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Saturday, 30 December, 2000, 00:48 GMT
Sir Tom's life of performance
Sir Tom Courtenay
Sir Tom has starred in some of the most influential films of the past 30 years
Tom Courtenay is one of Britain's most respected actors and has been awarded a knighthood for his considerable, long-running contribution to his art.

Sir Tom's career has spanned more than 40 years and encompassed both stage and film.

He has starred in many of the most influential films of the past 30 years, including Doctor Zhivago and Billy Liar.

Billy Liar poster
Billy Liar remains Sir Tom's most famous role

In addition, Sir Tom has twice won Bafta awards for best actor.

The 63-year-old actor rose to prominence with a starring role in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in 1962, for which he won a Bafta.

Other triumphs followed, including Billy Liar in 1963, and established the soft-spoken, fragile-looking Sir Tom as the master of the fatalistic, working-class hero.

His role as Pasha in David Lean's 1965 classic Doctor Zhivago then earned Sir Tom an Oscar nomination for supporting actor.

Eighteen years later in 1983, he scored further triumphs in The Dresser - recreating a role he made famous on stage - and earned a second Oscar nomination.

It was followed by another painful, emotional performance in 1991 in Let Him Have It, based on the true-life 50s case of Derek Bentley.


Like many of his most famous protagonists, Sir Tom came from a working class, northern background.

Doctor Zhivago
Sir Tom played Pasha in classic love story Doctor Zhivago

He grew up around the docks of Hull but from an early age was determined that - unlike most local boys - he would make his fortune in another profession.

At senior school, Sir Tom was encouraged to take up acting. He went on to University College London to read English.

But, unable to ignore his urge for the performing arts, soon took a place at the UK's foremost drama school Rada.

Within three years he was appearing at the Edinburgh Festival in an acclaimed Old Vic production of The Seagull.

From there, he went into the West End stage version of Billy Liar, replacing Albert Finney.

New roles

Sir Tom has gone on to perform some of his finest roles with Finney, including in The Dresser and in the made-for-TV drama A Rather English Marriage in 1998.

In recent years, Courtenay - who lives in south London with his second wife Isabel - has largely been involved with the stage.

Albert Finney
Albert Finney: Sir Tom's friend and memorable co-star

However, he has also turned his hand to books, producing the acclaimed Dear Tom, a tribute to his mother Annie.

And, in the new year, he can again been seen on the big screen with his latest role in Last Orders.

The movie, in which Courtenay plays an undertaker, is adapted from Graham Swift's Booker-winning novel.

It also stars another acting knight, Sir Michael Caine, along with Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Helen Mirren.

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21 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Last Orders for Sir Michael
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