Tom Courtenay
Courtenay in 2015
Thomas Daniel Courtenay

(1937-02-25) 25 February 1937 (age 86)
Years active1960–present
(m. 1973; div. 1982)
Isabel Crossley
(m. 1988)

Sir Thomas Daniel Courtenay (/ˈkɔːrtni/; born 25 February 1937) is an English actor. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he achieved prominence in the 1960s as part of actors of the British New Wave. Courtenay received numerous accolades including three BAFTA Awards, a Golden Globe Award, the Silver Bear, and the Volpi Cup for Best Actor as well as nominations for two Academy Awards, two Tony Awards, and a Emmy Award. He was knighted for his services to cinema and theatre in the 2001 New Year Honours.[1]

Courtenay earned the BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer for his role in the coming-of-age film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)⁠ and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in David Lean's epic Doctor Zhivago (1965). Other notable film roles during this period include Billy Liar (1963), King and Country (1964), King Rat (1965), and The Night of the Generals (1967).

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. His later roles include Last Orders (2001), Nicholas Nickleby (2002), Quartet (2012), 45 Years (2015), and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018).

He received 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) as well as a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for the PBS miniseries Little Dorrit (2008).

Early life and education

Courtenay was born on 25 February 1937 in Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, the son of Annie Eliza (née Quest) and Thomas Henry Courtenay, a boat painter in Hull fish docks. He attended Kingston High School and went on to study English at University College London, where he failed his degree.[2] After this he studied drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London.



Courtenay in 1973

Courtenay made his stage debut in 1960 with the Old Vic theatre company 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, directed by John Schlesinger. He said of Albert Finney, "We both have the same problem, overcoming the flat harsh speech of the North."[3]

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

For his role as the dedicated revolutionary leader Pasha Antipov in Doctor Zhivago (1965), he was nominated for an Academy Award 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 ultimately chilling 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 serious film of that genre, A Dandy in Aspic (1968) opposite Laurence Harvey. Courtenay's working relationship with Wrede returned to film when he played the title role in the latter's 1970 production of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Despite being catapulted to fame by the aforementioned films, Courtenay has said that he has not particularly enjoyed film acting;[4] from the mid-1960s he concentrated more on stage work, although in a later Telegraph interview on 4/20/2005, he admitted "I slightly overdid the anti-film thing". 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, this being 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.[5] 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.


Courtenay acted alongside Albert Finney in The Dresser (1983)

Courtney originated the role of Norman in Ronald Harwood's The Dresser which was first produced in the West End in 1980. The production started at Royal Exchange, Manchester before transferring to the Queen's Theatre. Courtenay acted opposite Freddie Jones as Sir. The production earned the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play. He then reprised his role on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in 1981, acting opposite Paul Rogers. Courtenay received nominations for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play for his performance. He then was cast as Norman in the film adaptation of The Dresser (1983), acting opposite Albert Finney as Sir with performances from Eileen Atkins, James Fox, and Michael Gough. Fame critic from the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert praised Courtenay for his performance writing, "He is perfect for playing proud, resentful, self-doubting outsiders."[6] Both Courtenay and Finney received nominations for Best Actor in the 1983 Academy Awards for their roles, losing to Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies.

He played the father of Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) in the 1991 film Let Him Have It. And for an actor known to be cast in good or great films, he surprisingly 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 relatively 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 'made for television' 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. In the same year, 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.


Courtenay in Paris at a premiere of Quartet in 2013

In 2002, based on an idea by Michael Godley, Courtenay compiled a one-man show Pretending To Be Me based on the letters and writings of poet Philip Larkin, which first played at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. It later transferred to the Comedy Theatre in the West End in London.[7] In 2007, Courtenay appeared in two films: Flood, a disaster epic in which London is overwhelmed by floods, and The Golden Compass, an adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel, playing the part of Farder Coram. In 2008, he appeared in the BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, playing William Dorrit, and the Christmas edition of The Royle Family, playing David (Senior). In March 2011, he joined the cast of Gambit, a film starring fellow RADA alumnus Alan Rickman that began filming in May. The film was released in Great Britain in November 2012.

In 2012, he co-starred in romantic drama Quartet alongside Maggie Smith, directed by Dustin Hoffman. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to positive reviews. In 2015, he co-starred with Charlotte Rampling in the highly-praised Andrew Haigh film, 45 Years. Courtenay won international awards including the Berlin International Film Festival's Silver Bear and Venice International Film Festival's Volpi Cup for Best Actor. for his role as Geoff Mercer, and the film was critically-acclaimed and very well-received internationally as well as in the U.S. In 2018, he appeared in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society starring Lily James and King of Thieves alongside Michael Caine and Michael Gambon.[8]

In 2019, he was a panellist on Harry Hill's Alien Fun Capsule, Season 3 episode 1. For his introduction, after the other 3 guests had been announced Harry expressed surprise that the fourth seat (Courtenay's) was empty. Harry said he knew the guest had set off some time ago, which was followed by a cut to the 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in which Courtenay's character was running. Courtenay then entered the studio, apparently out of breath and in the same running kit he'd been wearing in the film.[citation needed] Also in 2019 he voiced the character of Prince Philip in The Queen's Corgi, his first voice role, and also appeared in The Aeronauts starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne.[9]

Personal life

Courtenay married actress Cheryl Kennedy in 1973. They divorced in 1982. In 1988, he married Isabel Crossley, a stage manager at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.[4] They have homes in Manchester and Putney in London. In 2000, Courtenay's memoir Dear Tom: Letters From Home was published to critical acclaim. It comprises a selection of the letters exchanged between Courtenay and his mother, interspersed with his own recollections of life as a young student actor in London in the early 1960s.

Courtenay is the President of Hull City AFC's Official Supporters' Club. In 1999, Courtenay was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hull University. In 2018, he was bestowed the Honorary Freedom of the City of Hull.



Year Title Role Notes
1962 Private Potter Private Potter
1962 The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner Colin Smith
1963 Billy Liar Billy Fisher
1964 King & Country Private Hamp
1965 Operation Crossbow Robert Henshaw
1965 King Rat Lt. Robin Grey
1965 Doctor Zhivago Pasha Antipov / Strelnikov
1967 The Night of the Generals Lance Cpl. Kurt Hartmann
1967 The Day the Fish Came Out The Navigator
1968 A Dandy in Aspic Gatiss
1968 Otley Gerald Arthur Otley
1970 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Ivan Denisovich
1971 To Catch a Spy Baxter Clarke
1971 She Stoops to Conquer Marlow BBC TV production
1973 I Heard the Owl Call My Name Mark Brian CBS TV production
1983 The Dresser Norman
1987 Happy New Year Edward Saunders
1987 Leonard Part 6 Frayn
1991 The Last Butterfly Antoine Moreau
1991 Let Him Have It William Bentley
1996 Famous Fred Kenneth
1996 The Boy from Mercury Uncle Tony Cronin
1998 A Rather English Marriage Southgate
1999 Whatever Happened to Harold Smith? Harold Smith
2001 Last Orders Vic
2002 Nicholas Nickleby Newman Noggs
2007 Flood Leonard Morrison
2007 The Golden Compass Farder Coram
2011 Gambit The Major
2012 Quartet Reginald Paget
2013 Night Train to Lisbon Older João Eca
2015 45 Years Geoff Mercer
2015 The Legend of Barney Thomson Chief Superintendent McManaman
2016 Dad's Army Lance Corporal Jones Film adaptation of original BBC sitcom
2018 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Eben Ramsey
2018 King of Thieves John Kenny Collins
2019 The Queen's Corgi Prince Philip Voice Only
2019 The Aeronauts Arthur Glaisher [10]
2020 Summerland Mr Sullivan
2022 The Railway Children Return Uncle Walter


Year Title Role Notes
1960 Inside Story Bert Episode: "A Present for Penny"
1970 Solo D.H. Lawrence Episode: "Tom Courtenay as D.H. Lawrence"
1973 I Heard the Owl Call My Name Mark Brian Television film
1998 Kavanagh QC Felix Crawley Episode: "Memento Mori"
2007 Little Dorrit Mr. Dorrit 14 episodes
2008 The Royle Family David Best, Sr. Episode: "The New Sofa"
2015 Unforgotten Eric Slater 6 episodes
2017 Grandpa's Great Escape Grandpa Television film
2021 The North Water Baxter 2 episodes
2022 Mandy Engineer Woodcock Episode: ‘’Fatberg’’


His roles include:[5][11]

Year Title Role Playwright Venue
1960 The Seagull Konstantin Trepylef Anton Chekhov the Old Vic, London
1961 Henry IV, Part 1 Poins William Shakespeare the Old Vic
1961 Twelfth Night Feste William Shakespeare the Old Vic
1961 Billy Liar Billy Fisher Keith Waterhouse the Cambridge Theatre, London
1964 Andorra Andri Max Frisch the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic
1966 The Cherry Orchard Trofimov Anton Chekhov the Chichester Festival Theatre
1966 Macbeth Malcolm William Shakespeare Chichester Festival Theatre
1967 Charley's Aunt Lord Fancourt Babberley Brandon Thomas University of Manchester Theatre
1968 The Playboy of the Western World Christy Mahon John Millington Synge University of Manchester Theatre
1968 Romeo and Juliet Romeo William Shakespeare University of Manchester Theatre
1968 Hamlet Performer William Shakespeare Edinburgh Festival
1969 She Stoops to Conquer Young Marlow Oliver Goldsmith University of Manchester Theatre
Garrick Theatre, London
1970 Peer Gynt Performer Henrik Ibsen University of Manchester Theatre
1972 Charley's Aunt Lord Fancourt Babberley, Brandon Thomas the University of Manchester Theatre
Apollo Theatre, London
1972 Time and Time Again Leonard Alan Ayckbourn Comedy Theatre, London
1973 Arms and the Man Captain Bluntschli George Bernard Shaw Royal Exchange, Manchester
1974 The Norman Conquests Norman Alan Ayckbourn Greenwich Theatre
Globe Theatre
1975 The Fool John Clarke Edward Bond Royal Court Theatre
1976 The Rivals Faulkland Richard Brinsley Sheridan Royal Exchange, Manchester
1976 The Prince of Homburg Performer Heinrich von Kleist Royal Exchange, Manchester
1977 Otherwise Engaged Simon Simon Gray Plymouth Theatre, New York
1978 Twelfth Night Malvolio William Shakespeare Royal Exchange, Manchester
1978 Clouds Owen Michael Frayn Duke of York's Theatre, London
1978 Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov Fyodor Dostoevsky Royal Exchange, Manchester
The Dresser Norman Ronald Harwood Royal Exchange, Manchester
Queens Theatre, London
Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York
1981 The Misanthrope Alceste Moliere Royal Exchange, Manchester
1982 Andy Capp Alan Price James Maxwell Royal Exchange, Manchester
1984 Jumpers George Tom Stoppard Royal Exchange, Manchester
1986 Rookery Nook Performer Ben Travers Shaftesbury Theatre, London
1987 The Hypochondriac Performer Moliere Lyric Theatre (Hammersmith)
1988 Dealing with Clair Performer Martin Crimp Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
1992 The Miser Harpagon Moliere Royal Exchange, Manchester
1993 Poison Pen Eric Wells Ronald Harwood Royal Exchange, Manchester
1993 Moscow Stations Performer Venedict Yerofeyev Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
1995 Uncle Vanya Ivan Anton Chekhov Circle in the Square Theatre, New York
1996 'Art' Serge Yasmina Reza Wyndham's Theatre, London
1999 King Lear King Lear William Shakespeare Royal Exchange, Manchester
2001 Uncle Vanya Vanya Anton Chekhov Royal Exchange, Manchester
2003 Pretending To Be Me Performer Philip Larkin West Yorkshire Playhouse


Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Nominated work Result Ref
1962 BAFTA Award Best Newcomer The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner Won
1963 BAFTA Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Billy Liar Nominated
1964 Venice International Film Festival Volpi Cup for Best Actor King & Country Won
BAFTA Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
1965 Academy Award Best Supporting Actor Doctor Zhivago Nominated
1983 Academy Award Best Actor The Dresser Nominated
BAFTA Award Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama Won
1998 BAFTA TV Award Best Actor A Rather English Marriage Won
2001 National Board of Review Best Cast Last Orders Won
European Film Award Best Actor Nominated
2002 National Board of Review Best Cast Nicholas Nickleby Won
2007 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Little Dorrit Nominated
2015 BAFTA TV Award Best Supporting Actor Unforgotten Won
2015 Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear for Best Actor 45 Years Won
London Film Critics' Circle Award Actor of the Year Won
British Independent Film Award Best Actor Nominated
European Film Award Best Actor Nominated
Evening Standard British Film Award Best Actor Nominated


  1. ^ United Kingdom list: "No. 56070". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 2000. p. 1.
  2. ^ Walker, Tim (7 December 2008). "How We Met: Andrew Davies and Tom Courtenay". The Independent. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  3. ^ Films in Review, February 1984.
  4. ^ a b Cavendish, Dominic (3 September 2001). "A master in the round". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  5. ^ a b Murray, Braham (7 September 2007). The Worst It Can be is A Disaster. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. ISBN 978-0713684902.[page needed]
  6. ^ "The Dresser". Retrieved 31 July 2023.
  7. ^ "Tom Courtenay: Put yourself in Larkin's shoes". The Independent. 2 December 2002. Retrieved 10 October 2017. He is credited in the programme with its authorship, which makes him cross. "I didn't write it – it ought to say 'devised' or 'compiled by'. A few years ago, the actor Michael Godley sent him a show of his own devising, hoping that he would appear in it; while Courtenay liked the idea, he thought that version too close to a poetry reading.
  8. ^ "The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society". Retrieved 31 July 2023.
  9. ^ "The Aeronauts review – charming balloon adventure way up where the air is clear". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2023.
  10. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (15 August 2018). "Felicity Jones-Eddie Redmayne Ballooning Pic 'The Aeronauts' Under Way In UK, Amazon Releases Striking First-Look". Deadline. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  11. ^ Fraser, David (November 1998). The Royal Exchange Theatre Company Words & Pictures 1976-1998. Royal Exchange Theatre. ISBN 978-0951201718.