Derek Newark played the role of Spooner ‘The Animal’ in the episodes ‘A Night Out’ and ‘All Our Yesterdays’. A professional wrestler with a goldfish as a pet.
Derek Newark was born in Great Yarmouth on 8 June 1933. The youngest of three boys, he went to grammar school in Great Yarmouth where he had great academic potential. Unfortunately, his parents could not afford to keep him there until university so, at 18, he left and joined the Merchant Navy in 1951, for three years. Derek served in the British Army during National Service as 22817388 Newark D. He saved his kit bag from his National Service days and used it as a punch bag, which he hung from his garage ceiling in Purley, Surrey.
He was once a Lance Corporal drill instructor in the Coldstream Guards. He served 5 years in the regular Army after transferring from the Coldstream Guards to the Royal Army Service Corps, as an officer. He reached the rank of Acting Captain by the time he finished in 1958.
In 1958, he married Jean, a teacher who he met in Singapore at a local fencing club whilst serving for the Coldstream Guards during the Malayan emergency. Whilst in Singapore, Derek ran a radio show, playing country and western. This would give him a taste of entertainment, and spark his interest in becoming an actor when he returned to England.
Derek went on to train as an actor at RADA in 1958. He also rejoined the forces, this time it was the Parachute Regiment, as a Territorial. After graduating from RADA in 1960, Derek worked in various Rep productions and landed his first television role in 1961 as a mechanic in the series, ‘Deadline Midnight’.
In 1962, Derek and Jean welcomed their first child, Quentin, and five years late, they adopted Paul. From personal triumphs to work triumphs, a year later, Derek join the Royal Shakespeare Company for two years In 1964, Derek’s film debut was playing the uncredited role of Alfred in Michael Winner’s 1964 film, The System starring Oliver Reed.
From the 1960s to 1996, Derek was a stalwart character actor on our screens. His early highlights were playing Trooper in ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’, a role Derek would later note as a personal highlight, Joe Harwood in ‘Front Page Story’ 1965 – noted by Derek as a highlight, Za / Greg Sutton in Dr Who 1963-1970, Detective Inspector Sharp in ‘Coronation Street’ 1966-1971, Det Insp Bryant in ‘Budgie’, alongside his good friend Adam Faith, Det Insp. Eddie Tucker in Barlow 1974-75 – another personal highlight for Derek, Mr. Bennett in ‘The Nineteenth Hole’ 1989. Derek’s athleticism meant he insisted on doing all his fight scenes and stunt work on set. Whether it be fighting Roger Moore in an episode of The Persuaders or Tony Curtis, a fall, or a boxing match, Derek done them all for real.
With all his experience in the theatre, in 1972, Derek wrote his own play about a Soldier, in which an army C.S.M. discovers he might be gay. As somewhat of an autobiography, it was based on Derek’s life as an 18-year-old in the Merchant Navy, shortly before he joined the Army. In 1974, Derek made his first appearance in Rising Damp, playing the role of Spooner, a wrestler nicknamed ‘The Animal’, in the episode ‘A Night Out’. He would play the role again with more screen time in the episode ‘All Our Yesterdays’.
In 1975, Derek joined the National Theatre where he resided for over a decade. A highlight for Derek, allowing him to highlight his depth of acting, outside the typical roles of Sergeant Major, or bullish authoritarian and fringe characters. He played ‘Bottom’ in ’A Midsummer’s Night Dream’, Shelley ‘The Machine’ Levene in David Mamet’s world premiere of ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, which transferred to the West End, ‘The Crucible’ and ‘The Hothouse’ by Harold Pinter. He would also appear in the one-man shows ‘Enemy Within’ and ‘Groucho Letters’ and the National’s pantomime, Cinderella. He also gained much pleasure from teaching students, both British and American, on Drama and Theatre with emphasis on the development of Middle English Drama.
From Derek’s film debut in 1964 to his role, fittingly, as ‘Guv’nor’ in 1997’s Bellman and True, he was typically typecast as the Sergeant Major, which he did superbly. From playing the German Major in Where Eagles Dare 1968, Shooting Gallery Proprietor in ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’ 1969, Regimental Sergeant Major in the film version of ‘Dad’s Army’, Policeman alongside Michael Caine in ‘The Black Windmill’ 1974, and the TV film ‘Seconds Out’ by Lynda La Plante in 1992, which Derek noted as another highlight on his CV.
Derek only had one noted appearance on radio, appearing in David Rudkin’s ‘The Haunting of Mahler’, BBC Radio 3, 16 October 1994.
Away from the cameras, Derek enjoyed cooking and painting. He also did a lot of DIY and, at one point, considered building a badminton court next to his house. Derek was a yellow-belt in Judo but he had to give it up because of an accident on set in Brecht’s Man is Man at London’s Royal Court Theatre where he dived through a window and injured his back.
Always a fitness enthusiast, he boxed, played rugby football and fenced. Derek was a keen runner, horse rider and, like Leonard Rossiter, a keen squash player.
Derek knew all these Sergeant Majors, Corporals, hard men, bouncers, officers and inspector types inside out, he was, in some cases, one of them. These were familiar roles he played with great force and physical presence. They made up a large part of his resume and, although there may have been frustrations of being typecast, there was really nobody better.
Derek died of a heart attack on 11 August 1998 in West London, he had been sick for several years from alcoholism.