Tony Earnshaw: Pete Postlethwaite – fanfare for an uncommon talent

Another year, another farewell.

Pete Postlethwaite, who died earlier this week, had a strong affinity with Yorkshire having made several trips to the region for films as diverse as Brassed Off and Among Giants. And though he wasn't a Tyke, he enjoyed many of our county's characteristics, being outspoken about his politics, strong-willed about his work and warm-hearted in his dealings with fans. And he liked a pint.

He was the kindest of men. On location in Grimethorpe for the shooting of Brassed Off in 1995 he gave up his free time to speak with passion and quiet fury about the story behind the music: the death of the coal mines at the hands of Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s. He bought beer for the gathered journalists after filming had finished and, if he had rather too much, was still enormously good company. By that point politics didn't come into it; Pete was having fun.

Indeed, he was a fun-loving chap – a blokey type with an extraordinary talent for character. That made his something of a throwback to the period after the war when Britain's best film actors came through the repertory theatre system, cutting their teeth on hundreds of separate (and very different) roles before slogging their way through bit parts to stardom. Pete did that, too. He was a face in the background of several films before hitting paydirt (and an Oscar nomination) for playing doomed Giuseppe Conlon in Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father in 1993.

From then on he never looked back. The big movies came thick and fast: The Usual Suspects, Romeo + Juliet and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. While working on the latter Postlethwaite was described as "one of the greatest actors in the world today" by Steven Spielberg. Yet if Postlethwaite took the work seriously, he never saw himself as anything other than an itinerant working actor. At Leeds International Film Festival in 1997, I asked him if he'd ever considered changing his name.

"My agent told me the same thing," he said, "so I changed my agent." He smiled and that wonderful face crumpled into laugh lines. "Otherwise I wouldn't be me, would I?"

I remember with admiration a scene played out on location at Burbage Edge during the filming of Among Giants in which the then 51-year-old Postlethwaite played a pylon painter in love with a younger woman. Postlethwaite hauled himself to the top of a cliff face, looked back at the view over Hathersage Moor, and allowed himself a contented smile. Then he did it again. And again. By the time director Sam Miller was satisfied Postlethwaite could have scrabbled up the Eiger.

"Made it, Ma, top o' Tesco's," he quipped, deliberately mis-quoting James Cagney's final line from White Heat. It wouldn't do to be pompous.

And dear, dead Pete Pos was anything but.

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