No-one could ever accuse Salford film and TV star Robert Powell of being type-cast in his long and varied acting career.
His roles have ranged all the way from Jesus of Nazareth to hapless cop David Briggs in Jasper Carrott’s comedy sitcom The Detectives.

He played secret agent Richard Hannay in film and TV versions of The 39 Steps and the composer Gustav Mahler in Ken Russell’s 1974 movie Mahler.

More recently he portrayed hospital nurse turned chief executive Mark Williams in BBC’s Holby City and narrated the World War II documentaries Hitler’s Bodyguard and The Story of the Third Reich.

He is a patron of Manchester’s 24:7 Theatre Festival and has a theatre named after him at the University of Salford.

Born in June 1944, Powell was educated at Manchester Grammar School and the Royal College of Advanced Technology in Salford.

From 1963 to 1964 he took a law course at the Manchester College of Commerce and then went into repertory theatre in Stoke.

His first big break came in 1970 when he was cast as scientist Toby Wren in the BBC science-fiction series Doomwatch.

After appearing in a string of TV dramas, Powell gained international recognition in 1977 in Franco Zeffirelli’s four-part TV film Jesus of Nazareth.

Salford actor Robert Powell, right, with Lewis Collins, February 1981

Salford actor Robert Powell, right, with Lewis Collins, February 1981

He headed an extraordinary cast including Christopher Plummer as Herod, Laurence Olivier as Nicodemus, Michael York as John the Baptist and Ian McShane as Judas.

The mini-series was written by Harpurhey-born author Anthony Burgess, along with actress and screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico and Zeffirelli himself.

Powell’s performance as Jesus earned him the TV Times Best Actor award and he was short-listed in the BAFTA awards.

He starved himself for 12 days on a diet of only cheese to look tired and worn before filming the crucifixion scene.

Only last month Powell appeared in a documentary on the life of Jesus filmed in Israel by the Smithsonian Channel. It featured scenes from the original Jesus of Nazareth mini-series and was narrated by Judd Hirsch.

After Jesus of Nazareth, Powell played Richard Hannay in the 1978 film version of The 39 Steps and a decade later took the lead in the ITV series Hannay. It ran for two seasons.

One of Powell’s most celebrated film roles was that of faith-healer Gregory Wolf in the 1980 thriller Harlequin. David Bowie was originally lined up for the part but the producers changed their minds at the last minute.

Powell’s portrayal won the Best Actor Award at the Paris film Festival.

Robert Powell dressed in Edwardian attire, November 1992

Robert Powell dressed in Edwardian attire, November 1992

In complete contrast to Harlequin, Powell accepted an invitation from his old friend Jasper Carrott to play bungling policeman David Briggs in a series of sketches in his 1990s TV show Canned Carrott.

The sketches proved a hit and the TV sitcom The Detectives resulted in 1993. The series, which also starred George Sewell as the long-suffering Superintendent Cottam, ran until December 1997.

Powell’s character Briggs listed his hobbies as eating pilchards and Quavers, art, trying to impress girls and (just like Powell himself) watching Manchester United!