A long time favourite of mine, actor Ray Winstone has appeared in many films that have influenced me in one way or another over the years, with the man himself often turning in a performance of the highest calibre.
I would have first noticed him in films such as ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘Scum’ from the late 1970s, early 1980s. In the former, he played ‘Kev’ a pie and mash loving rocker and one time mate of ‘Jimmy’ the lead mod in the film, played by Phil Daniels of course. In the latter, he was ‘Carlin’ forever remembered for having a way with snooker balls and old socks. Cosh… ‘av that!
Then many years after they were both made, I had the pleasure of being around him on the set of the film ‘Jawbone’ and saw just how he was beloved by both those who worked with him, as well as us, the fans.
He was born Raymond Andrew Winstone in Hackney on February 29th 1957. Dad was Raymond senior, a fruit and veg man, later a cabbie and mum, Margaret.
‘I was still a baby the day Ronnie Kray came round to see Dad, but I’ve been told this story so many times I can see it unfolding in my mind. Everyone was on their best behaviour, but then Ronnie picked me up, and by all accounts I pissed all over him. He had a new mac on, which had probably cost a few bob, and I absolutely covered it. The room fell silent, then Ronnie cracked up, so everyone knew it was safe to join in.’
The family moved to Enfield when young Ray was seven. School was not for him and he left with just a CSE in drama. In the outside world, he was already steeped in cinema though, with his dad taking him to see a film most Wednesday afternoons. Acting became a passion and something he thought he could do well at. His own heroes at the time were Albert Finney Henry Fonda, John Wayne and James Cagney.
He was also a decent amateur boxer, fighting out of the Repton Boxing Club. He was known as ‘Little Sugs’ in reference to the great Sugar Ray Robinson, with his dad known as ‘Big Sugs.’ Ray went on to win 80 of his 88 bouts. He also fought for England and was a London schoolboy champion.
‘If you can get in a ring with 2,000 people watching and be smacked around by another guy, then walking onstage isn’t hard.’
He joined the Corona Stage Academy at the age of 17 and he soon found work as a not very convincing song and dance man at The Theatre Royal in Stratford, before landing a role in the TV series The Sweeney, in a 1976 episode called ‘Loving Arms.’
Director Alan Clarke at a BBC audition then selected him for ‘Scum’ in 1977 and he got the lead role. Set in a brutal borstal, Ray soon becomes the ‘daddy’ of the institution. Deemed too violent for the telly at the time, it was re-filmed for a cinema release in 1979. Winstone was forever grateful to Clark for the opportunity and speaks of him fondly to this day.
Other television work followed, such as the seminal series ‘Fox’ alongside Peter Vaughan, playing ‘Will Scarlet’ in ‘Robin of Sherwood’ and he appeared in many other shows over the years, including ‘Bergerac’ ‘Boon’ ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ ‘The Bill’ ‘Minder’ and ‘Auf Wiedershen Pet.’
Twice declared bankrupt, Ray had his own way of handling his finances.
‘I remember being indoors one day and we got a cheque through the post for Robin of Sherwood. Instead of paying the tax we went on holiday. ‘Come on, let’s go on holiday, you only live once and all that.’ We’ll worry about the rest tomorrow.
He also appeared on stage in shows like ‘Dealer’s Choice’ and in ‘Mr Thomas’, which was written by his old friend Kathy Burke. In truth, he had lost his way in the acting game by this time. He seemed to be forever being offered ‘geezer’ roles, but this play seemed to break that cycle. In fact, it lead to him working with Kathy again in the film ‘Nil By Mouth’ written and directed by Gary Oldman.
In truth, it’s a hard watch for some, but for me, it’s a film I found funny in parts. That reaction, which is at odds with the subject matter of the film, was me recognising many characters from my own past. It all seemed oddly familiar.
In the film, Winstone plays ‘Raymond’ a violent alcoholic who terrifies his wife ‘Val’ played by Burke as well as his immediate family. Ray is staggering in the part and quite rightly won a Bafta nomination for his work on it.
‘To me it’s about believing in the character you’re watching on screen. And I’ve worked with directors who want to know you’re acting. But I don’t want to see the acting thing in it. Gary [Oldman] used to say, ‘I can see you acting, Raymond.’ And I’d go right, OK, let’s do it again.’
The Guardian were taking notes, as proved when they said he (Winstone) ‘plays troubled hard men with such conviction, it’s easy to believe he’s not acting.’
Other notable films of his include ‘That Summer’ ‘Face’ ‘The War Zone’ ‘Love Honour and Obey’ ‘Last Orders’ and the marvellous ‘Sexy Beast.’ Winstone plays ex criminal ‘Gal’, who is slowly drawn out of his retirement in Spain by Don, superbly played by Ben Kingsley, and ‘invited’ to take part in one last job.
Around this time, Ray set up his own film production company called ‘Size 9.’ His acting work was now gaining international recognition and he began appearing in big budget films such as ‘King Arthur’ ‘The Proposition’ ‘ The Departed’ for director Martin Scorcese, voicing ‘Beowulf’ and popping up in ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.’
His later fondly remembered TV work, included ‘Vincent’ in 2005 playing opposite Suranne Jones, and he returned to his earliest work, by appearing in the feature film remake of the The Sweeney, playing Jack Regan’ alongside Ben Drew (Plan B) and directed by Nick Love.
Ray is married to Elaine and has three daughters, with Lois and Jaime following their dad in the acting game. He is also a fervent West Ham fan.
As a wise man once said, no one gets it all….
So what of his career overall. I often think he has stayed true to himself and his background. Watching him at work in ‘Jawbone’ I said he did a ‘great Ray’ and I meant that as the highest compliment.
He has said his own favourite role was as Henry VIII in the 2003 TV series ‘It’s really flattering for me to be asked to play a king. I mean, I’m a kid out of Plaistow, and I’m playing one of the most famous kings of England. It’s fantastic!’
When asked if he wanted to change anything in his career he replied…
‘Nothing. There’s no way I’d change anything. Nah, I ‘ad a result.’
He’ll do for me.
The Muper of SE5
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