Tom Bell (born August 2, 1933 in Liverpool, England) is a British actor from stage, movies and television.
As a child he was evacuated during the wartime in Liverpool and he had to live in three different families in the Morecambe area.
In 1948 at age 15 Tom Bell began to act in his first school plays and though he has never dominated the play he demonstrated that he had good actor qualities. He made his first movie appearances in the 1960s in so-called kitchen sink dramas like "The Kitchen" or The L-Shaped Room.
In 1978 he came to worldwide fame by portraying Adolf Eichmann in the Emmy-winning tv-series Holocaust.
Tom Bell died in Brighton on August 2.
Here is an obituary I wrote on Tom Bell for Ripperologist no. 72, October 2006.
Obituary: Tom Bell
Actor; 2 August 1933-4 October
Tom Bell, who first achieved worldwide fame in the 1962 film The L-Shaped Room and was more recently seen in the English mob film The
Krays (1990) and the TV series Prime Suspect, has died at age 73. In The Krays, Bell played Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie in Peter Medak’s film
about the notorious East End gangster twins, Ronald and Reginald Kray. The role suited the dark, sinister side that Bell often projected. The actor’s agent
revealed that Bell died after a short illness in hospital in Brighton, Sussex.
Thomas George Bell was born to a large family on 2 August 1933 in
Liverpool, the son of a merchant seaman whom the boy hardly knew. His family moved to Rhodesia leaving him in foster care. During the Second World War, he
was evacuated to Morecambe, Lancashire, where he lived with three different foster families. Bell first began to act in school plays. He studied in Oldham
under Esme Church. Fellow students at the time included character actress Billie Whitelaw, later to appear with Bell in The Krays as the gangster twins’
doting Mum, and actor Sir Robert Stephens, known to Holmes addicts for playing the title role in Billie Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
(1970). Stephens would also appear with Bell in the 1978 TV mini-series Holocaust with the Liverpool man playing Eichmann and Stephens in the role of
Uncle Kurt Dorf to SS man Erik Dorf (Michael Moriarty).
Bell shot to attention in the Sixties in the ‘kitchen sink’ motion picture The Kitchen
(1960), based on the play by Jewish, Stepney-born playwright Sir Arnold Wesker. Further acclaim came with The L-Shaped Room, made in 1962 by film
maker Bryan Forbes, in which Bell played opposite French-born screen legend Leslie Caron, who won an Academy Award nomination for her performance. Caron
portrayed a young, unmarried and pregnant Frenchwoman who moves into an English flat where she is befriended by a young Englishman (Bell).
Coveney, writing in The Guardian on 6 October, noted that although other breakthrough British stars Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay continued in major
international motion pictures, Bell drifted into British television, ‘where he became a fixture’. Coveney made the point that although Bell’s ‘glory days
were long gone, he never stopped working; he took a leading role in last night’s episode of Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire on
Director Peter Gill, who worked with Bell at Swansea Rep, where the Liverpudlian was the leading man in his mid-twenties, stated that Bell
represented a Sixties type before they existed. ‘He was a troubled, smooth-skinned Liverpool boy, a more wholesome sort of John Lennon without the glasses.’
Bell came back to notice by international audiences when he played the role of Adolf Eichmann in the 1978 TV mini-series Holocaust. Written by
writer-producer Gerald Green and directed by Marvin J Chomsky, this nine-and-a-half hour drama featured a large cast of world stars. Among the cast, besides
Bell and Stephens, were young American actors Meryl Streep, Michael Moriarty, and James Woods, who went on to greater glory, as well as such veteran actors
as Rosemary Harris, Marius Goring, and Sir Ian Holm.
Bell’s depiction of Eichmann possibly helped land him his next role in another World War II
drama: the stage play Bent by Martin Sherman in 1979. Produced at the Royal Court and later the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End, Bell memorably
played the homosexual prisoner Horst opposite Sir Ian McKellen’s Max, a gay man likewise imprisoned by the Nazis in Dachau. Benedict Nightingale, in
reviewing the play for The New Statesman, 11 May 1979, noted: ‘Tom Bell’s scrawny, fistula-faced Horst and McKellen’s Max bring one another to orgasm
by the simple ruse of standing to attention and using their verbal imaginations. That the audience spontaneously applauded this potentially ludicrous but
actually very touching encounter says much for the concentration and power of both actors, as it does for Mr Sherman’s writing, which is overdependent on
mannered repetitions but never reckless with reality.’
Also in the late Seventies, Bell achieved acclaim as the bank robber Frank Ross in the TV
series Out written by Trevor Preston and produced by Euston films. Michael Coveney in his appreciation of Bell wrote: ‘Bell never gave a performance
that was not instilled with truth and a rare sort of inner beauty.’ Bell also had an outspokenness in real life and once famously heckled Prince Philip, the
Duke of Edinburgh, at an awards dinner. ‘Make us laugh, tell us a joke,’ the young Bell shouted twice, shocking established British film bigwigs such as
Richard Attenborough and John Mills. It is to be noted that those two veteran stars were rewarded with a peerage and a knighthood, respectively, while
recognition by the Crown eluded the outspoken Liverpudlian actor!
In The Krays, as Jack McVitie, Bell played the renowned enforcer and hard
man of the Kray criminal empire with appropriate menace. The bloke was known as ‘The Hat’ because the balding gangster was never seen without his trilby.
Rumour had it that he even wore it in the bath. In the film, as occurred in reality, it is McVitie’s bloody murder that finally brings down the Krays.
Bell appeared as Detective Sergeant Bill Otley in the three opening episodes of the TV crime drama series Prime Suspect, starring Dame Helen
Mirren as Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison. As written by screenwriter Linda La Plante, Tennison has to battle ingrained male hostility to her rise as
a female murder squad detective. The Internet Movie Database, in regard to the original Prime Suspect (1991), states: ‘In particular, [Tennison]
crosses swords with... Otley, whose hostility threatens to cross over the line into obstruction.’ Prime Suspect 7, with Bell reprising the Otley role,
aired in the UK on ITV1 in October. According to Alisdair Steven writing in The Scotsman of 10 October, the relationship between the two remains sour:
‘there is a scene in which Bell pleads with Mirren to forgive him for his past wrong-doings. “It is water under the bridge” Mirren snaps back. The scene
bristles with electricity.’
Tom Bell is survived by his partner of 30 years, costume designer Frances Tempest, son Aran from his early marriage to
Lois Dane (dissolved in 1976), step-daughter Nellie, and a daughter with Ms Tempest named Polly.
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