Stanley Baker biography

Black and white image of Stanley Baker with Helen Mirren in 1974 BBC production The Changeling

Last updated: 17 August 2009

Rugged Welsh actor Stanley Baker became famous for gritty unconventional film roles in the 1950s and 1960s, often playing unsympathetic characters and starring in classic war films such as The Guns Of Navarone and Zulu.

Stanley Baker was born in the heart of mining community Ferndale in the Rhondda on 28 February 1928. His potential was recognised by a school teacher and he made an early appearance in Emlyn Williams' play Druid's Rest alongside fellow budding actor Richard Burton.

He made his film debut as a teenager in Undercover (1943) about the Yugoslav guerrilla movement in German-occupied Yugoslavia. World War Two interrupted Baker's career as he served two years military service yet he returned to the screen in comedy All Over The Town in 1949.

Small film roles followed in the early 1950s. He starred in naval war film The Cruel Sea in 1952 and made his career break in The Good Die Young (1954) as boxer-turned criminal Mike Morgan. The same year saw him star with Ginger Rogers in Beautiful Stranger (1954) and he played the role of Henry, Earl of Richmond in Laurence Olivier's 1955 adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III.

Roles in historical epics in 1956 included Attalus in Alexander the Great (which starred Richard Burton as the eponymous Alexander) and Achilles in Helen of Troy. Also in 1956, Baker was cast in his first romantic - though far from traditional - role as Mr Rochester in a BBC adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. A year later he took the lead role in Cy Endfield's Hell Drivers (1957), having previously worked with the director on Child In The House a year earlier.

In 1958 he portrayed hard-nosed detective Jack Truman in Violent Playground and received a Bafta nomination for Best British Actor for his performance as Captain Langford in World War Two drama Yesterday's Enemy (1959). He followed this up with another war film, Robert Aldrich's The Angry Hills, and starred in Joseph Losey's Blind Date (both 1959) as the tough detective Inspector Morgan.

More crime thrillers followed as he starred in The Criminal and the Bafta nominated Hell Is A City as Inspector Harry Martineau (both 1960).

In 1961 Baker was cast as private 'Butcher' Brown in one of his biggest roles thus far, in the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning war film The Guns of Navarone opposite Anthony Quinn, David Niven and Gregory Peck.

In 1962 he teamed up with directors he had previously worked under; Losey for film Eva, and with Aldrich as he played Astaroth in Biblical epic Sodom and Gomorrah.

He famously co-produced (with director Endfield) and starred in 1964 film classic Zulu as Lieutenant John Chard alongside the young Michael Caine and fellow Welsh actor Ivor Emmanuel. He collaborated with Endfield again soon after, starring in and co-producing Sands Of The Kalahari (1965).

He gained acclaim for his subtle but captivating performance as academic Charley in Losey's 1967 film Accident opposite Dirk Bogarde, and played the lead role in crime drama Robbery in the same year. 1967 also saw Baker set up Oakhurst Productions with Michael Deeley, the company which was responsible for the production of the The Italian Job among others.

Baker starred in European films and undertook some television work in the years preceding his death. He starred in films Zorro and Pepita Jiménez (both 1975) and BBC productions such as Robinson Crusoe and The Changeling.

In one of the final roles before his death he played Gwilym Morgan in the 1976 BBC production of Richard Llewellyn's novel How Green Was My Valley alongside Siân Phillips and Sue Jones-Davies. However, he was already ill with lung cancer and he died aged just 49 as a result of the cancer and pneumonia, on 28 June 1976 in Spain.

Baker had been granted a knighthood in May 1976, but the honour was not officially bestowed before his death and so he cannot be referred to as 'Sir'.

Selected film roles

  • The Cruel Sea (1952)
  • The Good Die Young (1954)
  • Richard III (1955)
  • Hell Drivers (1957)
  • Violent Playground (1958)
  • Yesterday's Enemy (1959)
  • The Criminal (1960)
  • Hell Is A City (1960)
  • The Guns Of Navarone (1961)
  • Accident (1967)

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