Sir Thomas Daniel Courtenay (//; born 25 February 1937) is an English actor. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Courtenay achieved prominence in the 1960s with a series of acclaimed film roles, including The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), for which he received the BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles, and Doctor Zhivago (1965), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Other notable film roles during this period include Billy Liar (1963), King and Country (1964), for which he was awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, King Rat (1965), and The Night of the Generals (1967). More recently, he received critical acclaim for his performance in Andrew Haigh's film 45 Years (2015).
Thomas Daniel Courtenay
25 February 1937
(m. 1973; div. 1982)
Expressing a preference for stage work, Courtenay elected to focus on performing in the theatre from the mid 1960s onwards. Nonetheless, Courtenay has continued to perform on screen. For his performance in the 1983 film adaptation of the play The Dresser, in which he reprised the role of Norman he originated both on the West End and Broadway, Courtenay won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and received Academy and BAFTA Award nominations. He has been feted for his work on television also, winning two British Academy Television Awards for his performances in the television film A Rather English Marriage (1998) and the first series of the crime drama Unforgotten (2015). Courtenay was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for the miniseries Little Dorrit (2008). As well as his competitive honours, Courtenay has been recognised with an honorary doctorate from the University of Hull and was knighted for his services to cinema and theatre in the 2001 New Year Honours.
Courtenay was born on 25 February 1937 in Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, the son of Annie Eliza (née Quest) and Thomas Henry Courtenay, a boat painter in Hull fish docks. He attended Kingston High School and went on to study English at University College London, where he failed his degree. After this he studied drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London.
Courtenay made his stage debut 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."
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-1960s. For these performances Courtenay was awarded the 1962 BAFTA Award for most promising newcomer and the 1963 BAFTA Award for best actor respectively. He also was the first to record the song Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter, doing so for the TV play The Lads. The song was released by Decca on a 45 rpm record.
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. He provided physical slapstick comedy in the ultimately chilling anti-nuke black comedy "The Day The Fish Came Out" in 1967. In 1969 and 1971, he was in two spy-comedies, Otley (in the title role) along with "Catch Me A Spy" (1970) starring Kirk Douglas and previously, in 1968, he co-starred in a serious film of that genre, A Dandy in Aspic (1968) opposite Laurence Harvey.
Despite being catapulted to fame by the aforementioned films, Courtenay has said that he has not particularly enjoyed film acting; from the mid-1960s he concentrated more on stage work, although in a later Telegraph interview on 4/20/2005, he admitted "I slightly overdid the anti-film thing". 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. In 1969, Courtenay played Hamlet (John Nettles playing Laertes) for 69 Theatre Company at University Theatre in Manchester, this being the 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. His first roles for the Royal Exchange were as Faulkland in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals and the hero of Heinrich 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 1983 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. And for an actor known to be cast in good or great films, he surprisingly co-starred in what's been considered one of the worst movies ever, the infamous Leonard Part 6 starring Bill Cosby.
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 as Quilp opposite 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. In the same year, he played the role of Stanley Laurel in Neil Brand's radio play 'Stan', broadcast on Radio 4. 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.
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.
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, he 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.
In 2015, he co-starred with Charlotte Rampling in the highly-praised Andrew Haigh film, "45 Years". Courtenay won international awards for his role as Geoff Mercer, and the film was critically-acclaimed and very well-received internationally as well as in the U.S.
In 2019, he was a panellist on Harry Hill's Alien Fun Capsule, Season 3 episode 1. For his introduction, after the other 3 guests had been announced Harry expressed surprise that the fourth seat (Courtenay's) was empty. Harry said he knew the guest had set off some time ago, which was followed by a cut to the 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in which Courtenay's character was running. Courtenay then entered the studio, apparently out of breath and in the same running kit he'd been wearing in the film.
Courtenay married actress Cheryl Kennedy in 1973. They divorced in 1982. In 1988, he married Isabel Crossley, a stage manager at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. 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 AFC's Official Supporters' Club.
In 1999, Courtenay was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hull University.
In 2018, he was bestowed the Honorary Freedom of the City of Hull.
|1962||Private Potter||Private Potter|
|1962||The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner||Colin Smith||BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer|
Mar del Plata International Film Festival Award for Best Actor
|1963||Billy Liar||Billy Fisher||Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role|
|1964||King & Country||Private Hamp||Volpi Cup for Best Actor|
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
|1965||Operation Crossbow||Robert Henshaw|
|1965||King Rat||Lt. Robin Grey|
|1965||Doctor Zhivago||Pasha Antipov / Strelnikov||Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|1967||The Night of the Generals||Lance Cpl. Kurt Hartmann|
|1967||The Day the Fish Came Out||The Navigator|
|1968||A Dandy in Aspic||Gatiss|
|1968||Otley||Gerald Arthur Otley|
|1970||One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich||Ivan Denisovich|
|1971||To Catch a Spy||Baxter Clarke|
|1971||She Stoops to Conquer||Marlow||BBC TV production|
|1973||I Heard the Owl Call My Name||Mark Brian ||CBS TV production|
|1983||The Dresser||Norman||Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama|
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
|1987||Happy New Year||Edward Saunders|
|1987||Leonard Part 6||Frayn|
|1991||The Last Butterfly||Antoine Moreau|
|1991||Let Him Have It||William Bentley|
|1996||The Boy from Mercury||Uncle Tony Cronin|
|1998||A Rather English Marriage||Southgate||British Academy Television Award for Best Actor|
|1999||Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?||Harold Smith|
|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||The Golden Compass||Farder Coram|
|2013||Night Train to Lisbon||Older João Eca|
|2015||45 Years||Geoff Mercer||Silver Bear for Best Actor|
London Film Critics' Circle Award for Actor of the Year
Nominated—British Independent Film Award for Best Actor
Nominated—European Film Award for Best Actor
Nominated—Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor
|2015||The Legend of Barney Thomson||Chief Superintendent McManaman|
|2016||Dad's Army||Lance Corporal Jones||Film adaptation of original BBC sitcom|
|2018||The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society||Eben Ramsey|
|2018||King of Thieves||John Kenny Collins|
|2019||The Queen's Corgi||Prince Philip||Voice Only|
|2019||The Aeronauts||Arthur Glaisher|||
|2022||The Railway Children Return||Uncle Walter|
|1960||Inside Story||Bert||Episode: "A Present for Penny"|
|1970||Solo||D.H. Lawrence||Episode: "Tom Courtenay as D.H. Lawrence"|
|1973||I Heard the Owl Call My Name||Mark Brian||Television film|
|1998||Kavanagh QC||Felix Crawley||Episode: "Memento Mori"|
|2007||Little Dorrit||Mr. Dorrit||14 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
|2008||The Royle Family||David Best, Sr.||Episode: "The New Sofa"|
|2015||Unforgotten||Eric Slater||6 episodes|
British Academy Television Award for Best Supporting Actor
|2017||Grandpa's Great Escape||Grandpa||Television film|
|2021||The North Water||Baxter||2 episodes|
|2022||Mandy||Engineer Woodcock||Episode: ‘’Fatberg’’|
He is credited in the programme with its authorship, which makes him cross. "I didn't write it – it ought to say 'devised' or 'compiled by'. A few years ago, the actor Michael Godley sent him a show of his own devising, hoping that he would appear in it; while Courtenay liked the idea, he thought that version too close to a poetry reading.