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Alan Bates 1934-2003

Country : Allestree, Derbyshire, England
Profession : Actor
Date of birth : 1934-02-17
Date of death : 2003-12-27
Cause of Death : Pancreatic cancer

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Sir Alan Arthur Bates CBE (17 February 1934 – 27 December 2003) was a British actor of stage, screen and television.

Early life

Bates was born in Allestree, Derby, England on February 17, 1934, the eldest of three sons of Florence Mary (née Wheatcroft), a homemaker and a pianist, and Harold Arthur Bates, an insurance broker and a cellist. The family briefly moved to Mickleover, then returned to Allestree. Both of his parents were amateur musicians, and encouraged him to pursue music, but by age 11, young Bates already had determined his life's course as an actor, and so they sent him for dramatic coaching instead. He also saw productions at Derby's Little Theatre on Beckett Street. He was educated at the Herbert Strutt Grammar School (amalgamated in 1973 with two secondary modern schools and renamed Belper High School, which has now become Belper School although the former buildings are now the Herbert Strutt primary school) on Thornhill Avenue in Belper, Derbyshire and later earned 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.


In 1956, Bates debuted on stage in the West End as Cliffe 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 Playhouse) and on Broadway. In the late 1950s, he appeared in several plays for television in Britain. In 1960, he appeared in The Entertainer opposite Sir 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 Theater in New York City. Throughout the 1960s he starred in several major films including Whistle Down the Wind (1961), A Kind of Loving (1962), Zorba the Greek (1964), Phillipe de Broca's King of Hearts (1966), Georgy Girl (1966), Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), and in the Bernard Malamud film The Fixer (1968), which gave him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. In 1969, he starred in Women in Love in which, along with Oliver Reed, he became the first actor to do frontal nudity in a major studio motion picture.

Bates was handpicked by director John Schlesinger (with whom he had previously worked on Far From The Madding Crowd) to star in the film Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) in the role of Dr. Daniel Hirsh. Even though he wanted the part very much, Bates was held up filming The Go-Between (1970) for director Joseph Losey. He had also become a father around that time, and so he had to pass on the project with regrets. 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 continued to work in film and television throughout the 1970s and 80s, and starred in such international films as An Unmarried Woman (1978), Nijinsky (1980), and also played Bette Midler's ruthless business manager in the 1979 film The Rose. On television, his parts ranged from classic roles such as 1978's The Mayor of Casterbridge (his favourite role he said), "A Voyage Around My Father" (1982), An Englishman Abroad (1983) (playing Guy Burgess), and Pack of Lies (1987) (in which he played a Russian spy).

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.

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 debuted. 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.

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 (previous Patrons: Lord Olivier, Sir Alec Guinness).

Personal life

Bates was married to Victoria Ward from 1970 until her death from a wasting disease in 1992. The Bateses had twin sons born in November 1970, the actors Benedick Bates and Tristan Bates. Tristan died of a drug overdose in 1990 at the age of nineteen. The Bateses are also survived by granddaughter, Chatto Bates, Benedick's daughter.

In the later years of his life, Bates's 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 had also had many relationships with men, which were detailed in his posthumous biography.

Bates died of pancreatic cancer in 2003.

Otherwise Engaged

The posthumous publication of Donald Spoto's book, Otherwise Engaged: The Life of Alan Bates, is the only authorized biography of Alan Bates and is intended to remain so. It was written with the full and complete cooperation of his son Benedick Bates and Bates' younger brother Martin, and includes more than one hundred interviews with people such as Michael Linnit and Rosalind Chatto. Bates had numerous homosexual relationships throughout his life, including those with actors Nickolas Grace and Peter Wyngarde, and Olympic skater John Curry. Bates was present when Curry died from AIDS in 1994. Even when homosexuality was partially decriminalised in England in 1967, the need to preserve his public image left him terrified of exposure. Bates rigorously avoided interviews and questions about his personal life, and even denied to his lovers that there was a gay component in his nature. Throughout his life Bates sought to be regarded as a ladies' man or at least as a man who, as an actor, would could appear attractive to and attracted by women.

Tristan Bates Theatre

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


  • It's Never too Late (1956)
  • The Entertainer (1960)
  • Whistle Down the Wind (1961)
  • A Kind of Loving (1962)
  • The Caretaker (1963)
  • The Running Man (1963)
  • Zorba the Greek (1964)
  • Nothing But the Best
  • Once Upon a Tractor (1965)
  • Georgy Girl (1966)
  • Roi de coeur, Le (1966) (aka "King of Hearts")
  • Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)
  • The Fixer (1968)
  • Women in Love (1969)
  • Three Sisters (1970)
  • The Go-Between (1970)
  • Story of a Love Story (1973)
  • Butley (1974)
  • In Celebration (1975)
  • Royal Flash (1975)
  • An Unmarried Woman (1978)
  • The Shout (1978)
  • The Rose (1979)
  • Nijinsky (1980)
  • Rece do góry (1981)
  • Quartet (1981)
  • The Return of the Soldier (1982)
  • Britannia Hospital (1982)
  • The Wicked Lady (1983)
  • Duet for One (1986)
  • A Prayer for the Dying (1987)
  • We Think the World of You (1988)
  • Force majeure (1989)
  • Hamlet (1990)
  • "Dr. M" (1990)
  • Nicholas' Gift (1998)
  • Gosford Park (2001)
  • The Sum of All Fears (2002)
  • The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Other projects, contributions

  • When Love Speaks (2002, EMI Classics) - "Sonnet 66" ("Tired with all these, for restful death I cry")


  • 2002 Best Actor Tony and Drama Desk, for Fortune's Fool
  • 2000 Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Award for Unexpected Man
  • 1983 Variety Club Award for A Patriot for Me
  • 1975 Variety Club Award for Otherwise Engaged
  • 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)
  • 1959 Clarence Derwent Award for A Long Day's Journey Into Night

Awards and achievements

Preceded by
Richard Easton
for The Invention of Love

Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play
for Fortune's Fool

Succeeded by
Eddie Izzard
for A Day in the Death of Joe Egg


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