Sir Alan Bates, CBE. English Actor, 1934 - 2003
"I think actors are privileged. Acting feeds you."
I first ran across Alan Bates in A Kind Of Loving
, sometime in the 1970s. I was impressed by his straightforward portrayal of Vic, a moody bugger who makes some interesting decisions that drive the plot onward. Then came a whole series of '60s films on the telly, and it suddenly seemed that he was everywhere, and always compelling to watch.
He was born in Allestree in the English Midlands, 17th February 1934. Living in an artistic family (his parents were musical), he became interested in drama and went to RADA on a scholarship. Following a stint of National Service in the RAF, he was launched onto the stage, and in 1956 went to Broadway with Look Back In Anger, which drew attention to him and launched him into many stage and television roles.
With a growing reputation as a skilled and versatile master of edgy roles, he sequed neatly into cinema, in films that include Whistle Down the Wind, Zorba the Greek, Georgy Girl, Far From the Madding Crowd and Women in Love. Alan was an actor's actor, not one of the Hollywood variety; he picked his roles carefully, biased not by money but by the joy of acting. It happens then, that a film (or play) he's in is going to move me. Watching him on screen is an eye-opening experience, one that casts so many other actors into the shade.
One of the traits that make me come back to his films time and again is that he's impossible to typecast. Each character is a unique crafting, a one-off; he truly creates magic in every role he plays. Whilst I never saw him on the stage (and wish I had!) his silver-screen performances are marvels. "Breath-taking" is an over-used description in the critic's vocabulary, but in his case, it fits. So often I have found myself watching him and realising that I am literally holding my breath.
He was also a pretty face. It was in Women in Love that he famously wrestled (naked!) with Oliver Reed in a scene that one of my female friends said "she could watch over and over". He had, it turns out, many sexual relationships with other men, although he was unwilling to discuss them, even in private. Even after the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967, there was a good deal of negative opinion surrounding same-sex relationships.
He was married, to actress Victoria Ward, with whom he had two children, Benedick and Tristran.
Despite his many and various roles, and the pages of critical acclaim he attracted, he was not a winner of awards, garnering only an Oscar nomination for The Fixer and a Tony Award in 2002. Bates was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1995 and was knighted in January 2003. He died, of pancreatic cancer on 27th December 2003.