Of all the television detectives of recent years, George Baker’s Inspector Wexford, with his mature West Country burr, slight air of fallibility and occasional stubbornness, was the one who seemed to spring from real life rather than an author’s fancy. Sometimes ponderous, sometimes wrong, always homely, Baker’s Wexford had his affable ex-constable’s feet firmly on the ground. The character had a solid, believable family life. The actor, also a family man, had a hand in some of the adaptations that went under the title of the Ruth Rendell Mysteries. Whatever the combination of factors, it gave Baker, who has died aged 80 of pneumonia, his greatest success.
Not that fame was unfamiliar to the actor, whose career had got off to such a promising start back in the 1950s. The British cinema spotted his handsome features almost as soon as they loomed across the West End boards in Frederick Lonsdale’s Aren’t We All? (1953). Baker had the knack, as a character actor, of furnishing whatever roughly was needed – arrogance or timidity, charm or urbanity, fear or manliness, polish or menace. It was the same in films such as The Dam Busters, The Ship That Died of Shame (both 1955), A Hill in Korea (1956), The Moonraker, Tread Softly Stranger (both 1958), Goodbye, Mr Chips and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (both 1969). He was a sympathetic actor because he knew how to seem to listen to the others.
While in the West End, he would be off to film at the crack of dawn and back in the evening for a play. Baker did not merely act: he co-scripted films, wrote for television and devised occasional shows for the stage. His BBC2 play Fatal Spring (1980), about the first world war poets Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, won a United Nations peace award, and Baker was justifiably proud of his skill with dialogue.
Councillor Ray Taylor, on behalf of the Devizes Constituency Labour Party, said: “George was a lifelong member of the Labour Party. As well as the West Lavington Youth Club, he raised a lot of money for the specialist cancer unit at Southampton Hospital. He will long be remembered for his commitment to and interest in the local community.”
• George Baker, actor, writer and director, born 1 April 1931; died 7 October 2011