Alan Bates, 'angry man' of the Sixties, is dead

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The Independent Culture

Sir Alan Bates, one of the most renowned and respected actors of his generation, has died from cancer of the liver at the age of 69.

Sir Alan, knighted earlier this year in the New Year honours, had his 32-year-old son Benedick by his side at a London hospital at the time of his death on Saturday night. He had been ill for a long time.

Sir Alan's other son, Benedick's twin brother, Tristran, died from an asthma attack in 1990, and Sir Alan'swife, Victoria Ford, an actress, died after a suspected heart attack two years later.

Sir Alan had continued to work during much of his illness, saying that he was focusing on his acting to help him cope.

He became an international star in the Sixties and Seventies, appearing in films including Women in Love, Georgy Girl, Far From the Madding Crowd and Zorba The Greek, with an Oscar nomination for his part of a persecuted Russian Jew in the The Fixer.

Last year saw two further triumphs. Sir Alan won a prestigious Screen Actors' Guild award for best actor for his role in the Robert Altman film Gosford Park. And he received the best actor Tony Award for his portrayal of an impoverished nobleman in Turgenev's Fortune's Fool on Broadway.

Sir Alan achieved his first critical acclaim as one of the "angry young men" of the postwar English theatre, portraying disaffected and disenfranchised working class men in gritty, iconoclastic plays exemplified by John Osborne's Look Back In Anger and Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.

Glenda Jackson MP, who starred alongside Sir Alan in Women in Love, described yesterday how he had reached the top of his profession. She said: "The longer he lived, the better an actor he became. Look Back in Anger ... totally transformed British theatre. But as he matured as an individual, his acting became broader and deeper and he always brought the unexpected to everything he did."

Alan Arthur Bates, the son of an insurance broker and a housewife, was born on 17 February 1934, in Allestree, Derbyshire. His parents were enthusiastic amateur musicians, and they tried to encourage the boy, the eldest of three brothers, to pursue a career as a concert pianist. But at the age of 11, while a pupil at Herbert Strutt Grammar School in Belper, Derbyshire, he discovered a passion for acting. He eventually won a scholarship to London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Artsand made his professional stage debut in 1955 in Coventry with the Midland Theatre Company.

His performance in The Caretaker in 1960 earned him admiring reviews and took him from the West End to Broadway. Determined not to be typecast, he made the transition to character actor with great success, becoming known for his versatility.

It was the start of an illustrious stage career which saw Sir Alan perform in the works of such great modern playwrights as Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and Alan Bennett as well as classical roles in Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen and Strindberg. His screen career continued with further acclaim in films such as John Schlesinger's A Kind Of Loving and Bryan Forbes' Whistle Down The Wind.

Often, to the exasperation of his agents, Sir Alan turned down lucrative roles which could have brought him publicity in favour of more challenging parts.