Alfred Burke


2/28/1918 (103 years old)

Alfred Burke exemplifies poet Dylan Thomas' famous line: "Old age should burn and rage at close of day." Years past his 80th birthday, Burke signed on to play Professor Armando Dippet in the second Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The move was daring, for it risked turning Burke into an icon of Potter zealots more than 70 years his junior -- and possibly even into a Dippet Doll for sale at Christmas. Such attention would make it difficult for him to find time to slouch into the oblivious comfort of an armchair before a fireplace, cup of tea in hand, as most octogenarians are wont to do. But of course, Burke has never been one to slouch. He's been acting since the 1930s in a diversity of challenging roles such as Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann in The House on Garibaldi Street, Jewish moneylender Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Karol Wojtyla's father in Pope John Paul II, the prisoner Alyosha in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and shopkeeper Lurgan Sahib in Kim. Testifying to his ability to portray characters convincingly was this BBC report: While Burke was playing the Rev. Patrick Brontë in a 1973 TV series about the Brontë sisters, tourist visits to the Brontë parsonage soared to an unprecedented number -- 250,000 -- that year. Burke was born on February 28, 1918, in the Peckham district of London, England. After training at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he performed regularly in stage, film, and television productions. However, not until 1965 did he gain widespread recognition in the U.K. That was the year he began portraying Frank Marker, a shabby detective working out of a small office in the TV series Public Eye, which won critical acclaim, awards, and the admiration of millions of viewers during its ten-year run. Burke also appeared frequently in another hit TV series, The Avengers. Throughout his career, Burke has had a penchant for playing policemen, clerics, military officers, and others who carry a badge or wear a uniform. For example, in military roles, he has played a rear admiral (Longitude), a major (Enemy at the Door), a captain (No Time to Die), a lieutenant-colonel (Amère Victoirè), and a petty officer (Yangtse Incident). In clerical and police roles, he has portrayed a pope (The Borgias), a minister (The Brontës of Haworth), a detective superintendent (The Night Caller), and an inspector (20,000 Pound Kiss). Remarkably, Burke has also found time to perform Shakespeare. In 1949, theatergoers saw him as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice at the Nottingham Playhouse and as Roderigo in Othello at the Embassy Theatre in London. Forty-seven years later, in 1996, he played Egeus in a film production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Then in 2000, he played John of Gaunt in Richard II with the Royal Shakespeare Company. A year later, at age 83, he played Escalus in Romeo and Juliet, another Royal Shakespeare Company production.