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire and the other was a little known programme called Game Of Thrones. He was General Arcadius in Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire which, I’ll admit, I’ve never seen, but I have seen Game Of Thrones.

Kings Lack The Caution Of Common Men

2011 – Game Of Thrones with Harry Lloyd & Emilia Clarke

The part Roger Allam plays in Game Of Thrones is small but quite pivotal. He played Magister Illyrio Mopatis and he was the chap who brokered the marriage between Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). Still can’t place him? He’s the chap who delivers the line…”A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair.” He doesn’t have a lot to do in the TV adaptation but does figure a bit more in the books.

Meanwhile, our Mr Allam was appearing in a few films; V For Vendetta, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Woman in Black, and he took the lead in the comedy The Hippopotamus. During his film work, he’s shared screen time with Ian McKellen, Maggie Smith, Meryl Streep, and Helen Mirren. Trust me, with a voice of that timbre and resonance you can hold your own in any company.

That’s The Beauty Of Vodka…

2011 – Cabin Pressure with John Finnemore, Stephanie Cole, & Benedict Cumberbatch

While all that lot was going on, Roger was also using his vocal talents in their natural habitat…the radio. I’ve mentioned elsewhere the comedy radio series Cabin Pressure which starred old hands Stephanie Cole and Roger Allam alongside relative newcomers John Finnemore and Benedict Cumberbatch. The series was written by one of the most underestimated comic writers working now. To give you an idea of his quality, he is co-writing the second series of Good Omens alongside Neil Gaiman.

Regarding the recording of Cabin Pressure John Finnemore said, “During the recording, he [Benedict Cumberbatch] and Roger are very spontaneously funny if something goes wrong, or in the way they react to the audience. Roger sort of becomes Douglas, saying things in a very dry, laconic voice. I think ‘I didn’t write that’ but that’s a really good Douglas line! It is a very Roger Allam role, yes. It’s not a stretch for him.” 

…Colourless, Odourless, Proof That God Loves Pilots

2012 – Endeavour with Shaun Evans

Returning to the future echo that I referred to earlier regarding Roger Allam in Inspector Morse…one of his biggest roles has proven to be DI Fred Wednesday in the detective drama series Endeavour which is the prequel to Inspector Morse. DI Wednesday is the mentor to the young and inexperienced DC Morse. The ninth season is due to start filming later this year, 2022. 

Meanwhile, there’s another opportunity to flex the Allam detective grey cells. BritBox commissioned a mini series, Murder In Provence. In this Roger plays Antoine Verlaque, Investigating Judge in Aix-en Provence. I’m happy to think that we’ll be hearing those glorious tones for many years to come. He is versatile and willing to play almost anything. He once said “Try not to worry about embarrassing yourself. That’s a lifetime’s task.”

Declaring Itself Rabbit Of Negative Euphoria…Not A Happy Bunny

2022 – Murder In Provence with Nancy Carroll

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3 responses to “Best of British Biographies – Roger Allam”

  1. No mention of his role in V for Vendetta? That’s one of my all-time favorite films and Allam was despicably fantastic as Lewis Prothero.

  2. Rob Williams Avatar
    Rob Williams

    I’ll be honest, this was a “distraction piece” in that I was initially writing about Benedict Cumberbatch but got diverted when I wrote about Cabin Pressure. I then just rattled through this one without really planning it. I knew he had been in V For Vendetta but it was some time last century that I’d watched it and couldn’t really remember it.

    I also must have had one of those brain failures because I remember thinking “I must mention V For Vendetta” which then turned into “I’ve mentioned V For Vendetta” but I’d actually forgotten all about the bit in between!

    1. That’s okay since you’ve just opened the door to do a bio of …Hugo Weaving! And he has two big franchises in addition to his star turn in V for Vendetta.

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