Bob Hoskins was born in 1942 in Suffolk, where his mother had been evacuated because of the bombing, but he grew up in North London. He was an only child; his father was a lorry driver and bookkeeeper and his mother was a nursery school teacher and school cook.
He left school at 15, and after giving up on an accountancy course took a succession of odd jobs – bouncer, window-cleaner, market porter, fire-eater, merchant seaman and banana-picker on a kibbutz.
Although his English teacher had inspired in him a love of language, literature and drama, and he was a keen theater-goer, Hoskins’ entry into the acting profession came about by chance. In his mid twenties he accompanied a friend to an audition, above a pub, for the the Unity Theatre, a semi-professional company with a history of radical working-class political drama. Although only there to watch, Hoskins found himself being handed a script and told “You’re on next!” He read for the part – too inebriated to argue, he explained later, “so I got on stage and acted my socks off!” – and was offered a leading role in the play The Feather Pluckers, about three British black youths and their conflict with society. On the first night he was signed up by an agent, and he never looked back!
More theatre work followed, as well as bit parts on TV. I remember seeing him in a series of Adult Literacy programmes that the BBC ran in the late 70s. (See one here ).
In 1978 he appeared as frustrated sheet music salesman Arthur Parker in the BBC serial Pennies from Heaven, written by Dennis Potter (made into a film in 1981, starring Steve Martin – MGM did not consider using any of the original English cast). The highly acclaimed series made Hoskins a household name in the UK, and in 1980 he featured in the British gangster film The Long Good Friday. The movie was a big hit in the US, but Hoskins was dismayed to find that his dialogue had been redubbed for American audiences into a sort of stage Cockney. “They thought the Yanks wouldn’t be able to understand me. In the film I end up sounding like Dick Van Dyke.”
Hoskins went on to appear in such Hollywood films as The Cotton Club (1984) and Sweet Liberty (1986) before starring in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). He played Smee to Dustin Hoffman’s pirate captain in Hook (1991).
He wrote and directed his own film The Raggedy Rawney (1988), an “ambitious failure” that had only a limited distribution.
He won an International Emmy for his performance as a publican standing up to thugs in the BBC series The Street (2009) written by Jimmy McGovern. His last movie appearance was as the face of Muir, the blind elder Dwarf in Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, he announced his retirement the same year.
He married his first wife, Jane Livesey, in 1970 and they had two children, Alex and Sarah. The marriage broke down in 1978, and in 1982 he married Linda Banwell, and had two more children, Rosa and Jack.