The Velvet Onion is tremendously saddened to be writing about the death of actor Alex Beckett at the age of just 36.
Beckett, who died suddenly this week, was perhaps best known to comedy audiences for his role as hipster PR man Barney Lumsden in John Morton’s Twenty Twelve and W1A alongside Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Hynes and Rufus Jones.
But the Welsh actor’s career also took in a number of critically acclaimed theatre roles as well scene stealing turns in numerous recent comedy hits, and with his profile steadily rising, it makes his sudden passing feel all the more shocking.
Born in Carmarthenshire in 1982, Beckett trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduating in 2003. Almost immediately he found himself making his stage debut at the Donmar Warehouse, playing a hotel porter in Robin Lefevre’s Hotel In Amsterdam.
More stage work followed, including roles at Oxford Playhouse, the Old Vic, Creation Theatre, Wyndhams Theatre, The Bush Theatre, The Young Vic, The National Theatre, The National Theatre of Wales, the Orange Tree Theatre, the Royal Court and finally returning to the Donmar Warehouse in James Macdonald’s The Way of the World – which he was scheduled to appear in until 26th May.
Across this acclaimed body of theatre work included a turn as Borachio in Much Ado About Nothing, an acclaimed take on Fidel Castro in Praxis Makes Perfect and the multi-layered role of Lewis (or is it Derek?) in Blue Heart, alongside Andy de la Tour and Janet Henfrey.
At the same time as garnering acclaim as a straight actor on stage, Beckett was carving out a notable niche in supporting roles across a number of British comedy favourites. Early roles were brief: first appearing opposite Adam Buxton and Simon Farnaby in the long forgotten flop The Persuasionists aside, and later having a non-speaking role as a Chinese-takeaway scoffing mortuary attendent in Charlie Brooker‘s A Touch of Cloth before he was cast as “Ideation Architect” Barney Lumsden in Twenty Twelve, appearing in six out of the thirteen episodes across 2011 and 2012, including a memorable sequence in which he attempts to make the word Olympics ‘cool’…
The character proved popular enough to be one of only five Twenty-Twelve characters to make the jump across to W1A, in which Hugh Bonneville’s Ian Fletcher and Jessica Hynes’ Siobhan Sharpe leave the Olympic Commission to join the BBC, with Sharpe continuing to draw on the help of Barney and his team – played by Sara Pascoe and Joel Fry respectively. In one of the key moments of W1A‘s first series, Barney is behind a baffling new concept for the standard BBC logo. His dismissal of the letters ‘B’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ from the logo, to replace them with something more universal, became a viral favourite long before BBC Three went ahead with an alarmingly similar concept just a few short years later.
With a key comic creation under his belt, Beckett was in-demand as a supporting actor within the latest crop of new comedies. In 2015, he appeared in two episodes of BBC Three’s 70’s police procedural spoof Top Coppers, which starred Steen Raskopoulos and John Kearns, and featured guest roles for the likes of Rich Fulcher, Simon Farnaby and Kayvan Novak amongst others.
Also that year, he made a brief but memorable appearance in two episodes of ITV2’s underrated apocalyptic sitcom Cockroaches alongside Daniel Lawrence Taylor, Tom Davis, Alexander Armstrong and Jack Whitehall. The following year saw another two episode stint in Channel 4’s sci-fi comedy The Aliens alongside Michael Socha, Jim Howick, Michaela Coel and Michael Smiley, as Ivan, a pet shop owner and drug-addicted partner of the protagonist’s sister, who finds himself in huge financial debt to an alien kidnapper with disastrous results.
Alongside these comedic turns were roles in serious dramas: alongside Amanda Abbington in Cuffs; joining Faye Marsay, Jason Watkins and Helena Bonham Carter in Love, Nina; and small parts in both 2015 action thriller Survivor alongside Pierce Brosnan and Milla Jovovich; and the Michael Caine led comic drama Youth. A recurring role as Seth in Comedy Central’s fashion based comedy I Live With Models followed, as well as a brief appearance in Channel 4’s sublime The End of the F**king World alongside Steve Oram and Gemma Whelan, which went on to become a Netflix sensation a few months after transmission.
From there, Beckett joined the cast of one of the most eagerly awaited sitcoms of the year: E4’s forthcoming Stath Lets Flats. Written by and staring Jamie Demetriou , the series is co-written by Robert Popper (Look Around You, Friday Night Dinner), directed by Tom Kingsley (Black Pond), and features a brilliant ensemble cast including Natasia Demetriou, Alastair Roberts, Haruka Abe, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Tom Stourton, Dustin Demri Burns, Katy Wix, Ellie White and Fergus Craig.
Developed off the back of a 2013 Comedy Blap, the six part series focuses of Stath – a chaotic but well meaning lettings agent, working for his Greek-Cypriot father (Christos Stergioglou) in North London. As he tries to prove himself a worthy heir to the family business, his epic incompetence and divisive personality threaten to drive a wedge between the father and son, and Stath’s chances of inherit the business. The first teaser clip was released last month, with the show expected to air in late Spring.
In January, Beckett filmed a recently released Johnny Cash themed edition of Sky Arts strange-but-maybe-true anthology series Urban Myths, directed by Al Campbell (Philomena Cunk, Screenwipe) and featuring Frank Skinner as Cash alongside Isy Suttie and Toby Williams, with Beckett as Cash’s manager J-J.
Sadly, this would be Beckett’s last major television role. In late Winter, Alex went into rehearsals for The Way Of The World at the Donmar Warehouse alongside The Windsors star Haydn Gwynne, The Thick of It‘s Geoffrey Streatfeild and former Horrible Histories regular Sarah Hadland in early 2018.
The play opened for previews at the end of March and is scheduled to run until May 26th – however, Beckett’s sudden death has understandably led to the rest of this week’s performances being shelved out of respect for Alex.
We’ll never know what the future held for Beckett, whose star certainly appeared to be in the ascendant. But he left behind a positive body of work on stage and screen, and an even more positive impression on those he worked with.
We’ve collected some of their thoughts below, and ours are, like theirs, with his family and friends at this terrible time.
Alex Beckett, thank you.