12 British sitcom stars and their surprise movie appearances

Feature Simon Brew 28 Jun 2013 - 07:11

Ever watched a big movie, and stopped with a jolt when a star of a British sitcom pops up? Us too...

This feature is all the fault of the late Richard Marner. As the incompetent Colonel in 'Allo 'Allo, he built a performance that was indelible in our eyes. Thus, when he turned up in a big Hollywood thriller as the President of Russia, we unsuccessfully stifled a guffaw. A big guffaw.

And it got us thinking: what other times has a British sitcom star appeared out of the blue in a big movie, causing a sedentary double take from the comfort of our local Odeon? Glad you asked.

Two things. Firstly, this isn't designed to be a complete list, and also, we've covered films made after the actor or actress confirmed rose to prominence in a sitcom. Oh, and another thing: none of this is a slight against the acting talents of those concerned. It's more that it's interesting how typecast in our eyes they become as a result of a huge success, and how that alters our reaction to seeing them in something else. Without further ado..

One note: avoid reading the World War Z entry if you haven't seen the film. There's no spoiler, we just talk about what happens in the third act of the film.


Starring The Colonel from 'Allo 'Allo

Picture the scene. You're sat watching the new Jack Ryan thriller, the really quite strong The Sum Of All Fears. Ben Affleck is the new Jack Ryan, and while he's no Harrison Ford, he's not doing a bad job at all. All is serious in tone. And then in walks the head of Russia, President Zorkin. It's supposed to be a pivotal moment in tone.

The problem is, to half of Britain, the man in charge of Russia is actually Colonel Kurt von Struhm from 'Allo 'Allo. The same Colonel who has displayed trademark incompetence, cowardice in the face of superiors, and an ability to generate a laugh with a facial gesture. Authoritative? Not even for a minute.

The man behind both characters was the late Richard Marner, and The Sum Of All Fears would prove to be his final role. Interestingly, his background was actually Russian. Marner's real name was Alexander Molchanoff-Sacha. But that's Colonel Molchanoff-Sacha to you...


Starring Ann from Ever Decreasing Circles

There's a generation now who know Penelope Wilton for her role as Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey. Some will be only too aware that she was Harriet Jones, Prime Minister in Doctor Who. Her work in Shaun Of The Dead too means that her nerdy credentials book will always be freely stamped.

Wilton, however, has always been a particularly skilled comedy actress, and her starring role alongside the late, great Richard Briers (who himself popped up in movies such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) in Ever Decreasing Circles is some of her finest work. That said, if you were tuning into BBC One in the 1980s and wondering who Woody Allen might cast in a film 20 years into the future? Wilton may not have been the initial choice. Still, she was cast in Match Point, and she's also turned up in the likes of Calendar Girls, The History Boys and Pride And Prejudice, demonstrating a range that those of a snobbish persuasion towards traditional sitcoms might not always appreciate.

It's still a shame she said no to Hot Fuzz, though.


Starring Ben from Butterflies

A bastion of British comedy series is Geoffrey Palmer, whose work in the likes of The Rise And Fall Of Reginald Perrin, As Time Goes By, Butterflies, and even an episode of Fawlty Towers, has ensured he remains a treasured actor. His career, too, has taken in lots of darker roles, but it's mainly been comedy that's kept him in the public eye.

For those who knew Palmer only from his comedy roles, to see him suddenly in a position of military power in a James Bond movie must have been a bit of a holy. But there he was: in Tomorrow Never Dies, as Admiral Roebuck, playing very much the authority figure.

To be fair, he pulled it off. Much of Palmer's comedy has seen him cast as the formal, upstanding establishment-style figure. And while Pierce Brosnan's Bond and he were never likely to go for a drink together, at least there was a sense that they were both up for the job...


Starring Trigger from Only Fools And Horses

For a man widely recognised in one particular role, it's to the credit of Roger Lloyd Pack that he's come up with several memorable performances over his career. In sitcom alone, he's been taken to the hearts of the British nation in both Only Fools And Horses and, more recently The Vicar Of Dibley. It's the former for which he's most frequently recognised.

And yet his film career is really quite impressive. His quiet turn in Michael Radford's 1984 shows that here's a man who's held the looks of his youth comfortably well, but perhaps the most WTF appearance was when he popped up as a piano teacher in Neil Jordan's take on Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire. More recently, he's appeared in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, too. He didn't call anyone Dave in that, though...


Starring Blakey from On The Buses

The story of the most notorious gangsters of East End London was criticised heavily on its release for its violence, and suggestions that it glamourised the life somewhat of Ronnie and Reggie Kray. It was a loud controversy that still surrounds Peter Medak's film to an extent, and it's meant that one of the crucial questions of it has been overlooked: isn't that Blakey from On The Buses?

Well, friends, it is. Stephen Lewis, who later turned up in Last Of The Summer Wine, had a brief role as a policeman in the movie, although his lip didn't quiver, and there was no shout of "get that bleedin' bus out" that we recall. Lewis, incidentally, also appeared in the kink-fest that was Personal Services. Blakey from On The Buses and a mild dose of erotica are streams, however, that don't feel they should cross...


Starring Nora Batty from Last Of The Summer Wine

Kathy Staff created a character as British as they come across over 200 episodes of Last Of The Summer Wine. The actress, who died at the age of 80 back in 2008, will always be Nora Batty in the eyes of many, successfully spending the best part of three decades fending off amorous old men and avoiding buying new tights.

Just the person for a Julia Roberts film, then.

Mary Reilly was a troubled movie, and there was a sense watching it that director Stephen Frears hadn't got to make the film that he's clearly capable of making. But amongst the film's redeeming features was the appearance of Lady Nora as Mrs Kent (along with a brief appearance from Arthur Daley too). To a subset of the British audience, it couldn't help but take you out of the film, as you sat waiting for the inevitable bed to roll down the hill, with three tweed-clad old men hanging on for dear life...


Starring Malcolm Tucker from The Thick Of It

One by-product of Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard's retooling of the third act of this summer's World War Z is a whole new sequence set in Wales. Said sequence requires a serious looking man, who looks like he could swear at any minute, to stare at a computer screen and look worried. A muted Malcolm Tucker got the call.

Peter Capaldi has terrific range as an actor (just look at his haunting work in Torchwood: Children Of Earth). He's also an actor I passed on the street once and all-but-hid on the other side for fear of some Fifth Dan expletive mastery emanating from his mouth. The reason for this fear? His already iconic work in The Thick Of It (and In The Loop), which feels a bit disingenuous to call a sitcom as such, but otherwise it wouldn't fit in this feature. Ahem.

Nonetheless, nobody swears on television with the venom, style and face melting veracity as Capaldi in full flow. There, surely, is a set of outtakes in World War Z where he does just that. Never mind the original ending: that's the extra material of World War Z that we want to see...


Starring Elmo from Brush Strokes

Nothing generates a hearty chuckle in the same way as Kevin Costner's wonderful "this is English courage" line at the start of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (and I'm a paid-up Costner fan), but not far behind was the joyous moment when the-then biggest movie star in the world (okay, a score draw with Arnie) arrives in Sherwood Forest. Who does he find? The mighty Elmo from Brush Strokes.

Elmo Putney, founder of Elmo Putney's Wine Bar, provided a vital and compelling reason to keep watching Brush Strokes long after it went off the boil (anyone else remember his impression of the British Caledonian advert?), and his ability to delight meant even the mere thought of Elmo serving the drinks to the Merry Men of Sherwood was a pleasing one. I wonder to this day when he and Costner talked about in the catering truck. I like to think that Lewis taught Costner the theme tune to Brush Strokes, and lent him a Dexy's Midnight Runners LP.

Actor Howard Lew Lewis would, of course, revisit Sherwood Forest for the delightful Maid Marian And Her Merry Men. That one didn't have Kevin Costner in, though.


Starring Lieutenant Gruber from 'Allo 'Allo and Gareth from The Office

'Allo 'Allo's minor stranglehold on the movies has extended to one of the biggest blockbuster franchises of the past decade. Because who's that as the Harbourmaster in the first movie? None other than Lieutenant Gruber, played by the terrific Guy Siner. Siner, who also earns geek credentials for his turn in Genesis Of The Daleks, will, however, always be Gruber in our eyes. His barely concealed lust for Rene Artois in many ways defined the tone of British sitcoms for a good decade.

But Pirates Of The Caribbean has more British sitcom alumni. Jack Davenport of Coupling fame is in there of course (although he more came to prominence through This Life), but what about Gareth from The Office? Mackenzie Crook by day, as one of the three main leads of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's genre-changing show to go onto big Hollywood movies, his appearance as Ragetti still feels like the one to induce a big surprise grin.

Next up? Johnny Depp in a movie version of 'Allo 'Allo. We reckon he could do the accent...


Starring Lilo Lill from Bread

There weren't too many Hollywood blockbusters filming around the UK and Ireland in the early 90s, and those that did - Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves being an example - tended to call on British television talent to fill out the acting ranks.

A further example? How about Ron Howard's ambitious Far And Away, filmed in and around Ireland, and comfortably boasting some of the least convincing Irish accents ever heard on screen. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman put in sterling vocal work, as those of us who nearly choked on our popcorn at the time could testify.

But then, I like to think that they were distracted by the sight of Eileen Pocock on set. The Irish actress had, after all, been seen by over 20 million people in Bread at the show's peak, in the role of Lilo Lill. Her main function in Bread was to be shouted at and about by Jean Boht's Ma Boswell, but her broad career (and it really is) has also taken in the role of Molly Kay in the spluttering Far And Away.

Once Cruise and Kidman realised who she was, their accents could never, clearly, recover. They might have feared that Jean Boht in rant mode wasn't far behind.

As an aside, the land rush sequence in Far And Away is still brilliant, though.


Starring Aveline 2 from Bread


was one of the first sitcoms to replace key cast members as and when they left the series. As such, when Peter Howitt left the role of Joey to go and be a film director (Sliding Doors, Bean), a new actor arrived in his place. And when the original Aveline left, in came Melanie Hill.

Melanie Hill is a good actress. Check out her work in Brassed Off for proof of that. And she's turned up in a major Hollywood movie too, in the shape of the Johnny Depp-headlined From Hell. And perfectly, for the purposes of this article at least, she plays the mother of Joanna Page, best known for playing Stacey in Gavin & Stacey.

Casting directors for Johnny Depp movies sure know their UK Gold.


Starring Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister

The late, great Nigel Hawthorne's autobiography gives a real flavour of the majesty of his career, which took in some challenging, deep and dramatic roles. His turn in The Madness Of King George, on stage and on screen, takes some beating. To get the film version made, however, Hawthorne took on a big budget film project to prove his movie stripes. And it led to the bizarre moment when we realised that Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister was facing off against Sylvester Stallone in a futuristic action thriller.

We like Demolition Man a lot more than Hawthorne did, and he's suitably scathing about the movie in his book. And while Hawthorne's range and quality of roles was and is sizeable, we couldn't ever shake that Sir Humphrey image, as he calmly reasoned his dastardly master plan in a voice that made him barely audible over Stallone and Wesley Snipes shouting at each other.

Hawthorne did stay quiet at the time of making Demolition Man as to his true thoughts about it. But then he probably would have been fined for a violation of the Verbal Morality Statute had he done otherwise...


There are many British films that call on UK sitcom actors, but it felt right we leave those out of this list. With apologies in particular to Paul Barber. When he popped up in The Full Monty, it can't just have been us thinking it was Denzel from Only Fools And Horses taking his clothes off. Furthermore, it would be remiss not to acknowledge that Sam Kelly, of 'Allo 'Allo and On The Up is an occasional member of Mike Leigh's movie ensembles...

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Kevin Eldon and Mark Heap's blink-and-you'll-miss it Cameo in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has to be my favorite. I got up and rewound the DVD much to the dismay of all the kids in the room!

Couldn't you find screenshots of all the actors in question in their surprise movie roles?

Chris Barrie (Rimmer from Red Dwarf, Gordon Brittas from The Brittas Empire) in Tomb Raider.

David Schneider from 'The Day Today', 'Knowing me, knowing you' etc turning up in Tom Cruise's blockbuster 'Mission: Impossible' as the driver of the Eurostar train during the big climax - makes the whole movie worth watching for just how WTF it is seeing his comedy face gawping at the mayhem from behind the glass.

David Threlfall (Frank in Shameless) as Capt Aubreys man servant (is that the correct term?, is shameless even a sitcom?) in Master and Commander. Just was not expecting it, which is probably unfair to him, im sure he's an accomplished actor with many roles under his belt.

HOW could you forget Leonard Rossiter (RISING DAMP) in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY!??

Eric Sykes in The Others was the first who sprang instantly to my mind followed by Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf's Cat) who played a vampire ninja in Blade 2. Neither were there :(

Other notable omissions: Sheridan Smith from Two Pints of Lager in Tower Block/Quartet, Jack Davenport from Coupling is a main character in the Pirates series and Rose (Judy Cornwell) from Keeping Up Appearances was Mrs Claus in Santa Clause: The Movie.

And you didn't have to name Harriet Jones, Prime Minister: we know who she is.

He was also the yuppie who was murdered because of his bad am-dram acting and annoying girlfriend in Hot Fuzz

Going back a bit but Brian Wilde who played Mr Barrowclough in Porridge gives a blinding little performance in Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon (1957).

Also brilliantly, at the beginning of 28 Days Later and his delivery of the line: "RAGE" as if he was still on the set of TDT.

An honourable mention too for the late, great Michael Sheard, aka Admiral Ozzel, aka Adolf Hitler, aka Mr Bronson.

Not a sitcom really, but any mention of Michael Sheard is always very, very welcome!

Mentioned Jack Davenport above, and I tried to keep to movies that came out after the person concerned's sitcom years. Also, where their appearance was something of a surprise. Eric Sykes is a great shout! - Simon

Brilliant shout.

Ah, that's a great call.

Yes, my bad. Still asleep.

Thank you for your comment. Where we could, we ran them. It took a lot of researching just to get this far. Simon

My mistake - that will teach me to skim read before commenting!

You mean you didn't just go through sitcom actors on IMDB and see what else they were in?

Colin McFarline popping up in Batman Begins and the Dark Knight always gets me after seeing him in The Fast Show, The Thin Blue Line and Black Books. Similarly David Schneider seems to pop up in the most random places (28 Days Later and Mission:impossible come to mind), after spending so much time circling various guises in the world of Alan Partridge.


Wow! It's almost as if actors play different roles in different productions. What an incredible premise to base an article on.

Norris from Corrie in Skyfall.

And I know Bill Nighy is a full film star now, but it still gets me every time that hes King Vampire in Underworld.

Paul, one day you need to write a list for us!

Would absolutely love to!

Drop us a note at geekcontent at gmail dot com :-)

You could have included the great Ronnie Barker as Friar Tuck in Robin and Marian. He more than held his own against Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. You mentioned Nigel Hawthorne. How about Derek Fowlds in Frankenstein Created Woman opposite Peter Cushing? Finally to complete the trio of marvellous actors, Paul Eddington in The Devil Rides Out as Richard Eaton.

I guess the bit where hawthorn and John Spartan face off in demolition man might have skewed his opinion of the film somewhat;
He says (quite threateningly) 'be well John Spartan' and Stallone replies with my favourite line in the film :) 'be f****d'

Chris Barrie in tomb raiders a good shout for the list, I just can't decide whether to think of him as brittas or rimmer lol

I'm sure the casting of Geoffrey Palmer in "Tomorrow Never Dies" had a lot to do with the fact that he had recently starred alongside Judi Dench in "As Time Goes By", the way they were bickering at the start of the film certainly had a touch of sit-com couple about it.

That derailed the whole set up. You can't leave the worlds deadliest virus in the hands of a guy that used to wear a map for a face to deliver the weather report!

Peter Capaldi would be a Great 12th Doctor Flat Out he Would be EPIC!!!!!

He was also in Auf Weidersehen Pet as Herr Grunwald!! That's technically a sitcom!?

I'd forgotten that - thanks for the reminder!

My biggest ever suprise? Moxey from Auf Weidersehen Pet at the start of Tim Burton's Batman!!

Grange Hill's Mr Bronson in The Empire Strikes Back... not strictly from a sitcom but it was a total drop the bacon sandwich moment. And my personal favourite, although not from a sitcom again, was King Monkey's cameo in Harry Potter when I stood up in a cinema in Iowa and shouted 'Ian f*****g Brown'!!!

"I'd like a bitter lemon, please."
"WHICH BIT?! Ahahahahahahahahahaaaaa!"

Elmo's greatest moment.

It's way past time we had more Elmo love on this site.

You can also have Peter Sallis being horribly killed in Taste The Blood of Dracula.

Brian Connoly in Equilibrium....Wanted him to tell Bale "It's only a puppet"!

Hi. I'm afraid I won't be checking this mailbox for a while, as I'm busy doing stuff...tonnes and tonnes of stuff. I promise it's all very interesting, and I'm sure to tell you about it one day.
Sadly that means anything sent to me just gets this canned and somewhat oddly titled response. I wrote it on the 22/6/2012, and I haven't had a chance, not even one moment, looked at this mailbox since.
I'm sure I'll pop back at some point.



Hi. I'm afraid I won't be checking this mailbox for a while, as I'm busy doing stuff...tonnes and tonnes of stuff. I promise it's all very interesting, and I'm sure to tell you about it one day.
Sadly that means anything sent to me just gets this canned and somewhat oddly titled response. I wrote it on the 22/6/2012, and I haven't had a chance, not even one moment, looked at this mailbox since.
I'm sure I'll pop back at some point.


Tad harsh for what's just a fun article (and a good read), don't you think?

I can't believe no one has mentioned John Barrowman in Zero Dark Thirty yet. I mean, I get that Torchwood wasn't exactly a sitcom, but did anyone *not* have a 'wtf' moment at that point?

Separate article coming soon on the mighty Barrowman!

Hi. I'm afraid I won't be checking this mailbox for a while, as I'm busy doing stuff...tonnes and tonnes of stuff. I promise it's all very interesting, and I'm sure to tell you about it one day.
Sadly that means anything sent to me just gets this canned and somewhat oddly titled response. I wrote it on the 22/6/2012, and I haven't had a chance, not even one moment, looked at this mailbox since.
I'm sure I'll pop back at some point.


It still makes me hoot with laughter when Barry Bolofski, Brian Damage etc. from The Young Ones (Alexei Sayle) pops up as the king in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. To top it off, he does a quality silly accent.

Well yes, Sheard was in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet but if we're headed down that route we may as well give Pat Roach and his multiple deaths in the Indy Jones saga. He had two in Last Crusade didn't he?
The inept Irish builder from Fawlty Towers was kick ass as the guard at the wall in Stardust.
Was funny seeing the tubby fella from Bread/Goodnight Sweetheart in Woman in Black. Possibly because up til that point people thought he was Barry off Eastenders.
Daniel Peacock did Confessions of a Teenage Health Freak, an Adrian Mole alike yoof comedy as well as Prince of Thieves. The original Artful Dodger from Oliver! Jack Wilde was in 'Thieves with him too.
I knew Alan Cumming from sitcom The High Life long before he was in the X-Men, but he'd already done a load of stuff with Minnie Driver(including Goldeneye).
Original Young One and future New Statesman Rik Mayall in American Werewolf in London.
I knew Jim Broadbent from Only Fools and Horses before his meteoric rise from Moulin Rouge to household name.
If people are counting Shameless as a sitcom, James Mcavoy is in everything now.
People from sketch shows are a whole other can of worms. Ewen Bremner was Harry Enfields gay son for a while in his show.
Not a sitcom, but the guy from the Orange adverts(now replaced by equally annoying EE adverts) turned up in something that was meant to be serious. Without looking it up I think it was State of Play. Got a good laugh at the time anyway.

I was very distracted watching Cloud Atlas by the appearance of another Last of the Summer Wine actor: Robert Fyfe (aka Howard).

CM's line from the Thin Blue Line "your cockup? My arse!" Is still used in my office on a near daily basis.

Good shout. I too couldn't stop saying "Its a puppet!". Whatever happened to him anyway? P.S. I totally pegged for Batman after seeing this film. :)

Was he really? Seen that film many times and never once twigged, quite the Chameleon it would appear.

Scottish readers might appreciate the addition of comedian Ricky Fulton in Gorky Park as a sinister KGB agent. A household name north of the border for his own TV sketch show, Ricky's comic chops were so ingrained in the national culture that apparently every time he appeared on screen Scottish audiences burst into laughter. A shame really as he does a good job of playing a right bastard in it.

Not really a sitcom star unless you count Head of the Class ( was it?), but Billy Connolly looks utterly out of place in every movie he's ever been in. Including The Muppet one.

I know it happened the wrong way round, but its still a giggle whenever Brian Murphy of George & Mildred makes an appearance in The Devils.

I know, I know!

I still think of Simon Pegg as a British Sitcom Star but I guess he's left that all behind him now.

And ofc as Hitler in The Last Crusade

Haha love the well crafted and lengthy response :P

Not a sitcom but it always amused me that Fred Elliot from Coronation Street was in Clockwork Orange.

Not to mention Hudson hawk as well

I'll never forget
Seeing Trigger in fetish gear in Preaching to the perverted!

what about Trevor Peacock (VICAR OF DIBLEY) in Fred Claus?

Mel Smith was in 80's shitefest 'Slayground'

Mary! Mary! Check your mailbox..! Oh god I hope she checks her mailbox...

I got the test results back Mary and it's terrible news...

Eric Sykes pops up in Nicole Kidman horror The Others.

I found Gareth's appearance in the Pirates films far less jarring than when he cropped up in Game of Thrones. But you could make a whole other article out of GoT and it's "Hang on is that...?" casting choices.

Once I realised Kelsey grammar (fraiser crane) was underneath the blue makeup of beast in one of the x men films I couldn't take him jumping around and fighting at all seriously!

What's interesting is, is that we're seeing it from a current point of view, so seeing Mackenzie Crook (or Dennis Pennis) jobbing around and picking up various roles is kinda normal for an actor - trying to branch out and get work, try different stuff, make a name for himself etc. Whereas seeing Leonard Rossiter in 2001 looks a bit weird and kinda funny. Back then it would've seemed very normal. I guess it depends where they end up in 20 or 30 years time...

Hi. I'm afraid I won't be checking this mailbox for a while, as I'm busy doing stuff...tonnes and tonnes of stuff. I promise it's all very interesting, and I'm sure to tell you about it one day.
Sadly that means anything sent to me just gets this canned and somewhat oddly titled response. I wrote it on the 22/6/2012, and I haven't had a chance, not even one moment, looked at this mailbox since.
I'm sure I'll pop back at some point.


f**k off Mary


I done a google after reading this and saw that Howard Lew Lewis (Rabies in Maid Marion) is SEVENTY ONE. Unbelievable!

Yeah but he was in The Princess Bride. Besides, sketch shows are a whole other shebang. Johnny Depp was in The Fast Show!

Even more wtf than Pirates is Guy Siner (Lieutenant Gruber)'s very brief appearance in one of the prison scenes of David Lynch's Lost Hightway.

Seventy THREE according to IMDB! He was great in Brush Strokes, as was Erika Hoffman as Lesley, haven't seen either in ought for years.

Keep 'em coming, Mary...

No I wholeheartedly agree with whytheface. Most of these actors had film credits before their renowned tv work. This article is misconceived, stupid and lazy.

That's not Melanie Hill but the rather wonderful [and sadly no longer with us] Gilly Coman, who played the original Aveline in Bread.

That was DH (David Haig) not CM playing the fabulous inspector Grim. Fannying about with acronyms can get you into deep doo doo!

What the hell is this, the Humourless Bunch's day out or something? Lighten up, people.

I say, I say... Ashley....

Beat me to it lol..."it's a puppet!"

RAGE? That's it. I'm closing the bureau....for an hour.

Why? Because I'm gay??

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