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Bates, Alan (1934-2003)


Main image of Bates, Alan (1934-2003)

Dominant British star since the early 1960s, when he made the transition from the stage (debut in 1955 after national service) to screen in Tony Richardson's The Entertainer (1960). RADA-trained, he had five years' stage experience, including Look Back in Anger (1956, the Royal Court) and a memorable Edmund in Long Day's Journey into Night (1958), before entering films and has always maintained a stage presence.

His 1960s work included a criminal mistaken for Christ in Whistle Down the Wind (d. Bryan Forbes, 1961), a decent young man caught in an unpromising marriage in A Kind of Loving (d. John Schlesinger, 1962), a suburban social climber who doesn't stop at murder to secure Nothing But the Best (d. Clive Donner, 1964), Gabriel Oak made believably attractive to the heroine of Far from the Madding Crowd (d. John Schlesinger, 1967), and an iconoclast brought to heel by marriage in Women in Love (d. Ken Russell, 1969). Arguably no other British actor produced a better oeuvre in the decade.

His persona was readily adaptable to troubled integrity or demolishing wit, to sexy leading man or rumpled anti-hero. Later, when such contemporaries as Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay lost their grip on the cinema-going public, Bates went from strength to strength, even in films given the brush-off by the public: for example, the transferred stage successes, Butley (d. Harold Pinter, 1973) and In Celebration (d. Lindsay Anderson, 1974), or Alan Bridges' undervalued Return of the Soldier (1982).

International films have included Zorba the Greek (US/Greece, d. Michael Cacoyannis, 1964), The Fixer (US, d. John Frankenheimer, 1968) for which he won a British Academy Award and, holding his own with Bette Midler, The Rose (US, d. Mark Rydell, 1978). In the 2000s, he has filmed often but abroad. He has moved easily from leading man (for, say, Julie Christie and Glenda Jackson) to character roles.

On TV, he has done superb work, as in An Englishman Abroad (1983), witty and painful as Guy Burgess. He was awarded a CBE in 1995 and knighted in 2003, less than a year before succumbing to liver cancer at the age of 69.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Britannia Hospital (1982)Britannia Hospital (1982)

Lindsay Anderson's unhinged satire of Thatcher's Britain

Thumbnail image of Caretaker, The (1963)Caretaker, The (1963)

Donald Pleasance, Alan Bates and Robert Shaw star in Pinter's classic

Thumbnail image of Entertainer, The (1960)Entertainer, The (1960)

Olivier shatters his Shakespearean image as a seedy music-hall artiste

Thumbnail image of Go-Between, The (1971)Go-Between, The (1971)

Acclaimed adaptation of L.P. Hartley's novel about a boy's loss of innocence

Thumbnail image of Kind of Loving, A (1962)Kind of Loving, A (1962)

New Wave film about a man torn between desire and responsibility

Thumbnail image of Whistle Down The Wind (1961)Whistle Down The Wind (1961)

Bryan Forbes' directorial debut gave Hayley Mills her best-loved role

Thumbnail image of Englishman Abroad, An (1983)Englishman Abroad, An (1983)

A real-life Moscow encounter between an actress and a spy

Thumbnail image of Mayor of Casterbridge, The (1978)Mayor of Casterbridge, The (1978)

Dennis Potter adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel

Thumbnail image of Voyage Round My Father, A (1982)Voyage Round My Father, A (1982)

John Mortimer's fine play about his relationship with his blind father

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Thumbnail image of Gray, Simon (1936-2008)Gray, Simon (1936-2008)