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Alfie Bass
Abraham Basalinsky

(1916-04-10)10 April 1916
Died16 July 1987(1987-07-16) (aged 71)
Barnet, London, England
Years active1943–1982
Beryl Bryson
(m. 1946)

Alfie Bass (born Abraham Basalinsky, 10 April 1916[1] – 16 July 1987) was an English actor. He was born in Bethnal Green, London, the youngest in a Jewish family with ten children; his parents had left Russia many years before he was born.[2] He appeared in a variety of stage, film, television and radio productions throughout his career.

Personal life

Alfie Bass was born Abraham Basalinsky in Bethnal Green in London's East End. He was the youngest of ten children of Jacob Basalinsky, who had fled Jewish persecution in Russia, and his wife, Ada Miller. After leaving school, he worked in his father's trade as a cabinet-maker. During this time, he took part in amateur dramatics at a local boys' club. He was active in the labour movement and often attended union meetings. In 1936, he took part in the Battle of Cable Street, in which activists attempted to prevent a march through the East End by the British Union of Fascists.[3]

At the outbreak of World War II, he was rejected by the RAF, and went to work in an engineering factory. He was later called up into the Middlesex Regiment as a despatch rider. He maintained his interest in acting by appearing in concert parties and in Army Film Unit documentaries.[4]

In 1946, he married Beryl Bryson, a dressmaker, in Liverpool. They had a son and a daughter.[3]

Stage career

Bass's acting career began at London's Unity Theatre in the late 1930s, appearing in Plant in the Sun alongside Paul Robeson, and as the pantomime King in Babes In the Wood.

His stage career included plays by Shakespeare and Shaw.[5] During the 1950s, he continued to direct shows at Unity, and on one occasion appeared in court (along with Vida Hope), charged with putting on a play without a licence.[6] His stage work also included an adaptation of Gogol's short story The Bespoke Overcoat, transposed to the East End of London, which was filmed by Jack Clayton in 1956, and won the Oscar for Best Short. In addition, Bass took over from Chaim Topol in the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on the West End stage.[7]

Film career

Bass first appeared on film in wartime documentaries.[8] He also appeared in a number of feature films including The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Hell Drivers (1957), A Tale of Two Cities (1958) and Alfie (1966) starring Michael Caine and Shelley Winters. In the latter he played Harry Clamacraft, a man Alfie meets and befriends in a sanatorium.

He starred in Roman Polanski's vampire film The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) (British title The Dance of the Vampires) as innkeeper Yoine Shagal with his daughter Sarah played by Sharon Tate. In the course of the film, he and his daughter become vampires. When a maid tries to scare him off with a crucifix, he responds with "Oy, have you got the wrong vampire!".

Bass also appeared in the "Pride" segment of The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971) and had a leading role in the 1977 sex comedy Come Play with Me. He has had many cameo roles, such as the Indian restaurant doorman in the Beatles' film Help! (1965), as Clouseau's seafaring informant in Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), and in Moonraker (1979), in which he was cast as a heavy smoking hard drinker. Bass had a small part in I Was Monty's Double as a non-speaking passenger on a train.

In his book British Film Character Actors (1982), Terence Pettigrew remembers, "there was a time when no British film seemed complete without Alfie Bass popping up in some guise or other. Basically playing the same character, he has hopped chirpily from drama to comedy and into costume pieces and back like an energised sparrow. To all of these, he has added an engaging warmth and sanguinity".

Television and radio

Bass appeared as a poacher rescued by Robin Hood in the first episode of The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Richard Greene, in episode 2 "The Moneylender", as well as in episode 10 of the first series which was titled "The Ordeal". He also appeared in two later episodes during season two titled "The Goldmaker" (episode 5) and "The Goldmaker's Return" (episode 22) as Lepidus, the roguish alchemist, rescued from the Sheriff by Little John (Archie Duncan). He appeared in The Army Game (1957–61), a British TV comedy series, as Private Montague 'Excused Boots' Bisley, and its sequel Bootsie and Snudge from 1960 to 1963 (there was also a one series revival in colour in 1974), working at a Gentlemen's club with Bill Fraser as 'Claude Snudge' and Clive Dunn as 'Henry Beerbohm Johnson'. Bass additionally played the character in another spin-off, Foreign Affairs, in 1964. Bass also played Lemuel "Lemmy" Barnet in the third and fourth series of the landmark 1950s science fiction BBC Radio series Journey into Space.

He was a subject of the television programme This Is Your Life in March 1970, when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews.

He continued working throughout the 1970s and 80s, particularly in the TV series' Till Death Us Do Part and Are You Being Served?, the latter as Mr. Goldberg, the second in a series of replacements for Arthur Brough's Mr. Grainger character (the first being James Hayter's Mr. Tebbs). As in the Mr. Goldberg role, he often emphasised his Jewish background in his on-screen characterisations.

Bass appeared in a 1979 episode of the ITV drama series Danger UXB: Just Like a Woman, as a family man with an unexploded bomb in his back garden.

Bass played a memorable Silas Wegg in the BBC's 1976 adaptation of Dickens's Our Mutual Friend. He also played Isaac Rag in a notable recurring character role in the 1979-1980 Dick Turpin series, and Morrie Levin, a shrewd accountant, in the Minder episode The Son Also Rises (1982).[9]

He also guest starred in two episodes of the British comedy television The Goodies, in which he appeared as the "Town Planner" in Camelot, and as the "Giant" in The Goodies and the Beanstalk.

Recording career

In 1955, Bass recorded the novelty song "Pity the Downtrodden Landlord".[10] It was issued by the folk music label Topic Records on a 78rpm single, backed with "Housing Repairs And Rents Act", written by Fred Dallas; on both sides, Bass was accompanied by "The Four Bailiffs".[11]

With his fellow cast members from The Army Game, Bernard Bresslaw, Leslie Fyson and Michael Medwin, Bass was part of a vocal quartet who scored a number 5 hit in the UK Singles Chart in 1958 with "The Signature Tune Of The Army Game". It was backed with the same actors singing "What Do We Do In The Army".[12] In 1960, Pye Records issued two solo recordings by Bass on a single, "Villikens And His Dinah" and "Rat Catcher's Daughter".[13]


Alfie Bass died on 16 July 1987 in Barnet General Hospital, north London, following a heart attack. He was survived by his wife and their son and daughter.[3] His last home was in Well End, a suburb of Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.[citation needed]

Selected filmography

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Alfie Bass" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (March 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this message)


  1. ^ General Register Office index of deaths, London Barnet registration district, July 1987, Vol. 11 Page 205
  2. ^ "Alfie Bass Obituary". The Jewish Chronicle. 24 July 1987. p. 14.
  3. ^ a b c Sharp, Robert (23 September 2004). "Bass, Alfred [Alfie] [formerly Abraham Basalinsky] (1916–1987), actor". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/70372. Retrieved 21 June 2022. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ "Alfie Bass: Comedy and pathos on stage and screen". The Times. London. 19 July 1987. p. 10.
  5. ^ 'Alfie Bass' at Theatricalia
  6. ^ Colin Chambers The Story of Unity Theatre, London (1990)
  7. ^ Green, Stanley, Encyclopedia Of The Musical Theatre, Da Capo Press 1980, p. 121
  8. ^ Alfie Bass biography accessed 26 Jun 2007
  9. ^ "#3.8 the Son Also Rises".
  10. ^ Brocken, Michael (12 July 2017). The British Folk Revival. Routledge. ISBN 9781351775205. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  11. ^ 78 Record: Alfie Bass And The Four Bailiffs - Pity The Downtrodden Landlord (1955), retrieved 12 December 2020
  12. ^ Michael Medwin, Bernard Bresslaw, Alfie Bass And Leslie Fyson - The Signature Tune Of The Army Game, retrieved 11 December 2020
  13. ^ Alfie Bass - Villikens And His Dinah, retrieved 11 December 2020