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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 03:06 GMT 04:06 UK
The life of Michael Elphick
Michael Elphick as Harry and Derek Martin as Charlie in EastEnders
Elphick's role in EastEnders was controversial
For many television viewers, the enduring image of Michael Elphick will be as the motorbike-mad private investigator Ken Boon in the hit ITV series.

His trademark was the craggy face and croaky voice, with the appearance of the man-on-the-street - a quality which won the hearts of millions.

The role in EastEnders which he took last year was more controversial, as Harry Slater - the man who raped his niece and made her pregnant.

Chichester-born Elphick's off-screen problems with alcoholism sometimes competed with his acting for press attention.


Even when my life has become uncontrollable, as it has at times, it hasn't affected my work

Michael Elphick
He admitted his battle with drink and in the early 90s sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous.

By 1993, the star said he was drinking again but it was under control.

In 1998, he said: "I used to be drunk by 9pm every night. Going on the wagon has made me a bit grumpy, but I'm a wiser man for it."

On another occasion, he said: "Even when my life has become uncontrollable, as it has at times, it hasn't affected my work.

"I've goofed on lines, but I've never jeopardised anybody else."

Lucky break

He met his long-term partner, school teacher Julia Alexander, in 1963, but she died six years ago from cancer.

The couple had a daughter, Kate, 25, who was living with Elphick in north-west London until his death aged 55.

Growing up in West Sussex, the actor initially considered joining the navy and helped out in his local boatyard during school holidays.

He seemed to stumble upon acting by chance, as a 15-year-old apprentice electrician at the local theatre.
Michael Elphick
Elphick began work as an electrician

It gave him a glimpse of life on stage and a new career path.

He began appearing in very minor roles in films as early as 1969 and landed parts in cult movies such as The First Great Train Robbery, Quadrophenia, The Elephant Man and, later, Withnail and I.

His first major television role in 1981 was in the mini series Private Schultz, in which he played the eponymous anti-hero, a lowly Second World War German soldier.

His face soon became a regular feature on British screens, including Auf Wiedersehen Pet and the 1985 mini-series Three Up, Two Down.

A year later, he became a star when Boon was launched and he became known as the ex-fireman turned private-eye, alongside actors David Daker, as Crawford, and rising star Neil Morrissey, who played Rocky.

The show ran for seven series, but Elphick continued his impressive film career, with cameo roles in The Krays and Let Him Have It.

In 1993, the BBC poached him from Central TV for the title role in its new mini-series Harry, in which he played freelance journalist and recovering alcoholic Harry Salter.

His work with the corporation continued with EastEnders, his last major role.

See also:

09 Sep 02 | UK
09 Sep 02 | Talking Point
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