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Actor Dennis Waterman found solace in IRA drama while his third marriage fell apart


Dennis Waterman with his third wife Rula Lenska. Credit: Fiona Hanson

Dennis Waterman with his third wife Rula Lenska. Credit: Fiona Hanson

Dennis Waterman in Circle of Deceit

Dennis Waterman in Circle of Deceit


Dennis Waterman with his third wife Rula Lenska. Credit: Fiona Hanson

Dennis Waterman took solace in filming an IRA drama inspired by Northern Ireland’s punishment beatings while his infamous third marriage crumbled.

The Minder actor, who died last week at the age of 74 after suffering from lung cancer, said he loved shooting Circles Of Deceit with Irish actors in the 1990s as it gave him a break from his explosive home life with actress Rula Lenska.

But the show plummeted into disaster due to budget cuts at the same time as Dennis's marriage finally imploded.

He said in his now out-of-print memoir, published in 2000: “I’d been twice married already and I hated the prospect of another failure.

“Vernon Lawrence, head of head of entertainment for Yorkshire TV, asked if we had any ideas for future television projects for me.

“The writer had read an article in the Los Angeles Times about the punishment beatings in Northern Ireland, which at the time was receiving no recognition at all in Britain, and she was keen to write something about it.

“We decided it would be a good idea to develop a project for me set in Northern Ireland.

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“I wanted to get away from the roles I’d be playing on television – I wanted something more testing in television drama.

“Setting it in Northern Ireland gave us all the possibilities for tension, excitement and romance.”

The project became ITV series Circles Of Deceit, first shown on October 1, 1993.

Dennis played grieving ex-SAS man John Neil.

He added in his 2000 autobiography Reminder: “He is called back to duty after a long absence from the service following the murder of his wife and child in an IRA bombing in Germany.

“He is a man with nothing to lose, sent undercover to infiltrate the IRA to track an enormous cache of Libyan arms.

“While there, he becomes involved with the daughter of one of the IRA hierarchy.

“The casting for that first two hour special was brilliant – Sir Derek Jacobi and Clare Higgins and a whole raft of talented Irish actors.”

Circles Of Deceit ran for two series of four feature-length episodes.

But it plunged into disaster towards the end of shooting when accountants moved into ITV and started cutting corners.

Dennis said: “Sadly the television world was undergoing a lot of changes, and none for the better.

“Big business had moved in. Accountants had moved in. Streamlining was the buzzword, and crews were contemplating redundancies.

“The whole industry was being taken over by people with no knowledge or interest in film making.

“For the first time in my life I met directors and producers so disgusted and disillusioned with how TV was being run they were considering early retirement.

“The scripts were definitely not up to standard, the budget no longer allowed for the best and I was being directed by solid old hacks.”

After ditching the doomed third series of Circles Of Deceit amid the brutal budget cuts, Dennis went home to Rula and their domestic hell.

He said: “At home, if we weren’t openly antagonistic, there was a pervasive and sullen silence.

“I was made to pay for every mistake. We were drifting further and further apart and neither of us seemed capable of ending it.

“But there was only so much sneering you could take – my work was rubbish, our friends were boring, my lifestyle was crap, I was useless at this and hopeless at that and had lost money… I made her sick.

“Rows erupted on a regular basis that involved a measure of pushing on both our parts.”

Dad-of-two Dennis married actress Penny Dixon in 1967, Patricia Maynard in 1977, Rula Lenska in 1987 and finally Pam Flint in 2011.

Actress Rula (74) branded Dennis a drunk wife-beater.

But the keen amateur boxer insisted in interviews and in his memoir he only struck her once at the height of a furious row – and said in his book he was deeply “ashamed” of “lifting my hand to a woman”.

Dennis also sparked a huge backlash from domestic violence groups when he discussed the marriage on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories in 2012.

He said on the show: “It’s not difficult for a woman to make a man hit her. She certainly wasn’t a beaten wife, she was hit and that’s different.”

Dennis married fourth wife Pam in November 2011 after they had been friends for years.

She watched over him last Sunday on his deathbed in Spain, after he had secretly fought lung cancer for two years.

The public always seemed able to forgive booze-loving die-hard Chelsea fan Dennis for his bad behaviour due mainly to him being seen as a loveable Cockney geezer from his parts on shows including The Sweeney.

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