Alan Bates

Sir Alan Arthur Bates, CBE (17 February 1934 – 27 December 2003) was an English actor who came to prominence in the 1960s, when he appeared in films ranging from the popular children's story Whistle Down the Wind to the "kitchen sink" drama A Kind of Loving.

Alan Bates

Bates in 1975
Alan Arthur Bates

(1934-02-17)17 February 1934
Died27 December 2003(2003-12-27) (aged 69)
EducationRoyal Academy of Dramatic Art
Years active1956–2003
Victoria Ward
(m. 1970; died 1992)

He is also known for his performance with Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek, as well as his roles in King of Hearts, Georgy Girl, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Fixer, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. In 1969, he starred in the Ken Russell film Women in Love with Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson.

Bates went on to star in The Go-Between, An Unmarried Woman, Nijinsky and in The Rose with Bette Midler, as well as many television dramas, including The Mayor of Casterbridge, Harold Pinter's The Collection, A Voyage Round My Father, An Englishman Abroad (as Guy Burgess) and Pack of Lies. He also appeared on the stage, notably in the plays of Simon Gray, such as Butley and Otherwise Engaged.

Early life

Bates was born at the Queen Mary Nursing Home, Darley Abbey, Derby, England, on 17 February 1934, the eldest of three sons of Florence Mary (née Wheatcroft), a housewife and a pianist, and Harold Arthur Bates, an insurance broker and a cellist.[1] They lived in Allestree, Derby, at the time of Bates' birth, but briefly moved to Mickleover before returning to Allestree.

Both parents were amateur musicians who encouraged Bates to pursue music. However, by the age of 11, having decided to become an actor, he studied drama instead.[2] He further developed his vocation by attending productions at Derby's Little Theatre.

Bates was educated at the Herbert Strutt Grammar School, Derby Road, Belper, Derbyshire (now "Strutts", a volunteer led business and community centre) and later gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where he studied with Albert Finney and Peter O'Toole, before leaving to join the RAF for National Service at RAF Newton.


Early Stage Appearances

Bates's stage debut was in 1955, in You and Your Wife, in Coventry.[3]

In 1956 he made his West End debut as Cliff in Look Back in Anger, a role he had originated at the Royal Court and which made him a star. He also played the role on television (for the ITV Play of the Week) and on Broadway. He also was a member of the 1967 acting company at the Stratford Festival in Canada, playing the title role in Richard III.[4][5]


In the late 1950s Bates appeared in several plays for television in Britain in shows such as ITV Play of the Week, Armchair Theatre and ITV Television Playhouse.

In 1960 appeared as Giorgio in the final episode of The Four Just Men (TV series) entitled Treviso Dam.

Bates made his feature film debut in The Entertainer (1960) opposite Laurence Olivier, his first film role. Bates worked for the Padded Wagon Moving Company in the early 1960s while acting at the Circle in the Square Theatre in New York City.

Film stardom

Bates played the lead in his second feature, Whistle Down the Wind (1961), directed by Bryan Forbes. He followed it with the lead in A Kind of Loving (1962), directed by John Schlesinger. Both films were very popular establishing Bates as a film star.

Film critics cited the 1963 film noir, The Running Man, as being one of Alan Bates' finest performances. The film starred Laurence Harvey, Lee Remick and Bates in the supporting role of Stephen Maddox, an insurance company investigator who encounters Harvey and Remick in Spain after Harvey successfully faked his death in an aeroplane crash to cash in on a life insurance policy, leaving wife Lee Remick a small fortune. Fans of film noir enjoyed the many intriguing twists and turns The Running Man offered. The film also offered movie fans a depth of character study worthy of a memorable film noir. Bates' character worked well with Harvey and Remick, helping director Carol Reed craft an ever-guessing, suspenseful story of cat and mouse detective work that moved seamlessly from beginning to end. While many movies in film noir have predictable plots, The Running Man featured a plot that was unpredictable, which was its best asset. The film's finale saw Lee Remick standing wearily on a dock, looking at a departing boat with the Rock of Gibraltar looming in the background.

Bates went into an adaptation of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker (1963) with Donald Pleasance and Robert Shaw. It was directed by Clive Donner who then made Nothing But the Best (1964) with Bates.

He supported Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek (1964) and James Mason in Georgy Girl (1966). Bates returned to TV doing episodes of Wednesday Theatre and starred in Philippe de Broca's King of Hearts (1966).

Bates was reunited with Schlesinger in Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), starring Julie Christie then did the Bernard Malamud film The Fixer (1968), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

In 1969 he starred in Women in Love directed by Ken Russell with Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson, in which Bates and Reed wrestled fully nude. He followed it appearing as Col. Vershinin in the National Theatre's film of Three Sisters, directed by and co-starring Laurence Olivier.[6]

Bates was handpicked by director John Schlesinger (with whom he had previously worked on A Kind of Loving and Far From The Madding Crowd) to play the starring role of Dr. Daniel Hirsh in the film Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971). Bates was held up filming The Go-Between (1971) for director Joseph Losey alongside Christie, and had also become a father around that time, and so he had to refuse the role. (The part then went first to Ian Bannen, who balked at kissing and simulating sex with another man, and then to Peter Finch who earned an Academy Award nomination for the role.)

Bates starred in the film of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972) and produced and appeared in a short, Second Best (1972).

He starred in Story of a Love Story (1973), and some play adaptations, Butley (1974) and In Celebration (1975). He was the villain in Royal Flash (1975) and appeared on television in Plays for Today and the Laurence Olivier Presents version of Harold Pinter's The Collection (1976).


Bates starred in the TV movie Piccadilly Circus (1977) and The Mayor of Casterbridge (1978). In the latter he played Michael Henchard, the ultimately-disgraced lead, which he described as his favourite role.

He starred in such international films as An Unmarried Woman (1978) and Nijinsky (1980), and also played Bette Midler's ruthless business manager in the film The Rose (1979). He was also in The Shout (1979) and Very Like a Whale (1980).

He played two diametrically-opposed roles in An Englishman Abroad (1983), as Guy Burgess, a member of the Cambridge spy ring exiled in Moscow, and in Pack of Lies (1987), as a British Secret Service agent tracking several Soviet spies. He continued working in film and television in the 1990s, including the role of Claudius in Mel Gibson's version of Hamlet (1990), though most of his roles in this era were more low-key.

Later career

In 2001 Bates joined an all-star cast in Robert Altman's critically acclaimed period drama Gosford Park, in which he played the butler Jennings. He later played Antonius Agrippa in the 2004 TV film Spartacus, but died before it premiered. The film was dedicated to his memory and that of writer Howard Fast, who wrote the original novel that inspired the film Spartacus by Stanley Kubrick.

On stage Bates had a particular association with the plays of Simon Gray, appearing in Butley, Otherwise Engaged, Stage Struck, Melon, Life Support and Simply Disconnected, as well as the film of Butley and Gray's TV series Unnatural Pursuits. In Otherwise Engaged, his co-star was Ian Charleson, who became a friend, and Bates later contributed a chapter to a 1990 book on his colleague after Charleson's early death.[7]

Bates was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1996, and was knighted in 2003. He was an Associate Member of RADA and was a patron of The Actors Centre, Covent Garden, London, from 1994 until his death in 2003.

Personal life

Bates was married to actress Victoria Ward from 1970 until her death in 1992, although they had separated many years earlier.[8] They had twin sons, born in November 1970, the actors Benedick Bates and Tristan Bates. Tristan died following an asthma attack in Tokyo in 1990.[9]

Bates had numerous gay relationships, including those with actor Nickolas Grace and Olympic skater John Curry as detailed in Donald Spoto’s authorized biography Otherwise Engaged: The Life Of Alan Bates.[10][11] Spoto characterized Bates's sexuality as ambiguous, and said, “he loved women but enjoyed his closest relationships with men.”[12] Even after homosexuality was partially decriminalised in Britain in 1967,[13] Bates rigorously avoided interviews and questions about his personal life, and even denied to his male lovers that there was a homosexual component in his nature.[10][11] While throughout his life Bates sought to be regarded as a ladies' man or at least as a man who, as an actor, could appear attractive to and attracted by women, he also chose many roles with an aspect of homosexuality or bisexuality,[10][11] including the role of Rupert in the 1969 film Women in Love and the role of Frank in the 1988 film We Think the World of You.

In the later years of his life, Bates had a relationship with the Welsh actress Angharad Rees[14] and in the last years, his companion was his lifelong friend, actress Joanna Pettet, his co-star in the 1964 Broadway play Poor Richard. They divided their time between New York and London.

Bates died of pancreatic cancer[15] in December 2003 after going into a coma. He is buried at All Saints' Church, Bradbourne.[16]

Otherwise Engaged: The Life of Alan Bates

The posthumous publication of Donald Spoto's 2007 book, Otherwise Engaged: The Life of Alan Bates,[17] is the only authorised biography of Alan Bates. It was written with the full and complete cooperation of his son Benedick, and includes more than one hundred interviews with people such as Michael Linnit and Rosalind Chatto.

Tristan Bates Theatre

Bates and his family created the Tristan Bates Theatre at the Actors' Centre in Covent Garden, in memory of his son Tristan who died at the age of 19.[18] Tristan's twin brother, Benedick, is a vice-director.[19]


Year Title Role Notes
1956 ITV Play of the Week Cliff Lewis episode: Look Back in Anger
1959 ITV Television Playhouse Rikki Barofski episode: The Jukebox
ITV Play of the Week Eddie Burke
Charles Tritton
episode: The Square Ring
episode: The Wind and the Rain
Armchair Theatre Lewis Black episode: The Thug
1960 The Entertainer Frank Rice
ITV Television Playhouse Ralph Freeman episode: Incident
ITV Play of the Week Peter Garside episode: The Upstart
The Four Just Men Giorgio episode: Treviso Dam
1961 Whistle Down the Wind The Man
1962 A Kind of Loving Victor Arthur 'Vic' Brown Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1963 The Caretaker Mick (also known as The Guest)
The Running Man Stephen Maddox
1964 Zorba the Greek Basil
Nothing but the Best Jimmy Brewster
1966 Georgy Girl Jos Jones Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer - Male
King of Hearts Charles Plumpick
The Wednesday Play Grigor Pecharin episode: A Hero of Our Time
1967 Far From the Madding Crowd Gabriel Oak Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1968 The Fixer Yakov Bok Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1969 Women in Love Rupert Burkin Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1970 Three Sisters Col. Vershinin
1971 The Go-Between Ted Burgess
1972 A Day in the Death of Joe Egg Bri
1973 Story of a Love Story Harry
1974 Butley Ben Butley
The Story of Jacob and Joseph Narrator (voice only)
1975 In Celebration Andrew Shaw
Royal Flash Rudi Von Sternberg
Play for Today Charles
episode: Two Sundays
episode: Plaintiffs and Defendants
Nominated—BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor
1976 Great Performances James episode: The Collection
1977 Piccadilly Circus Gray episode: Plaintiffs and Defendants
1978 An Unmarried Woman Saul
The Shout Crossley
The Mayor of Casterbridge Michael Henchard (TV miniseries)
7 episodes
1979 The Rose Rudge Campbell
1980 Nijinsky Sergei Diaghilev
1981 Ręce do góry Wikto
Quartet H.J. Heidler
The Trespasser Siegmund (TV film)
Very Like a Whale Sir Jock Mellor (TV film)
1982 The Return of the Soldier Chris Baldry
Britannia Hospital Macready
1983 The Wicked Lady Jerry Jackson
Separate Tables John Malcolm
Maj. Pollock
(TV film)
CableACE Award for Best Actor in a Theatrical or Non-Musical Programme
An Englishman Abroad Guy Burgess (TV film)
BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor
Broadcasting Press Guild Award for Best Actor
CableACE Award for Best Actor in a Theatrical or Dramatic Special
Royal Television Society Award for Best Performance
1984 A Voyage Round My Father John Mortimer (TV film)
1985 Dr. Fischer of Geneva Alfred Jones (TV film)
1986 Duet for One David Cornwallis
1987 A Prayer for the Dying Jack Meehan
Pack of Lies Stewart (TV film)
1988 We Think the World of You Frank Meadows
The Ray Bradbury Theater John Fabian episode: And So Died Riabouchinska
1989 Force majeure Malcolm Forrest
The Dog It Was That Died Blair (TV film)
1990 Mister Frost Felix Detweiler
Hamlet Claudius Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Dr. M Dr. Marsfeldt
Screen Two Marcel Proust episode: 102 Boulevard Haussmann
1991 Shuttlecock Major James Prentis VC
Secret Friends John
1992 Screen One Henry Sitchell episode: Losing Track
Unnatural Pursuits Hamish Partt episode: I Don't Do Cuddles
episode: I'm the Author
Nominated—BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor
1993 Silent Tongue Eamon McCree
1994 Hard Times Josiah Bounderby (TV series)
4 episodes
1995 The Grotesque Sir Hugo Coal (also known as Gentlemen Don't Eat Poets)
Oliver's Travels Oliver (TV miniseries)
5 episodes
1998 Nicholas' Gift Reg Green (TV film)
1999 The Cherry Orchard Gayev
2000 The Prince and the Pauper King Henry VIII (TV film)
Arabian Nights Storyteller (TV film)
St. Patrick: The Irish Legend Calpornius (TV film)
In the Beginning Jethro (TV film)
2001 Gosford Park Jennings Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cast
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Cast
Satellite Award for Best Cast - Motion Picture
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Nominated—Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Cast
Love in a Cold Climate Uncle Matthew (TV miniseries)
Nominated—BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor
2002 The Sum of All Fears Dressler
The Mothman Prophecies Alexander Leek
Evelyn Tom Connolly
Bertie and Elizabeth King George V (TV film)
Salem Witch Trials Sir Williams Phips (TV film)
2003 Hollywood North Michael Baytes
Meanwhile Father Peter
The Statement Armand Bertier
2004 Spartacus Antonius Agrippa (TV film)


  • 1959 Clarence Derwent Award for A Long Day's Journey Into Night
  • 1971 Evening Standard Best Actor Award for Butley
  • 1972 Best Actor Tony for Butley (a performance he recreated in the film version of the same name, Butley in 1974)
  • 1975 Variety Club Award for Otherwise Engaged
  • 1983 Variety Club Award for A Patriot for Me
  • 2000 Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Award for Unexpected Man
  • 2002 Best Actor Tony and Drama Desk, for Fortune's Fool


  1. "Alan Bates Biography". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 15 September 2007.
  2. Karen Rappaport. "Alan Bates Biography". The Alan Bates Archive. Archived from the original on 20 April 2008. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  3. "Alan Bates Archive Feature: Timeline I, 1954-69". Archived from the original on 19 May 2011.
  4. "Alan Bates acting credits". Stratford Festival Archives. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  5. Whitaker, Herbert (8 April 1967), "The credo of Alan Bates: aim for variety", The Globe and Mail, p. 26
  6. "Three Sisters (1970)". IMDb. 2 March 1973.
  7. Ian McKellen, Alan Bates, Hugh Hudson, et al. For Ian Charleson: A Tribute. London: Constable and Company, 1990. pp. 1–5.
  8. "BBC - Derby - Around Derby - Famous Derby - Sir Alan Bates biography".
  9. Lewis, Roger (28 June 2007). "The Minute They Got Close, He Ran". Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  10. Spoto, Donald (19 May 2007). "Alan Bates's Secret Gay Affair with Ice Skater John Curry". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 15 September 2007.
  11. Belonsky, Andrew (21 May 2007). "New Bio Outs Late, Great, "Gay" Alan Bates / Queerty". Queerty. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  12. Coveney, Michael (16 June 2007). "Review: Otherwise Engaged by Donald Spoto". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  13. Albany Trust Homosexual Law Reform Society (1984). "GB 0097 HCA/Albany Trust". AIM25. British Library of Political and Economic Science. Retrieved 10 April 2008.
  14. "Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes leads tributes to Angharad Rees". The Daily Telegraph. London. 28 September 2012.
  16. Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 2864). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  17. Spoto, Donald (2007). Otherwise Engaged: The Life of Alan Bates. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 978-0-09-179735-5.
  18. Michael Billington (29 December 2003). "Sir Alan Bates". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 14 November 2007. Retrieved 4 November 2007.
  19. "About Tristan Bates Theatre". Tristan Bates Theatre. Archived from the original on 8 January 2007. Retrieved 8 November 2007.
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