Waking too early this morning brought the news via Twitter from an Australian chum who tweeted that the great Bob Hoskins had passed on at 71. The first thought that flew into a half-asleep brain was that Smee would sail off one last time for Neverland. This natural actor will no longer thrill, excite, entertain or amuse audiences in new projects, but Hoskins will always live on in his wide range of roles in films. His career, which started at the ripe old age of 26 was an impressive one and this short Cockney actor brought a believability to every role he played, with the possible exception of his Mario Mario in the 1993 film Super Mario Bros. A film, he personally detested.
Back in the days when the U.K. only had three television channels, which went off the air at midnight and often only came on in the morning briefly and then stopped broadcasting till tea time, Hoskins made a name for himself guesting on popular shows of the time. He then played Arthur Parker in the BBC mini-series Pennies from Heaven. The show was considered groundbreaking at the time, 1978, and before that show, Bob played George Dobbs in the London Weekend Television eight episode run of Thick as Thieves with John Thaw, Pat Ashton and a young Johnny Briggs, better known to modern audiences as Mike Baldwin from the long running ITV soap Coronation Street.
The news that Bob Hoskins has died from pneumonia aged 71 signals the end to a long career from one of England’s most respected and adored character actors. His Smee has set sail for the last time but at least his body of work will continue to entertain for years to come. Before his retirement in 2012, he was in a lot of films playing roles that ranged from comedic Hook, to love interest, Mermaids.
While Hoskins worked pretty steadily on television, as well as a fairly successful run in theatre, he began to pop up in films on a regular basis. In the same year that The Long Good Friday was made, Bob worked in the long awaited sequel to the 1964, Cy Enfield, Stanley Baker, and Michael Caine British epic Zulu. Ironically this original film, based upon the battle of Rorke’s Drift in South Africa, was Caine’s big break and 15 years later Zulu Dawn, which told of events leading up to the men’s victory at the Drift, was Hoskin’s first real role in a feature film. He had played a police constable in a Malcolm McDowell film Royal Flash in 1975.
Both Caine and Hoskins were well known as “real” Cockneys versus “screen” Cockneys. The two men hailed from the right areas of London and the right class to be legitimate and both men proudly held onto, Caine still does, their roots and worked together where schedules allowed. Hoskins first “break-out” role was that of the grimly determined and vicious gangster who makes a deal with an American branch of the Mafia to broaden his empire and add some legitimacy to his activities.
The role of Harold Shand and his “moll” Victoria (Dame Helen Mirren) in The Long Good Friday showed just how far this Suffolk born lad could stretch his natural acting chops. In this film, his gangster made the Kray’s seem like milksop wastrels in comparison. Even when everything he’s worked for is falling down around him, Harold takes time to denigrate the American mafioso for turning his partnership down. “Mafia,” Shand snarls, “I sh*t em.” This is just before the short and violent criminal takes his last ride.
Catching this independent British film on television and then video tape, gave repeated chances to see just how powerful this actor was. Audiences were not the only ones who sat up and took notice. Hollywood beckoned and before starring along side a cartoon rabbit, or two, Hoskins worked on no less than nine feature films, four made-for-TV movies, and a few television shows as well. It is no wonder that with this almost frenetic activity that after Bob finished working on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? that he had a physical breakdown.
As noted by many, this actor could elicit feelings of fear, dread, laughter, comfort, authority, and sadness all without ever having had a lesson. Hoskins was almost a constant presence right up until he announced his retirement in 2012 brought on by the news he had Parkinsons. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s he was the “frontman” for British Telecom and British Gas. His reassuring voice reminded people all over the country that “it’s good to talk,” as part of the BT advertising campaign.
Hoskins played Smee, Captain Hook’s “right-hand” man in Hook and later in Neverland on television. The actor will be missed, and in fact already was missed after his retirement, and his pirate first-mate may have sailed off into the sunset one last time, but his memory will live on. Throughout his career, Bob Hoskins could have been called the best emissary that England had outside of Michael Caine and each man a legend in his own right. Neverland has gained another full-time resident. Farewell Smee.
By Michael Smith