Photography by Katie O'Neill
Words by Harry Potts
Born in Salford in 1944, Robert Powell is a film and television actor whose career spans six decades.
Robert took up acting in 1963 while an undergraduate at the Manchester College of Commerce, his earliest performance being a College Revue of Comedy Sketches. Robert secured a post at a repertory theatre in Stoke-on-Trent before his first film parts in Robbery and The Italian Job. His acting break in television came in 1970 playing scientist Toby Wren in the BBCs science-fact series, Doomwatch.
Robert Powell is best known for the title role in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 four part television film Jesus of Nazareth. Powell’s powerful portrayal of Jesus has led to his photos being hung in churches, homes, cars, schools, offices and many holy places all over the world. This was one of the most trending stories on social media in 2016.
Robert Powell’s successful film and TV career continued through the 1980s and 1990s, when in 1993 he teamed up with his old golfing partner Jasper Carrott to play an incompetent detective in a succession of sketches that formed part of a television series, Detectives. This was a return to Powell’s comedic roots and proved to be an incredibly popular venture which ran for five years.
“I never cease to say and I repeat it to the world since 1977. I am not Jesus Christ, I am just an actor and British comedian” - Robert Powell
Robert Powell as Jesus
Robert in comedy parnership with Jasper Carrott
On stage as Sherlock Holmes in 2018 (credit/Nobby Clark)
In 2001, the University of Salford named a new state-of-the-art theatre after him, "One of my proudest moments" he told us. In early 2005 he became a regular in the TV medical drama, Holby City, where he remained for six years before departing to return to theatre.
Roberts’s distinctive voice is frequently heard on voice-overs, advertisements and as a narrator of television programmes such as Great Crimes and Trials and The Century of Warfare and World War II in HD Colour.
When we met up with Robert, he was back in Manchester playing Sherlock Holmes at the Opera House and had announced he was bowing out of touring. His Manchester appearance was likely to be his last on stage. Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain, fittingly would be his closing performance.
“The problem is that you can’t tour without touring so I’m thinking this will probably be my last,” he said. “I’m not retiring but I really think I might knock touring on the head.”
THE SHOOT: Castlefield Basin, Manchester
A location popular with TV production companies and film makers
Student reflection: Katie O'Neill
"We chose the enduring Victorian architecture of Castlefield Basin as the backdrop for Robert's shoot on a hot and sunny afternoon in July. Situated only a stone’s throw from his native Salford it seemed an appropriate setting. Working with Robert was a whole new experience. The actor who has played so many roles, talked about his career and also about his fond memories of growing up in Salford. He was very obliging and was happy to pose and be prompted. Robert a keen photographer himself, seemed genuinely interested in the location and the Greater Mancunians project."