IT was catching a bit of Bob Servant on the radio, after all the megastar hoopla of Succession, that made me think: “There’s a chiel who hasn’t forgotten his roots.”

The chiel under advisement was Brian Cox, actor and star of Succession, the hit TV series about a media tycoon. 

Servant, for those of you unfamiliar with yon particular loon, is a sometime cheeseburger tycoon in Dundee, the fictional creation of Scottish writer Neil Forsyth, and a character arguably unfamiliar to audiences in New York. 

Cox loves Servant because of his “Dundee nose for bull****”. Logan Roy, the Succession tycoon, has a similar proboscis, as does Cox himself.

That neb first poked forth into the world in the aforementioned Dundee on June 1, 1946. Cox has described his childhood in a family of Scottish-Irish descent as not “particularly wonderful”. It was fine at first, lower-middle class even. 

His father, Charles, was a policeman and then a grocer. His mother, Mary, worked in the jute mills.

Unfortunately, dad, a decent man not averse to giving poor customers food on credit, died of cancer when Brian was eight. 

With little money left for the family, mother struggled to cope and had several nervous breakdowns, leaving the boy to be raised by his elder sisters.

Brian found himself begging for chip shop scraps to keep body, if not soul, together. 

He quit school – St Michael’s Junior Secondary – shortly before his 15th birthday, and did bits of work for Dundee Rep, occasionally sleeping there. 

Acting, he realised, could provide an escape route from the “bloody tough and bloody lonely” hardship of his life hitherto.

At 17, he received a scholarship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, graduating in 1965, during which year he became a founding member of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, performing in its first show, The Servant O’ Twa Maisters. 

Gynt in his eye
From 1966, he worked at Birmingham Rep for two years, playing the title role in Peer Gynt. 
He made his London West End debut in June 1967 as Orlando in As You Like It at the Vaudeville. After that, from a narrative point of view, it gets ridiculous. 

I’ve rarely seen a longer list of roles.

Here, we’ll restrict ourselves to several volumes of highlights. In the 1980s, Cox received two Olivier Awards for his roles in Rat In The Skull and Titus Andronicus, describing the latter as “the greatest stage performance I have ever given”. 

The acclaimed production saw audiences fainting, vomiting, and fleeing the theatre. Result! Cox earned further praise playing the title role in the Royal National Theatre company’s King Lear (1990). 

His Broadway debut came in a 1985 production of Eugene O’Neill’s experimental play Strange Interlude.

The Herald: Brian Cox prepares to take centre stage

His television debut came in an episode of The Wednesday Play in 1965, while his first film appearance was as Leon Trotsky in Nicholas And Alexandra in 1971. 

In 1978, he played King Henry II of England in BBC drama serial The Devil’s Crown and, in 1986, portrayed Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter, the anthropophagous character’s first appearance on 

This was followed logically by Cox starring as Andrew Neil in 1990’s Secret Weapon.

The 1990s saw him in films featuring more Scottish heroes, such as Rob Roy and Braveheart. 

He guest-starred on Frasier and in the 1997 Red Dwarf episode Stoke Me A Clipper. He played Lear again in French and Saunders (“Shakespeare meets Footballers’ Wives”). He was Jack Langrishe in the HBO western series Deadwood. 

Cox won an Emmy for his portrayal of Hermann Göring in historical miniseries Nuremberg.

For his starring role in the controversial L.I.E. (2001), he received an Independent Spirit Award nomination. He was in The Bourne Identity (2002), Troy (2004), and Churchill (2017). On and also on it goes. And so we come to Succession.

Rupert the bugbear
IN this HBO series, Cox plays Logan Roy, a foul-mouthed family patriarch and media tycoon loosely based on Rupert Murdoch, who claims never to have seen it. Millions of regular folks have. The fourth and final season, aired last year, has an approval rating of 97%. 

Cox, who has described the role as “career-defining”, won a Golden Globe for his performance.
In 2021, he told Mark Kermode in The Guardian that he refused to characterise Logan as simply “bad”, seeing him more as someone brutalised by life, and comparing him to King Lear, who had similar succession problems with his children. 

Cox shares Roy’s “disappointment in the human being”, but did not disappoint fans in a Christmas edition of Newsnight when he signed off Logan-style by wishing viewers “an amazing festive season” before ordering them to “just ... f*** off”. 

Subsequently, on social media, he was hailed as “a national treasure”.

Being a treasure has not made him a millionaire, according to the actor, who told Times Radio: ‘I’m just a jobbing actor who’s done quite well over the years because I’ve been long enough at it.” 

He said he knew about poverty from his childhood and lived in “constant fear of becoming poor again”.

After initially backing Labour, Cox became a democratic socialist, controversially wanting Scotland to be free. In 2003, he was appointed a Commander of yon British Empire (CBE) and, in 2006, won Empire magazine’s Icon Award. 

Later, because of his support for Scottish independence, he abjured the CBE.

Hailing taxes
EARLIER this week, Cox joined more than 250 affluent individuals, spanning 17 countries, to call for wealth taxes to bolster public services. 

Alas, last week, the House of Barnabas, a London homeless charity that Brian co-founded, had to close following the financial effects of Covid and train strikes.

In March, he returns to the West End stage, starring in Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece Long Day’s Journey Into Night, at Wyndham’s Theatre.

He’s written three books – Salem To Moscow: An Actor’s Odyssey; The Lear Diaries; and his memoir Putting The Rabbit In The Hat (referring to the work needed before magically extracting the bunny from the millinery).

Finishing that last one in 2021 depressed the 77-year-old a tad because he feared it put a “full stop” on his life. 

However, he pulled himself out of it, saying: “I’m sure there’s more.” Yep.