Tom Courtenay

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Sir Tom Courtenay
Tom Courtenay Warren.jpg
Courtenay in 1973
BornThomas Daniel Courtenay
(1937-02-25) 25 February 1937 (age 77)
Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, UK
Years active1962–present
Spouse(s)Cheryl Kennedy (1973–1982)
Isabel Crossley (1988–present)
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For the Yo La Tengo album, see Tom Courtenay (EP).
Sir Tom Courtenay
Tom Courtenay Warren.jpg
Courtenay in 1973
BornThomas Daniel Courtenay
(1937-02-25) 25 February 1937 (age 77)
Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, UK
Years active1962–present
Spouse(s)Cheryl Kennedy (1973–1982)
Isabel Crossley (1988–present)

Sir Thomas Daniel "Tom" Courtenay (/ˈkɔrtni/; 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 Doctor Zhivago (1965). Since the mid-1960s he has been known primarily for his work in the theatre, although he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in the film adaptation of The Dresser (1983), which he had performed on the West End and on Broadway. Courtenay received a knighthood in February 2001 for forty years' service to cinema and theatre.

Early life[edit]

Courtenay was born in Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, the son of Annie Eliza (née Quest) and Thomas Henry Courtenay, a boat painter.[1] He attended Kingston High School there. Courtenay studied drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London.


Courtenay made his stage début in 1960 with the Old Vic 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 played 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."[2]

Courtenay's film debut was in 1962 with Private Potter, directed by Finnish-born director Caspar 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 performances 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, but was bested by Martin Balsam. Among his other well-known films is King & Country, directed by Joseph Losey, where he played opposite Dirk Bogarde; the all-star war film, Operation Crossbow, directed by Michael Anderson (starring George Peppard and Sophia Loren); King Rat, directed by Bryan Forbes and costarring James Fox and George Segal; and The Night of the Generals, directed by Anatole Litvak with Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif.

Despite being catapulted to fame by the aforementioned films, Courtenay has said that he has not particularly enjoyed film acting;[3] and from the mid-1960s concentrated more on stage work. In 1968 Courtenay began a long association with Manchester when he played in The Playboy of the Western World for the Century Theatre at Manchester University directed by Michael Elliott. The theatre was a precursor of the Royal Exchange Theatre, which was founded in 1976 where he was to give many performances, firstly under the direction of Casper Wrede.[4] His first roles for the Royal Exchange 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 unexpectedly, he had a cameo role as the anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski in the 1995 US TV film 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. Courtenay also appeared in the 2008 Christmas special of the BBC show The Royle Family, playing the role of Dave's father, David Sr.

Courtenay in Paris at a premiere of Quartet, March 2013.

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 Larkin, which first played at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. It later transferred to the Comedy Theatre in the West End in London.[5]

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 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).

In March 2011, Courtenay joined the cast of Gambit, a film starring fellow RADA alumnus Alan Rickman that began filming in May. The film was released in Great Britain in November 2012. In 2012, he co-starred in Quartet, directed by Dustin Hoffman.

Personal life[edit]

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.[6] They have homes in Manchester and Putney 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 Courtenay and his mother, interspersed with his own recollections of life as a young student actor in London in the early 1960s.

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.



1962Private PotterPrivate Potter
1962The Loneliness of the Long Distance RunnerColin SmithBAFTA Award for Best Newcomer
1963Billy LiarBilly FisherNominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1964King & CountryPrivate HampVolpi Cup
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1965Operation CrossbowRobert Henshaw
1965King RatLt. Robin Grey
1965Doctor ZhivagoPasha AntipovNominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1967The Night of the GeneralsLance Cpl. Kurt Hartmann
1967The Day the Fish Came OutThe Navigator
1968A Dandy in AspicGatiss
1968OtleyGerald Arthur Otley
1970One Day in the Life of Ivan DenisovichIvan Denisovich
1971To Catch a SpyBaxter Clarke
1971She Stoops to ConquerMarlow
1983The DresserNormanGolden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1987Happy New YearEdward Saunders
1987Leonard Part 6Frayn
1991The Last ButterflyAntoine Moreau
1991Let Him Have ItWilliam Bentley
1996Famous FredKenneth
1996The Boy from MercuryUncle Tony Cronin
1998A Rather English MarriageSouthgateNominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1999Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?Harold Smith
2001Last OrdersVicNational Board of Review Award for Best Cast
Nominated—European Film Award for Best Actor
2002Nicholas NicklebyNewman NoggsNational Board of Review Award for Best Cast
2007FloodLeonard Morrison
2007The Golden CompassFarder Coram
2011GambitThe Major
2012QuartetReginald Paget
2013Night Train to LisbonOlder João Eca
2015Dad's ArmyCorporal JonesFilming
201545 Years


1960Inside StoryBertEpisode: "A Present for Penny"
1970SoloD.H. LawrenceEpisode: "Tom Courtenay as D.H. Lawrence"
1998Kavanagh QCDr. Felix CrawleyEpisode: "Memento Mori"
2007Little DorritMr. Dorrit14 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
2008The Royle FamilyDavid Best, Sr.Episode: "The New Sofa"

Work in the theatre[edit]

His roles include[7] [8]


  1. ^ Tom Courtenay Biography (1937-)
  2. ^ Films in Review, February 1984.
  3. ^ "A master in the round", Daily Telegraph, 09/2001
  4. ^ Murray, Braham "The Worst It Can be is A Disaster", A & C Black,2007, 0 9512017 1 9
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "A master in the round", Daily Telegraph, 09/2001.
  7. ^ Murray, Braham (2007). The Worst It Can Be Is a Disaster. London: Methuen Drama. ISBN 978-0-7136-8490-2.
  8. ^ The Royal Exchange Theatre Company Words & Pictures 1976-1998, 1998, ISBN 0-9512017-1-9

External links[edit]