Tony Selby, actor best known for playing Cockney wide boys

Born: February 26, 1938;

Died: September 5, 2021.

The energetic, durable actor Tony Selby, who has died aged 83, personified a certain type of Londoner. Chunkily built, with distinctive tight curls of hair and frequently bared teeth, he could burst into proceedings like an oversized terrier.

Hailing from South London in real life, he was often seen in film and television as a talkative, superficially friendly chancer, not always on the right side of the law or of a prison cell, nor possessing the intelligence to back up his boasts, although sometimes with surprising bursts of verbosity.

But his frequent castings in Cockney villainy, and his comic bully of a National Service corporal in the popular sitcom Get Some In! (Thames, 1975-78), belied a career taking in the last days of “intimate revue” in the West End and opulent productions for impresario 'Binkie' Beaumont, as well as social realism for Ken Loach and contemporaries. Through his role in Edward Bond's controversial Saved, at the Royal Court Theatre in 1965, Selby was involved in the eventual abolition of the theatre censor, the Lord Chamberlain.

Beginning as a boy actor, and billed as Anthony Selby until 1964, he was born in Lambeth, to a taxi driver father and waitress mother. While still attending the Italia Conti Stage School, in the days of the BBC as the only channel, he made his television debut in 1951, in a Chinese story in the strand For the Children, as Pig. Equally unflatteringly, in the same slot, he was Porky Williams in Skippy Smith Goes To The Circus (BBC, 1953).

In a tradition for Italia Conti students, he was in Christmas perennial Where The Rainbow Ends (Royal Festival Hall, 1954). He played his first prisoner in the British premiere of Brendan Behan's The Quare Fellow (Comedy, 1956), directed by Joan Littlewood, with Richard Harris in the ensemble.

For Beaumont's company HM Tennents, he supported Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt in Time And Again (1958). Two revues, Living For Pleasure (1958) with Dora Bryan, and On The Avenue (1961) starring Beryl Reid, followed. Between the two, Selby's debut at the Royal Court for the English Stage Company promised something different. However, Trials by Logue (1960) had him making up one half of a pantomime Police Horse.

Selby and future producer Tony Garnett were supernumeraries in the BBC's staging of Shakespeare's history plays, An Age Of Kings (1960). Both acted in Loach's directorial debut, in an experimental BBC series Teletale (1964), for Glaswegian producer James MacTaggart. Selby was then in three examples of the BBC's premier outlet for new writing, The Wednesday Play, all in 1965, produced by MacTaggart and directed by Loach, with Garnett assisting.

Tap On The Shoulder had him in a West London gang of gold bullion thieves. His best screen performance was in 3 Clear Sundays, convincingly credulous as a simple-minded, Catholic prisoner tricked into attacking a prison officer, and hanged. He was back in South London in Up The Junction, describing being back behind bars as “a sort of university for them that couldn't afford Oxford”.

In Saved, Selby's character Fred was imprisoned for killing a baby, an act committed by several “teenage louts” in the play's most discussed scene. After being refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain, it was staged at the Royal Court under club conditions, resulting in a summons against the English Stage Company the following January. Apart from a working-class South London background, the only similarity Selby shared with Fred was a fondness for fishing.

Another of Saved's “teenage louts” had been Dennis Waterman. Enemy! (Saville, 1969), by Robin Maugham, cast Selby as a Cockney soldier who forms a bond of survival with a gay German trooper – who was Waterman, in what he later termed “a part that nobody would have offered me in a thousand years.”

Selby then made The Hard Word (1966), a short play on BBC2 by Jim Allen, another Loach collaborator, and directed by Ridley Scott, hitherto a set designer. For the same channel's Theatre 625 strand, he starred as Albert in a new version of Pinter's A Night Out in 1967. The Inquisitors, announced in 1968 as “London Weekend's first dramatic series”, cast him for once as a detective, but was abandoned after three, never broadcast episodes were shot.

After five series of Get Some In!, Selby took his grandstanding as Corporal Marsh to the Princess Theatre, Torquay in 1977, and the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, the following year, in a stage version concocted by series writers John Esmonde and Bob Larbey. For Larbey solo, in 1989 for LWT, Selby made an unbroadcast sitcom pilot, On The Up; the resulting series, on BBC1, starred Waterman instead. Nonetheless, again for Esmonde and Larbey he played Geraldine McEwan's dubious factotum in Mulberry (BBC, 1992-93), which became surprisingly popular on public television in America.

He performed revivals of Fiddler On The Roof (Theatre Royal, Plymouth, 1989), as Tevye, and Paint Your Wagon (Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 1996), as Ben Rumson, the latter bringing him a nomination for an Olivier Award for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical.

A pantomime regular since 1983, he was Widow Twankey in Aladdin at the Oxford Playhouse (1994-95). As the Sergeant, he supported Diana Rigg in Mother Courage and Her Children (1995-96), at the National Theatre.

Frequently seen in charity football matches as one of the Showbiz XI, he is survived by his second wife Gina, and a son, daughter and stepson.