Since training at the Anna Scher Theatre School in Islington, Daniels has made appearances in many films and television series.
He made his film debut in 1976, at the age of 17, as a waiter in Bugsy Malone. That same year he had significant roles in three television series; The Molly Wopsies, Four Idle Hands and The Flockton Flyer. However, he had enjoyed an incidental appearance (with fellow drama students) the previous year (1975) in Thames Television's You Must Be Joking! Over the following four years he appeared in Quadrophenia, Breaking Glass and Scum. He also appeared in the 1970s TV drama serial Raven.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Daniels was a member of new wave band The Cross, along with fellow actor Peter Hugo Daly. They released an album (Phil Daniels + The Cross) and single, "Kill Another Night" on RCA Records in 1979. His musical inclinations were revealed when he starred in a 1985 British snooker musical Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire. He narrated tracks "Parklife" and "Me, White Noise" on the Parklife and Think Tank albums for Blur.
He contributed the voice of Fetcher, the dull-witted rat to the animated film Chicken Run. In recent years he has turned his attention to comedy, appearing in the series Sunnyside Farm and alongside Al Murray in the cult sitcom Time Gentlemen Please. Daniels also starred as Freddy Windrush in an episode of Gimme Gimme Gimme (Series 2, Episode 3 - "Prison Visitor").
Daniels has performed on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company in plays such as The Merchant of Venice, The Jew of Malta and A Clockwork Orange. In 2004 he appeared in the BBC comedy-drama Outlaws as a criminal solicitor. In 2006 he joined the cast of the popular BBC soap opera EastEnders playing Kevin Wicks. The actor temporarily left the show in early 2007, however, he returned in March 2007. On 18 August 2007, it was revealed in The Sun that Daniels was to leave the show. His character died in a car crash on 31 December 2007.
Daniels, along with his co-stars, attended a Quadrophenia Reunion at London Film and Comic Con at Earls Court on 1 and 2 September 2007.
In May 2008 Daniels ran the Flora London Marathon on behalf of the "Sparks" Charity, and in December 2008 starred in Sheffield Theatre and Evolution Pantomimes co-production of Aladdin as "Abanazar" at Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield.
In late 2008 Daniels voiced a major character in the English language re-release of the cult 2006 Norwegian animated film Free Jimmy, alongside Woody Harrelson and with dialogue written by Simon Pegg. Also in 2008 Daniels starred alongside Gary Stretch and Geoff Bell in the UK film Freebird, directed by Jon Ivay, which followed three bikers across a drug-fuelled ride in the Welsh countryside.
Daniels appeared as The Magic Mirror in the pantomime of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Marlowe Theatre in December 2008, which also includes a role by former EastEnders colleague Emma Barton.
Daniels appeared in the 2008 series of Strictly Come Dancing with dancing partner Flavia Cacace. He was the first to be eliminated from the show on 21 September 2008.
He appeared on Celebrity Mastermind: 2008/2009, finishing in second place on 24 points. On 26 June 2009 he appeared on stage with Blur at the M.E.N. Arena and then again on 28 June 2009 at Glastonbury 2009 on their song "Parklife", as well as on 2/3 July 2009 in their Hyde Park Concerts. Daniels portrayed Del Boy's grandfather in a prequel to the comedy series Only Fools and Horses called Rock & Chips, which was screened in January 2010 and, on 13 September 2010 on BBC Radio Five Live, James Buckley confirmed that Rock & Chips would be returning for two specials, one at Christmas 2010, and the other at Easter 2011. Daniels has subsequently reprised his role as Ted Trotter in both of the Rock & Chips specials. 2013 saw the release of the film Vinyl in which Phil Daniels not only stars but also wrote and performs most of the film's music soundtrack. Directed by Sara Sugarman, Vinyl is the story of an aging rock group forced to con the music industry to gain radio play of future record releases. The film is based on true events faced by The Alarm that took place in the U.K. in 2004.
Daniels now co-hosts a weekly podcast with Ceri Levy dedicated to Chelsea Football Club, "The Chels - The Chelsea Podcast".
In September 2012 Daniels appeared in a production of This House at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre. It transferred to the Olivier in February 2013.
In 2015 it was announced that he would play the role of Thenardier in Les Misérables.
Daniels revisited his role in a revival of This House at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester in September 2016 and now (November 2016-Feb 2017) appears in the same play at the Garrick Theatre in the West End of London.
In 2017 he recorded two songs for the album Wit & Whimsy - Songs by Alexander S. Bermange (one solo and one featuring all of the album's 23 artists), which reached No. 1 in the iTunes comedy album chart.
Daniels had a long-term relationship with Jan Stevens, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2012. The couple had one daughter, Ella (born c. 1990). He is a Chelsea F.C. fan.Soccer AM (1 episode, 2016) — Himself
Was It Something I Said? (1 episode, 2013) — Himself - Guest Narrator
Rock & Chips (3 episodes, 2010–2011) — Grandad Ted Trotter
New Tricks (2 episodes, 2009–2010) — D.C.S. Frank Paterson
Midsomer Murders (1 episode, 2010) — Teddy Molloy
The 100 Greatest World Cup Moments of All Time! (voice)
Breakfast (2 episodes, 2008–2010) — Himself
Blur: Live at Hyde Park, London - 2 July 2009 (2010) — Himself, Guest Vocals
Loose Women (3 episodes, 2008–2010) — Himself
Agatha Christie Poirot (1 episode, 2009) — Inspector Hardcastle
Misfits (1 episode, 2009) — as Keith the Dog (Voice)
The Podge and Rodge Show (1 episode, 2009) — Himself
Mastermind (1 episode, 2009) — Himself
Strictly Come Dancing (4 episodes, 2008) — Himself
Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two (1 episode, 2008) — Himself
The ONE Show (1 episode, 2008) — Himself
Would I Lie to You? (1 episode, 2008) — Himself
EastEnders (208 episodes, 2006–2008) — Kevin Wicks
Children in Need (1 episode, 2007) — Himself - Performer
British Film Forever (2 episodes, 2007) — Himself
The British Soap Awards 2007 (2007) — Himself
The 50 Greatest Television Dramas (2007) — Himself
A Question of Sport (1 episode, 2006) — Himself
Cast & Crew (1 episode, 2005) — Himself
Wickham Road (2005) — Narrator
Outlaws (12 episodes, 2004) — Bruce Dunbar
Waking the Dead (1 episode, 2004) — Det Supt Andy Bulmer
The Long Firm (2004) — Jimmy
Time Gentlemen Please (36 episodes, 2000–2002) — Terry Brooks
Goodbye Charlie Bright (2001) — Eddie
Gimme Gimme Gimme (TV) (1 episode, 2000) — Freddy Windrush
Nasty Neighbours (2000) — Robert Chapman
Sex, Chips & Rock n' Roll (TV) (1999) — Larry Valentine
Sex & Chocolate (TV film) (1997) — Ian Bodger
Holding On (1997) — Gary Rickey
Sunnyside Farm (1997) — Raymond Sunnyside
The World of Lee Evans (1995) - Hitcher
One Foot in the Grave: The Wisdom Of The Witch (1995) — Melvin
Bad Behaviour (1993) — Nunn Brother
The Pickwick Papers (1985) — Sam Weller
Meantime (TV/Film) (1984) — Mark Pollock
I Remember Nelson (TV) (1982) — Will Blackie
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1981) — Puck
Raven (1977) — Raven
The Flockton Flyer (1976, broadcast 1977) — Don Davis
Four Idle Hands (1976) — Mike Dudds
The Molly Wopsies (1976) — Alan Musgrove
The Old Curiosity Shop (1990) as Quilp, an adaptation for BBC Radio 4.
The Tin Drum (1999) - Oskar Matzerath
On The Ceiling - Saturday Play, BBC Radio 4, 7 February 2009
Aladdin Sheffield Lyceum
The Green Man
The Winter's Tale
The Closing Number
Johnny Oil Strikes Back
The Lucky Ones
The Merchant of Venice
The Jew of Malta
Measure for Measure
The Revenger's Tragedy
A Clockwork Orange
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
The Beggar's Opera
The God of Soho
Antony and Cleopatra
Phil Daniels + The Cross (Phil Daniels + The Cross) (1979)
"Kill Another Night" (Phil Daniels + The Cross) (1979)
"Penultimate Person" (Phil Daniels + The Cross) (1980, Europe only)
"The Stranglers and Friends Live at The Rainbow". Phil Daniels is one of the singers in place of Hugh Cornwell, The Stranglers' lead singer who was imprisoned at the time (1980)
"Parklife" (Blur featuring Phil Daniels) (1994)
"Free Rock and Roll" from the film "Vinyl" (Phil Daniels, Keith Allen and The Alarm) (2013)
"Me, White Noise" on Think Tank (Blur featuring Phil Daniels) (2003)