Oscar Actors: Courtenay, Tom–Background, Career, Awards, Cumulative Advantage

Tom Courtenay (ne Thomas Daniel Courtenay) was born February 25, 1937.

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social  Class: working class; father boat painter


Training: RADA

Stage Debut: 1960; age 23

Film Debut: 1962; age 25

Breakthrough Role: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, 1962, age 25

Oscar Nomination: Doctor Zhivago, 1965; age 28

Other Nominations: Best Actor, The Dresser, 1983; age 46

Other Mediums: Emmy nomination

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 a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

Other notable film roles 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.

Courtenay focused on performing in the theatre from the mid-1960s onwards, but 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).

Courtenay has been recognized with an honorary doctorate from the University of Hull and, in February 2001, was created a Knight Bachelor for his services to cinema and theatre.

Courtenay was born in Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, the son of Annie Eliza and Thomas Henry Courtenay, a boat painter.

He attended Kingston High School and studied English at University College London, but failed his degree.  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 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 of Billy Budd,” directed by John Schlesinger.

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,” for the TV play “The Lads.” The song was released by Decca on a 45 rpm record.

Doctor Zhivago:
For his role as the dedicated revolutionary leader Pasha Antipov in Doctor Zhivago (1965), he was nominated 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 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 Dandy in Aspic” (1968) opposite Laurence Harvey.

Despite screen fame, Courtenay has said that he has not particularly enjoyed film acting; from the mid-1960s he 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.

In 1969, Courtenay played Hamlet (John Nettles playing Laertes) for 69 Theatre Company at University Theatre in Manchester, 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.

He returned to film when he played the title role in the 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 (in which he also appeared) with Albert Finney. Both Courtenay and Finney received Best Actor Oscar nominations, losing to Robert Duvall.

He played the father of Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) in the 1991 film Let Him Have It.  He 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 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 TV 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.  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.