Copley was born in Denby Dale, West Yorkshire, and grew up on a farm in Denby Dale. His father, Harold, was involved with local amateur dramatic productions, as were the rest of his family. He went to Penistone Grammar School, then the Northern Counties College of Education (now Northumbria University) in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he received an Associate of the Drama Board (ADB) in Drama. He taught English and Drama in Walthamstow, before he joined the Leeds Playhouse Theatre-in-education Company in 1971.
He is perhaps best known for playing Matthews in Hornblower, Ian in Roughnecks. Jerry in This Life and Peter Quinlan in The Lakes. He has appeared in Queer as Folk as Nathan Maloney's father, Big Finish's July 2002 Doctor Who story Spare Parts and in Shameless as a water sports enthusiast. He narrates the Channel 4 programme, How Clean is Your House?.
He is a noted perennial Radio 4 radio play actor, usually in gritty or romantic plays about hard-working folk set in the north of England. They are often repeated on BBC7. Whenever a genial Yorkshire accent has been cast in the BBC radio drama department, he has often been summoned. He narrated the 1985 Yorkshire Television 9 part serial adaptation of The Pilgrim's Progress entitled Dangerous Journey.
He married the actress Natasha Pyne in 1972, after performing with her in a production of Frank Wedekind's Lulu, directed by Peter Barnes in 1971. In 1976, he won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a New Play for his role in David Armstrong's King and Country.
Paul appeared in the TV adaptation of The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy, as wizard and former-frog, Algernon Rowan-Webb.
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