Sir Stanley

A ruggedly familiar face in many a familiar film, Stanley Baker was a fine actor and producer, who portrayed a no-nonsense exterior in many of his on-screen parts, and who going by some of the company he kept, appeared to like being around the real ‘tough guys’ off camera too.

He was born in Ferndale, Rhondda Fach, Glamorgan in February 1928 and christened William Stanley Baker. He  grew up in the mining community there, and indeed his father John worked at the local pit until his death, despite losing a leg in accident there.

Baker described himself as ‘a wild kid’ with a love of boxing and football, who escaped from school as often as he could. However, his teacher Glynne Morse,  saw something beneath the rough and tough exterior and encouraged young Stanley to act. Aged 14, he had the good fortune to be spotted by an Ealing Studios casting agent who cast him in the 1943 film ‘Undercover.’

From then on, Stanley was well and truly bitten by the acting bug and six months later appeared on stage alongside fellow countryman Richard Burton, who was also making his debut, in the Emlyn Williams play ‘The Druids Rest.’

‘That gave me the real taste for the theatrical profession.’ Baker later recalled.

He joined the Birmingham Rep in 1944, before being called up for his National Service in 1946, where he rose to the rank of sergeant. Upon his demob in 1948, he was soon back in West End theatre land. He reconnected with his old Welsh pal Burton, who introduced Stanley to his future wife , the actress Ellen Martin. They went on to have four children.

For the next few years, Baker appeared in many minor films and early TV shows, honing his craft.  Then Hollywood caught sight of him, and he was cast in ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower’ in 1951, which went on to do good box office, and put Stanley firmly on the acting  map. He followed that with the part of  ‘Bennett’ in ‘The Cruel Sea’ directed by Charles Frend. ‘Knights of the Round Table’ ‘The Good Die Young’ and ‘Helen of Troy’ followed close behind. He continued his stage career too, playing ‘Henry Tudor’ in the Laurence Olivier production of Richard III in 1955.

He was now very much in demand, and the film work kept on coming and it found him ranked in the top ten British actors of that era. Next up was ‘The Hill’ in 1956, and ‘Hell Drivers’ in 1957, and he picked up a Bafta nomination for Best British Actor for the World War Two drama ‘Yesterday’s Enemy’ in 1959. Then followed the massively popular ‘Guns of Navarone’ in 1961. Such was his profile, that he was offered the part of James Bond for the first in that series of films, ‘Dr. No.’ but turned it down, not wanting to commit to the franchise,  and famously the part went to Sean Connery, a friend of Baker’s, instead.

Off stage he was described as a heavy drinker and smoker, who loved to have a gamble, but behind all that, a sharp brain was at work. He branched out and went into the production side of the business, raising $3.5 million for the 1964 film ‘Zulu. He also starred in the film of course, playing Lieutenant John Chard VC. It was a healthy  success and by 1976, the film had grossed over $12million. His company Oakhurst Productions, then released ‘Robbery’ in 1967, launching the career of director Peter Yates. The company then followed that up in 1969, producing ‘The Italian Job.’

I don’t make films to see myself perform, I do it to act. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve worked on, including the bad pictures. I enjoy being a working actor. I’ve been accused by journalists of lack of discretion, lack of taste. Well, I’d rather have that lack than the lack of having made them. Producing is total involvement and compatible with acting, while I don’t think directing is. Producing gives you a continuity of effort that helps with acting. I love business for the activity it creates the total commitment. The acting bit is great for the ego, (but) all the real excitement is in business. I’m still surprised how good I am at business.’

His business model included being a founder of  HTV – Harlech Television –  together with his old pal Richard Burton. However, it couldn’t last. By the early 1970s, the British film industry, in general, was struggling. To cover the mounting bills, he was now surrounded by Baker went back to work as an actor, pretty much taking any job offered.

In 1975, he appeared in the BBC Wales production of ‘How Green Was My Valley’ playing ‘Gwilym’ and starring opposite Sian Phillips. A year after finishing on that, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, with the years of heavy smoking catching up with him. Brighter news that same year, came with the announcement, that he was to be knighted. Sadly, despite surgery, it was all too late, and he died in Malaga, Spain in June 1976 aged just 48, meaning, he didn’t live long enough to receive his award.

‘Whenever I go there,’ Baker said of his childhood home in Ferndale, ‘I look at the two down and three up and I think, that’s me, that’s what I am. All that has happened since is immensely important, but not as important as where I come from. I have no regrets. I’ve had a fantastic life; no one has had a more fantastic life than I have. From the beginning I have been surrounded by love. I’m the son of a Welsh miner and I was born into love, married into love and spent my life in love.’

The Mumper of SE5



THE SPEAKEASY Volume Two by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)

Illustrations by Lewis Wharton

Foreword by Rhoda Dakar

Available to PRE ORDER here



THE SPEAKEASY Volume One by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)

Illustrations by Lewis Wharton

Foreword by Gary Crowley

Available to ORDER here



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