The actor Dudley Sutton, who has died at 85, was known as the roguish Tinker Dill, touting for Ian McShane’s shadowy antiques dealer in the TV series Lovejoy, and as the ambivalent history teacher in Alan Plater’s acclaimed Beiderbecke trilogy of jazz-infused comedy-dramas, filmed and set in Yorkshire.
His other TV appearances included a Christmas special of the BBC sitcom Porridge, in which he played a hostage taker named Reg Urwin, opposite Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale.
He also starred in an episode of ITV’s crime drama, The Sweeney.
In his later career he had a recurring role as the conman Wilfred Atkins in EastEnders, as well as smaller parts in Holby City and Channel 4’s teenage drama, Skins.
Born in Surrey in 1933, Sutton served in the RAF as a mechanic before enrolling in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, from which he was expelled, having grown dispirited with its focus on traditional dramas that reinforced class stereotypes. He gravitated instead to writers who broke the mould, and spent his days reading them in the coffee bars of old Soho.
He joined Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in the East End, where work of a more groundbreaking nature was being originated and which was, he said, everything his father would have hated. He appeared in numerous plays from there that portrayed working class life during the 1950s and 1960s.
His breakout screen role came in the 1964 film The Leather Boys, in which he played a gay biker.
In the same year, he was a standout as the original lead in Joe Orton’s then-controversial west End play, Entertaining Mr Sloane, whose premiere at Wyndham’s Theatre was made possible by £3,000 of sponsorship from Terence Rattigan.
Sutton went on to lead the Broadway production, alongside Sheila Hancock, but its homosexual overtones were ahead of their time there and the show closed after only 13 performances.
Sutton, however, considered Orton a kindred spirit and said that “to fight the demon of homophobia with a West End comedy was brilliant”.
The Beiderbecke Affair, screened by Yorkshire Television to an audience of 12m in 1985, began a long association with the station. Such was the success of Plater’s dry, amateur detective yarn, and Sutton’s portrayal of the otherwise friendless associate of the two leads – played by James Bolam and Barbara Flynn – that two sequels were ordered. All three series had the name of the 1920s jazz composer Bix Beiderbecke in their title.
Sutton was back at YTV in 2014, as William Makepeace in Emmerdale in 2014. He also appeared in films such as 1971’s The Devils, the broad Peter Sellers comedy The Pink Panther Strikes Again and, three decades later, in The Football Factory.
Last November, he starred in a music video for the singer Tom Chaplin’s solo single, Midnight Mass.
He married four times and is survived by three children.