skip navigation
Tom Courtenay

Tom Courtenay

Up
Down

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (3)

Recent DVDs

 
 

The Last Butterfly DVD "The Last Butterfly" (1991) is a powerful film about truth, courage and the... more info $19.98was $19.98 Buy Now

Operation Crossbow DVD George Peppard and Sophia Loren star in this engrossing thriller. Partly based... more info $19.98was $19.98 Buy Now

The Night Of The Generals... In Nazi occupied Poland, a prostitute is brutally murdered and the suspects are... more info $14.99was $14.99 Buy Now

The Golden Compass (Fullscreen)... The first novel in Philip Pullman's trilogy "His Dark Materials" comes to the... more info $5.98was $5.98 Buy Now

Doctor Zhivago: Deluxe Edition... A peerless filmmaker of substance and scale, David Lean directs Boris... more info $6.99was $14.98 Buy Now

A Dandy In Aspic DVD This stylish ‘60s espionage thriller (with a score by Quincy Jones) bounds... more info $19.99was $20.99 Buy Now



Also Known As: Sir Tom Courtenay, Thomas Daniel Courtenay Died:
Born: February 25, 1937 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Hull, Humberside, England, GB Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of British theater's most distinguished and hardest-working actors, Tom Courtenay rose from humble beginnings to garner awards and accolades in nearly every facet of his profession. After studying at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the late 1950s, Courtenay rose to fame amidst the British New Wave, deftly portraying classic angry young men in "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" (1962) and "Billy Liar" (1963). Courtenay was poised for international stardom following his Oscar-nominated turn in the epic "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), but instead he made a casual withdrawal from film acting to concentrate on theater. The bold move proved fruitful, especially when he earned a Tony Award nomination for his first Broadway production, "Otherwise Engaged" (1977). But he made a triumphant return to film with perhaps the best performance of his career, playing the assistant to a tyrannical theater group manager in the acclaimed drama, "The Dresser" (1983), an Oscar-nominated performance he reprised from his 1981 Broadway turn. Courtenay spent the ensuing decades ably transitioning from stage to screen and back again, only to emerge with his first Emmy Award nomination for his performance in...

One of British theater's most distinguished and hardest-working actors, Tom Courtenay rose from humble beginnings to garner awards and accolades in nearly every facet of his profession. After studying at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the late 1950s, Courtenay rose to fame amidst the British New Wave, deftly portraying classic angry young men in "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" (1962) and "Billy Liar" (1963). Courtenay was poised for international stardom following his Oscar-nominated turn in the epic "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), but instead he made a casual withdrawal from film acting to concentrate on theater. The bold move proved fruitful, especially when he earned a Tony Award nomination for his first Broadway production, "Otherwise Engaged" (1977). But he made a triumphant return to film with perhaps the best performance of his career, playing the assistant to a tyrannical theater group manager in the acclaimed drama, "The Dresser" (1983), an Oscar-nominated performance he reprised from his 1981 Broadway turn. Courtenay spent the ensuing decades ably transitioning from stage to screen and back again, only to emerge with his first Emmy Award nomination for his performance in "Little Dorrit" (PBS, 2009), which only cemented his status as one of Britain's most decorated performers.

Born on Feb. 25, 1937 in Hull, Yorkshire, England, Courtenay was raised by his father, Thomas, a boat painter, and his mother, Anne. Growing up in modest surroundings, he attended the Kingston High School in Hull and studied drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. A natural actor, Courtenay made an instant splash at the academy, where his stage work quickly led him to high-profile roles on stage and screen. His breakthrough occurred early on when he landed the lead role of rebellious teen Colin Smith in the acclaimed drama, "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" (1962). The film helped usher in the British New Wave, a series of moody, realistic mid-1960s films that centered on angry young men from working class backgrounds. Alongside the likes of Richard Harris, Albert Finney and Richard Burton, the movement turned Courtenay into a star. For his performances in "Loneliness" and "Billy Liar" (1963), Courtenay was awarded two BAFTA awards in 1962 and 1963. They were the first of many awards for the journeyman actor.

In 1965, Courtenay appeared in the epic war film, "Doctor Zhivago," playing revolutionary leader Pasha Antipov, a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Despite all his early success, however, Courtenay began tiring of film acting and spent the rest of the 1960s concentrating on his first love, the theater. He began a long and storied career at the Royal Exchange Theater in Manchester, England, essaying a wide variety of roles in plays ranging from "King Lear" to "Peer Gynt." He maintained a relationship with the Royal Exchange throughout his career and continued to perform there well into the next century. He did continue to make scattered film appearances during this period - "A Dandy in Aspic" (1968), "Catch Me a Spy" (1971), "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" (1971) - but quit film acting for well over a decade. Meanwhile, he made his Broadway debut when he appeared in "Otherwise Engaged" (1977), which earned Courtenay his first Tony Award nomination. He received his second Tony nod a few years later for his leading role in Ronald Harwood's "The Dresser" (1981).

When he was asked to recreate his role in "The Dresser" for a film adaptation, Courtenay lifted his self-imposed exile from Hollywood to co-star in the 1983 film adaptation opposite old mate Albert Finney, his former British New Wave contemporary. Courtenay played Norman, the backstage assistant to the mononymous Sir (Finney), a tyrannical manager and lead actor of a Shakespearean touring company who discovers his life parallels King Lear's while he defies the Nazi bombardment of London during World War II. Both men received Best Actor Oscar nominations for their performances, but lost to Robert Duvall in "Tender Mercies" (1983). Meanwhile, Courtenay continued to balance his stage work with smaller film and occasional television roles over the next two decades, though he most likely would rather forget his part in the awful Bill Cosby comedy, "Leonard Part 6" (1987). Not necessarily exiling himself from film, Courtenay limited his exposure by appearing in only a handful of projects throughout the 1990s, including the real-life crime drama, "Let Him Have It" (1991). As he appeared on Broadway in Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" (1995), Courtenay portrayed Daniel Quilp in a miniseries adaptation of Charles Dickens' "The Old Curiosity Shop" (Disney Channel, 1995).

Following roles in the children's drama "The Boy From Mercury" (1996) and the satirical coming-of-age dramedy "Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?" (1999), Courtenay stepped back even further from screens both large and small in an effort to concentrate on worthwhile projects. Moving on from actor to novelist, Courtenay published his critically acclaimed memoir, Dear Tom: Letters From Home (2000), which contained a series of letters between the actor and his mother, as well as a recollection of his life as a rising young actor in 1960s London. In 2001, Courtenay was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his distinguished work in British film and theater. Also that year, he starred alongside Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren in "Last Orders" (2001), a bittersweet drama about old mates coming to terms with the death of one of their own. After starring in his one-man show, "Pretending to Be Me" (2002), which was based on the letters and writings of poet Philip Larkin, Courtenay returned to Dickens to portray Newman Noggs in "Nicholas Nickleby" (2002). He followed with an appearance in the big budget children's fantasy, "The Golden Compass" (2007). Courtenay next starred as Mr. Dorrit in Masterpiece Theater's "Little Dorrit" (PBS, 2009). A surprise hit, "Little Dorrit" earned 11 Emmy Award nominations, including a best actor nod for Courtenay. He next joined Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins in "Quartet" (2012), a British-made dramedy about a foursome of retired opera singers who find their annual performance of Verdi on the composer's birthday in jeopardy when old conflicts are renewed.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
3.
 Nicholas Nickleby (2002) Newman Noggs
4.
 Last Orders (2001) Vic
5.
 Whatever Happened to Harold Smith? (1999) Harold Smith
6.
 Boy from Mercury, The (1996) Uncle Tony
7.
 Last Butterfly, The (1991) Antoine Moreau
8.
 Let Him Have It (1991) William Bentley
9.
 Happy New Year (1987) Edward Sanders--Jewelry Store Owner
10.
 Old Curiosity Shop, The (1985) Daniel Quilp
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1960:
Made debut in "The Seagull" at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland
1961:
Replaced Albert Finney in the West End production of "Billy Liar"
1962:
Made film debut in "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"
1963:
Reprised the title role in John Schlesinger's feature version of "Billy Liar"; first screen pairing with Julie Christie
1964:
Portrayed a WWI deserter in Joseph Losey's "King and Country"
1965:
Played the revolutionary Pasha, husband of Lara (Julie Christie) in David Lean's "Doctor Zhivago"; earned Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination
1965:
Played a British WWII lieutenant in "King Rat"; film adapted from the James Clavell novel
1967:
Co-starred with Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif in "Night of the Generals"
1971:
Played the title role in "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"
1977:
Made Broadway debut in Simon Gray's "Otherwise Engaged"
1980:
Originated role of Norman in the London production of "The Dresser"
1981:
Reprised role for the Broadway production of "The Dresser"
1983:
Again portrayed Norman for Peter Yates' film version of "The Dresser"; earned Best Actor Oscar nomination
1985:
Played Daniel Quilp in the animated adaptation of Charles Dickens' "The Old Curiosity Shop"
1987:
Joined Bill Cosby for the lamentable "Leonard Part 6"
1987:
Played a jewelry store owner in "Happy New Year," a remake of Claude Lelouch's "La bonne annee" (1973)
1991:
Starred in Karel Kachyna's "The Last Butterfly" as the French mime coerced by the Nazis to perform for the children of Terezin
1991:
Played the father of Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) in the film "Let Him Have It"
1995:
Acted on Broadway in "Uncle Vanya"
1995:
Reprised role of Daniel Quilp for the Disney miniseries version of "The Old Curiosity Shop"
1996:
Portrayed strange Uncle Tony in "The Boy From Mercury"
1996:
Co-starred with Albert Finney in "Art" on the London stage
1998:
Teamed with Albert Finney for the acclaimed BBC drama "A Rather English Marriage"
1999:
Acted in "Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?"
2002:
Headlined the one-man show "Pretending To Be Me," based on the letters and writings of poet Philip Larkin
2002:
Co-starred in the film "Nicholas Nickleby"
2007:
Appeared in the fantasy film "The Golden Compass"
2008:
Appeared in the BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Little Dorrit" as William Dorrit; earned an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Television Movie
2012:
Co-starred with Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, and Billy Connolly as retired opera singers in "Quartet"; film marked Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Kingston High School: -
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art: London , England -

Notes

Awarded a knighthood for his services to drama in the New Year's Honors list in December 2000.

"He is lean, light with a face that would do for the skull of Yorick. He can be quiet--dangerously quiet" --Caryl Brahms in Plays and Players reviewing Courtenay in "The Seagull" (1960).

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Cheryl Kennedy. Actor. Married on November 12, 1973; separated; met while co-starring in "Time and Time Again" (1971); divorced.
wife:
Isabel Courtenay. Former stage manager. Met when he appeared in "The Dresser" in 1980.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Thomas Henry Courtenay. Ship painter. Painter and cleaner of fishing trawlers.
mother:
Anne Eliza Courtenay.
sister:
Ann Courtenay.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Dear Tom, Letters From Home" Doubleday

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute