Nationality: British. Born: Arthur Bates in Allestree, Derbyshire, 19 February 1934. Education: Attended Herbert Strutt Grammar School, Belper, Derbyshire; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Military Service: early 1950s—served with the Royal Air Force. Family: Married Victoria Ward, 1970, twin sons. Career: 1945—stage acting debut; 1955–60—acted primarily on stage including roles in Look Back in Anger and The Caretaker; worked occasionally on television; 1960—film debut in Tony Richardson's The Entertainer; 1972—co-produced short Second Best, directed by Steven Dartnell; 1977—in TV mini-series The Mayor of Casterbridge. Agent: Michael Linnit, Globe Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1, England.
Films as Actor:
The Entertainer (Richardson) (as Frank Rice)
Whistle Down the Wind (Forbes) (as Arthur Blakey)
A Kind of Loving (Schlesinger) (as Vic Brown)
The Running Man (Reed) (as Stephen Maddox); The Caretaker (The Guest) (Clive Donner) (as Mick)
Nothing but the Best (Clive Donner) (as Jimmy Brewster); Zorba the Greek (Cacoyannis) (as Basil)
Insh' Allah (Hudson) (as narrator)
Georgy Girl (Narizzano) (as Jos); King of Hearts (Le Roi de coeur) (de Broca) (as Pvt. Charles Plumpick)
Far from the Madding Crowd (Schlesinger) (as Gabriel Oak); Rece do gory (Hands Up!) (Skolimowski)
The Fixer (Frankenheimer) (as Yakov Bok)
Women in Love (Russell) (as Rupert Birkin)
Three Sisters (Olivier) (as Vershinin)
The Go-Between (Losey) (as Ted Burgess); A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (Medak) (as Brian)
Second Best (Dartnell) (+ co-pr)
L'Impossible objet (The Impossible Object) (Frankenheimer) (as Harry)
Mikis Theodorakis: A Profile of Greatness; Butley (Pinter) (title role); The Story of Jacob and Joseph (Cacoyannis—for TV) (as narrator)
In Celebration (Lindsay Anderson) (as Andrew Shaw)
Royal Flash (Lester) (as Rudi von Starnberg); Where Adam Stood (Brian Gibson—for TV)
An Unmarried Woman (Mazursky) (as Keplan)
The Shout (Skolimowski) (as Charles Crossley)
The Rose (Rydell) (as Rudge)
Nijinsky (Ross) (as Sergei Diaghilev)
Quartet (Ivory) (as H. J. Heidler)
The Return of the Soldier (A. Bridges) (as Capt. Chris Baldry); A Voyage Round My Father (Rakoff—for TV) (as the son); Britannia Hospital (Lindsay Anderson)
The Wicked Lady (Winner) (as Capt. Jerry Jackson); Separate Tables (Schlesinger—for TV) (as Mr. Malcolm/Maj. Pollock)
Dr. Fischer of Geneva (Lindsay-Hogg—for TV) (as Jones)
An Englishman Abroad (Schlesinger—for TV) (as Guy Burgess)
Duet for One (Konchalovsky) (as David Cornwallis)
Pack of Lies (Page—for TV) (as Stewart); A Prayer for the Dying (Hodges) (as Jack Meehan)
We Think the World of You (Gregg) (as Frank); The Dog It Was That Died (Wood—for TV) (as Blair)
Force majeure (Uncontrollable Circumstances) (Jolivet) (as Malcolm Forrest); Club Extinction (Dr. M) (Chabrol) (as Dr. Marsfeldt/Guru)
Hamlet (Zeffirelli) (as Claudius); Mister Frost (Setbon) (as Felix Detweiller); 102 Boulevard Haussmann (Prassad—for TV) (as Marcel Proust); Shuttlecock (Piddington) (as James Prentis)
Unnatural Pursuits (for TV) (as Hamish Partt)
Secret Friends (Potter) (as John); Silent Tongue (Shepard) (as Eamon McCree)
Hard Times (Peter Barnes—for TV) (as Bounderby)
The Grotesque (J. P. Davidson) (as Sir Hugo Coal); Oliver's Travels (Foster—series for TV) (as Oliver)
Nicholas' Gift (Markowitz—for TV) (as Reg Green)
Varya (Cacoyannis) (as Gayev)
St. Patrick: The Irish Legend (Robert Hughes—for TV)(as Calpornius); Arabian Nights (Barron—for TV) (as Storyteller)
"In the Beginning" (Connor—for TV) (as Aaron)
By BATES: articles—
Interview in Time Out (London), 30 May 1985.
Interview with Simon Banner, in Times (London), 22 September 1989.
On BATES: articles—
Cowie, Peter, "The Face of '63—Great Britain," in Films and
Filming (London), no. 5, 1963.
Current Biography 1969, New York, 1969.
Leslie, Ian, "Women in Love," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1969–70.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 26 February 1981.
Screen International, 31 March 1984.
Slodowski, J., "Grek Zorba," Filmowy Serwis Prasowy, vol. 36, no. 5/6, 1990.
Stars (Mariembourg), Winter, 1992.
* * *
Alan Bates has distinguished himself in a number of important realistic and romantic films made by several of Britain's best directors of the postwar generation, including Tony Richardson (The Entertainer), Bryan Forbes (Whistle Down the Wind), Ken Russell (Women in Love), and John Schlesinger (A Kind of Loving and Far from the Madding Crowd).
Bates made his acting debut in 1955 on the stage. He created the role of Cliff in John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, the quintessential Angry Young Man drama, and also starred in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, a role that he later brought to the screen. Once he had made the transition from stage to screen, his talents were soon widely recognized and his reputation became an international one. He held his own opposite Anthony Quinn's flamboyant portrayal of the title character in Michael Cacoyannis's Zorba the Greek, and his performance as an unfairly incarcerated Jewish handyman in turn-of-the-century Russia in John Frankenheimer's The Fixer earned him an Academy Award nomination. He went on to do splendid work for Joseph Losey in The Go-Between, Paul Mazursky in An Unmarried Woman, and Jerzy Skolimowski in The Shout.
Bates is an actor of impressive range and flexibility. In Far from the Madding Crowd he played Thomas Hardy's Gabriel Oak as a pillar of stability: the actor's purposefully wooden exterior was ideal for playing a simple character who is defined by patience, dedication, and loyalty. (Bates also appeared in Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge for BBC-TV.) In sharp contrast to Gabriel Oak is his role in The Go-Between as Ted Burgess, another strong peasant type, also infatuated with a striking woman who, like Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd, breaks his heart. But in The Go-Between, his character's response is much different. As the plot moves towards its climax, Bates must suggest that Burgess's spirit has been broken. He very effectively portrays the inner turbulence of the character, but even more challenging is the mystical enigma of Charles Crossley in The Shout, adapted from a strange and disturbing short story by Robert Graves concerning an intruder with shamanic powers who disrupts the lives of a staid English couple. Roles such as these make his performance as the romantic lead in An Unmarried Woman seem rather conventional (though decidedly entertaining) by comparison.
Bates has had his best later-career role in The Grotesque, giving a picture-stealing performance as Sir Hugo Coal, a crusty, aristocratic English squire who is fascinated by dinosaurs to the point of reproducing a full-scale model of one. Of course, he himself, as a representative of the stuffy upper classes, is a dinosaur. Sir Hugo no longer sleeps with his wife, and prefers physically tussling with men. As a member of a repressed class, however, he can only fantasize or act out the kind of sexuality in which his amoral new servant (played by Sting) revels. The character of Sir Hugo makes for a telling contrast to Bates's earthy Rupert Birkin in Women in Love: in the latter, he raised eyebrows with his nude wrestling scene with Oliver Reed.
In the first part of The Grotesque, Bates seems to be parodying Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson, but as the story progresses he also gets to be seriously dramatic. His performance is superb, and one hopes that, in the future, he will be offered similar, equally challenging roles.
—James M. Welsh, updated by Rob Edelman