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Sir Thomas Daniel "Tom" Courtenay (pronounced "Courtney"; born 25 February 1937) is an English actor who came to prominence in the early 1960s with a succession of films including The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), Billy Liar (1963) and Dr. Zhivago (1965). Since the mid-1960s he has been known primarily for his work in the theatre. Courtenay received a knighthood in February 2001 for forty years service to cinema and theatre. Tom Courtenay is the President of Hull City A.F.C.'s Official Supporters Club. In 1999 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hull University.

Early life

Courtenay was born in Hullmarker, the son of Anne Eliza (née Quest) and Thomas Henry Courtenay, a boat painter. He attended Kingston High Schoolmarker there. Courtenay studied drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London.

Career

Courtenay made his stage début in 1960 with the Old Vicmarker theatre company at the Lyceum, Edinburgh, before taking over from Albert Finney in the title role of Billy Liar at the Cambridge Theatre in 1961. In 1963 he would play that same title role in the film version, directed by John Schlesinger. He said of Albert Finney, "We both have the same problem, overcoming the flat harsh speech of the North."

Courtenay's film debut was in 1962 with Private Potter, directed by Finnish-born director Casper Wrede, who had first spotted Courtenay while he was still at RADA. This was followed by The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, directed by Tony Richardson and Billy Liar, two highly acclaimed films and performances which helped usher in the British New Wave of the early-to-mid '60s. For these performance Courtenay was awarded the 1962 BAFTA Award for most promising newcomer and the 1963 BAFTA Award for best actor respectively. For his role as the dedicated revolutionary leader Pasha Antipov in Doctor Zhivago (1965), he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, being beaten out by Martin Balsam. Among his other well-known films is King & Country directed by Joseph Losey, where he played opposite Dirk Bogarde, and Night of the Generals directed by Anatole Litvak.

Despite being catapulted to fame by the aforementioned films, Courtenay has said that he has not particularly enjoyed film acting; and from the mid-1960s concentrated more on stage work. In 1966 Courtenay began a long association with the then newly formed Royal Exchange Theatremarker in Manchestermarker, firstly under the direction of Casper Wrede. His first roles there were as Faulkland in Sheridan's The Rivals and the hero of von Kleist's The Prince of Homburg. Since then he has played a variety of roles, including in 1999 the leading role in the theatre's production of King Lear, and in 2001 Uncle Vanya.

Courtenay's working relationship with Wrede returned to film when he played the title role in the latter's 1970 production of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. His best known film role since then was in The Dresser, from Ronald Harwood's play of the same name (in which he also appeared) with Albert Finney. Both Courtenay and Finney received nominations for Best Actor in the 1984 Academy Awards for their roles, losing to Robert Duvall. He played the father of Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) in the 1991 film Let Him Have It.

Courtenay's television and radio appearances have been relatively few, but have included She Stoops to Conquer in 1971 on BBC and several Ayckbourn plays. He appeared in I Heard the Owl Call My Name on US television in 1973. In 1994 he starred with Peter Ustinov in a Disney Channel 'made for television' version of The Old Curiosity Shop. Rather unexpecedly, he had a cameo role as the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the 1995 US TV movie Young Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Peacock's Eye. In 1998 he teamed with Albert Finney again for the acclaimed BBC drama A Rather English Marriage. He played the role of God, opposite Sebastian Graham-Jones, in Ben Steiner's radio play "A Brief Interruption", broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2004. Also for Radio 4, he played the title role in Nick Leather's The Domino Man of Lancashire and Maurice in Richard Lumsden's Man in the Moon, both broadcast in 2007.

In 2002, based on an idea by Michael Godley, Courtenay compiled a one-man show Pretending To Be Me based on the letters and writings of poet Philip Larkinmarker, which first played at the West Yorkshire Playhousemarker in Leedsmarker. It later transferred to the Comedy Theatremarker in the West Endmarker in London.

In 2007 Courtenay appeared in two films: Flood, a disaster epic in which London is overwhelmed by floods, and The Golden Compass, an adaptation of the Philip Pullman's novel, playing the part of Farder Coram. In 2008 he appeared in the BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, playing William Dorrit, and the Christmas edition of The Royle Family, playing David (Senior).

Personal life

Courtenay was married to actress Cheryl Kennedy from 1973 to 1982. In 1988 he married Isabel Crossley, a stage manager at the Royal Exchange Theatre. They have homes in Manchester and Putneymarker in London.

In 2000 Courtenay's memoir Dear Tom: Letters From Home was published to critical acclaim. It comprises a selection of the letters exchanged between Courtnenay and his mother, interspersed with his own recollections of life as a young student actor in London in the early 1960s.

Filmography

Year Film Role Notes
1962 Private Potter Private Potter
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner Colin Smith BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer
1963 Billy Liar Billy Fisher Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best British Actor
1964 King & Country Private Hamp Volpi Cup
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best British Actor
1965 Operation Crossbow Robert Henshaw
King Rat Lt. Robin Grey
Doctor Zhivago Pasha Antipov Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1967 The Night of the Generals Lance Cpl. Kurt Hartmann
The Day the Fish Came Out The Navigator
1968 A Dandy in Aspic Gatiss
Otleymarker Gerald Arthur Otley
1970 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Ivan Denisovich
1971 To Catch a Spy Baxter Clarke
She Stoops to Conquer Marlow
1983 The Dresser Norman Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best British Actor
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama

1987 Happy New Year Edward Saunders
Leonard Part 6 Frayn
1991 The Last Butterfly Antoine Moreau
Let Him Have it William Bentley
1996 Famous Fred Kenneth
The Boy from Mercury Uncle Tony Cronin
1999 Whatever Happened to Harold Smith? Harold Smith Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival Award for Best Supporting Actor
2001 Last Orders Vic National Board of Review Award for Best Cast
Nominated — European Film Award for Best Actor
2002 Nicholas Nickleby Newman Noggs National Board of Review Award for Best Cast
2007 Flood Leonard Morrison
The Golden Compass Farder Coram


References

  1. Tom Courtenay Biography (1937-)
  2. Films in Review, February 1984.
  3. "A master in the round", Daily Telegraph, 09/2001
  4. Courtenay records in an interview in the newspaper The Independent (12.2.2002) that he was unhappy about initially being credited as the "author" of the show. The connection between Courtenay and Larkin is the city of Hull, the former's home town and the latter's adopted town. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre/features/tom-courtenay-put-yourself-in-larkins-shoes-609599.html
  5. "A master in the round", Daily Telegraph, 09/2001. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2001/09/03/btroyal03.xml

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