Peter Powell (obituary)
Peter Powell was a well-known and loved local figure with a story for every occasion – sometimes short, sometimes tall, but always enjoyable.
He lived many lives, and like so many of his generation emerged from the Services to graduate into the performing arts. His career went on to encompass everything from rock ‘n’ roll to Shakespeare and most things in between, including stand-up, a number of film and television appearances, radio, and commercial voiceovers. In the Old School tradition he always declined to admit to being older than 39, occasionally conceding to 40 if pressed, but preferred to give a casting age. Later on this provided no end of wagering amongst the regulars of his many favourite haunts.
Having served as an Islington Councillor and on the GLC in the 1980s, Powell decided that he did not like the way politics was going, and lamented the direction that the Labour party was taking. He decided to join the Green Party, leave politics, and do something more interesting instead. One of his last plans in life had been to campaign for Highbury to be given over as playing fields for schools, even though he knew it was not to be. It was a noble thought. His apolitical view was that “It must be recorded that we all said something about what we could have left behind us, for those coming next.”
Actors never retire, and having retired from politics Powell rediscovered his love of theatre – which had never really left him – and became a familiar face at the King’s Head and the Old Red Lion, and many venues on the national Fringe. As well as performing occasional cameo roles he took great pleasure in giving selected readings of his favourite writers Dylan Thomas, Charles Dickens and John Betjeman. The latter had been a personal friend whose passion for architecture had influenced Powell in helping to save Union Chapel from demolition, to the dismay of the Council that had approved it.
In recent years his greatest interest was in devising guided walks of which there were many, sometimes tailored to particular groups such as devotees of Joe Orton. As the guide and as erstwhile Chairman of Islington Archaeology and History Society he helped to open the eyes not just of newcomers and overseas visitors, but people who had lived in the borough all their lives. A favourite walk was “George Orwell’s Islington”, Orwell having in the 1940s lived in the flat next door to Powell’s, and having been photographed in the garden that Powell tended with a passion. At the same time he continually advised and supported aspiring young actors, introduced them to one another and encouraged them to start their own new networks.
In conversation, Powell regularly referred to “My beautiful wife, Judith” or “My lovely daughters, Imogen and Cordelia, who make me so proud to be their father”. He also embraced a much larger family of friends, and was like a favourite uncle to those who were lucky enough to know him.
Peter Powell, 39 or 40, died on 27 February 2008, he was more than a client, he was a very good friend and we will sorely miss him.