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Alan Bennett

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: May 9, 1934 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Leeds, England, GB Profession: playwright, actor, director, screenwriter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Extremely shy and private writer-actor Alan Bennett lost his anonymity early when the success of the "Beyond the Fringe" revue (both in London and New York) thrust him into the limelight in the early 1960s. The least spectacular of the madcap ensemble, which also included fellow Oxford grads Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, this sandy-haired son of a Yorkshire butcher was a deft character player who never seemed to risk the others' flights of improvisation. Never stumbling, never soaring, the cautiously letter-perfect Bennett was, even then, more the writer than performer. Yet, of that talented quartet, Bennett has shown the most staying power, becoming arguably Britain's most endearing man of letters. In his writings for the stage, film, TV and literary weeklies, one can hear the voice of the last country parson. Some of Bennett's best work has been for TV, beginning with the critically acclaimed BBC series "On the Margin" (1966). An association formed with Stephen Frears while the two were acting in 1978's "The Long Shot" (Bennett's feature acting debut) led to Frears' directing four installments of "By Alan Bennett--Six Plays" for the London Weekend Television (LWT) network. His...

Extremely shy and private writer-actor Alan Bennett lost his anonymity early when the success of the "Beyond the Fringe" revue (both in London and New York) thrust him into the limelight in the early 1960s. The least spectacular of the madcap ensemble, which also included fellow Oxford grads Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, this sandy-haired son of a Yorkshire butcher was a deft character player who never seemed to risk the others' flights of improvisation. Never stumbling, never soaring, the cautiously letter-perfect Bennett was, even then, more the writer than performer. Yet, of that talented quartet, Bennett has shown the most staying power, becoming arguably Britain's most endearing man of letters. In his writings for the stage, film, TV and literary weeklies, one can hear the voice of the last country parson.

Some of Bennett's best work has been for TV, beginning with the critically acclaimed BBC series "On the Margin" (1966). An association formed with Stephen Frears while the two were acting in 1978's "The Long Shot" (Bennett's feature acting debut) led to Frears' directing four installments of "By Alan Bennett--Six Plays" for the London Weekend Television (LWT) network. His collaboration with director John Schlesinger produced first "An Englishman Abroad" (1983), based on the true meeting between actress Coral Browne and notorious exiled British traitor Guy Burgess in 1950s Moscow, and later "A Question of Attribution" (1992), adapted from Bennett's own play about Sir Anthony Blunt, scholarly guardian of the Queen's paintings. Both aired as part of PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" as has much of his TV work crossing the pond. In his six dramatic monologues for BBC-TV, "Talking Heads" (1988), Bennett captured the loneliness of the TV age in a form as woefully intimate as the words and performances were poignant.

Bennett garnered praise for his early two-act plays "Forty Years On" (1968) and "Getting On" (1971) but did not have a play debut on Broadway until "Habeas Corpus" in 1975. His first screenplay produced was the hilarious "A Private Function" (1984), but he may have erred with his next effort, Frears' "Prick Up Your Ears" (1987), missing too much of playwright Joe Orton's life by choosing to dramatize biographer John Lahr's inquiry into Orton. Bennett's most distinguished film work has been "The Madness of King George" (1994), based on his 1991 play, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Though he occasionally still performs (a part in the A&E miniseries "Ashenden" 1992, a cameo in "The Madness of King George"), acting would seem to run against the grain of his reticence. It is much more to his taste to reveal himself discreetly in his prolific output of drama and prose.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:


CAST: (feature film)

1.
 In Love and War (1996) Porter
2.
 Wind in the Willows, The (1995) Voice Of Mole
3.
 Madness Of King George, The (1994) 2nd Mp
4.
 Little Dorrit (1988) Bishop (Merdles And Society)
5.
 Dreamchild (1985) Voice Of Mock Turtle
6.
 Return Of The Jedi (1983) Ewok
8.
 Long Shot (1978) Neville'S Doctor
10.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1952:
Served in the British Army, Intelligence Corps
1959:
Stage debut in the ensemble of the revue "Better Late"
:
Performed in "Beyond the Fringe" in Scotland and London with Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
1962:
Broadway debut with "Beyond the Fringe"
1964:
British TV acting debut in special farewell performance of "Beyond the Fringe" by the original cast
1966:
Scripted and acted in the award-winning BBC series "On the Margin"
1968:
Wrote and acted in two-act play "Forty Years On"
1971:
Authored another two-act, "Getting On"
1975:
"Habeas Corpus" appeared on Broadway two years after its Oxford, England debut
1976:
First film appearance in the performance documentary "Pleasure at Her Majesty's"
1978:
Feature acting debut, "Long Shot"
:
Specially written for TV, "By Alan Bennett--Six Plays" appeared in installments on London Weekend Television (LWT); four of the plays directed by Stephen Frears, who had acted with Bennett in "Long Shot"
1983:
John Schlesinger directed Bennett's "An Englishman Abroad" (BBC), a 65-minute script recreating a true meeting between the actress Coral Browne and exiled British traitor Guy Burgess in dreary 1950s Moscow
1984:
First produced screenplay, "A Private Function"
1987:
Wrote screenplay for "Prick Up Your Ears", adapting John Lahr's biography of playwright Joe Orton; directed by Frears
1987:
Played the Bishop in feature adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Little Dorrit"
1989:
Directed "Bed Among the Lentils" episode of BBC's "Talking Heads" series, starring Maggie Smith as the alcoholic wife of a trendy vicar; shown in the USA on PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre"
1991:
Authored play "The Wind in the Willows", adapted from Kenneth Grahame's children's book, and "The Lady in the Van", his memoir of a deranged woman who parked her car in his garden and stayed there for 15 years until her death in 1989 ("One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation"); "Lady in the Van" became the centerpiece of "Writing Home", his 1995 prose collection
1991:
Scripted BBC movie "102 Boulevard Haussmann", about French novelist Marcel Proust; aired in USA on Arts & Entertainment Network (A&E)
1991:
Had stage hit with "The Madness of George III", starring Nigel Hawthorne
1992:
Writer and actor in "A Chip in the Sugar", which appeared on "Masterpice Theatre" as part of "2 Monologus: In My Defense-A Chip in the Sugar"; one of the original six monologues of the BBC's "Talking Heads" series
1992:
Second collaboration with director Schlesinger, "A Question of Attribution"; shown as part of "Masterpiece Theatre"
1995:
Received Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, "The Madness of King George" (from his 1991 play); also appeared in cameo near its end as a member of Parliament
1996:
Voiced the mole in the animated feature adaptation of "The Wind in the Willows"; released theatrically in the UK; aired on the Family Channnel in the USA
1996:
Wrote and appeared in the BBC's "Westminster Documentary", which aired on PBS
1997:
Acted in miniseries adaptation of Anthony Powell's novel "A Dance to the Music of Time"; telecast aired on Channel 4 in Great Britain
1999:
Returned to playwrighting with "The Lady in the Van", starring Maggie Smith; based on true life incident recounted in Bennett's memoirs
2004:
Wrote the critically-acclaimed play, "The History Boys" which premiered at the National Theatre; opened on Broadway in 2006
2006:
Penned the film adaptation of his award-winning play, "The History Boys"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Exeter College, Oxford University: - 1957
University of Oxford: Oxford , England - 1962

Notes

Bennett refused an honorary degree from Oxford in 1999 in protest over the university's acceptance of a donation from Rupert Murdoch.

"My films are about embarrassment. George III, for one, is nervous and shy, like many royals. His bluntness and heartiness proceed from social unease. But his role is to present himself as King. When madness sets in , he drops his facade; he isn't embarrassed anymore. Embarrassment is a continuing theme in my work. I can't say I'm George III, but I certainly understand him." --Alan Bennett to TIME, February 27, 1995

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Anne Davies. Cleaner. Bennett detailed their relationship in an interview with <i>The New Yorker</i> in 1993.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Walter Bennett. Butcher. Played double bass in a jazz band and brewed herb beer at home, succeeding at neither.
mother:
Lilian Mary Bennett. Made a religion of getting along, eventually retreating into what Bennett calls "her flat, unmemoried days".
brother:
Gordon Bennett. Older; born c. 1931.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Writing Home" Random House
"Backing Into the Limelight: The Biography of Alan Bennett" Headline
"The Laying on of Hands: A Story" Profile Books

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