January 2, 2017


Ian Bannen (1928-1999) b. Airdrie, Scotland.

Ian Bannen

Ian Bannen was an abrasive character actor and occasional leading man. Born in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, he was the son of a lawyer. Bannen served in the army as a corporal and attended Ratcliffe College, Leicestershire. After post-war experience on the stage at the Gate Theatre in Dublin and with the Royal Shakespeare Company he made his film debut with a minor role in Ealing Studios Pool of London (1951).

He gradually rose to prominence in a wide range of supporting roles including five appearances for the Boulting Brothers in Private’s Progress (1956), Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959), Suspect (1960), A French Mistress (1960) and Rotten to the Core (1965). More substantial roles opened up for Bannen in Sidney Lumet’s brutal military prison drama The Hill (1965), and a subsequent call from Hollywood for Robert Aldrich’s action adventure blockbuster The Flight of the Phoenix (1965); the role of a cynical plane crash survivor earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Bannen was on the verge of worldwide fame but a series of poor role preferences and being fired from John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) caused his career into a decline from which it would never recover. He was once a drinking companion of Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton but had to give it up after a spell of hepatitis.

The 70s began with Bannen dipping into the horror genre with roles in Peter Collinson’s Fright (1971), the big-screen version of the BBC’s eco series Doomwatch (1972) and Amicus anthology From Beyond the Grave (1973). One of the best character roles of his career arrived when reunited with Sidney Lumet for an accomplished performance as a suspected child molester in the dark police drama The Offence (1972).

Notable television appearances arrived including that of Jim Prideau in the benchmark BBC drama adaptation of the John le Carré novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The remainder of the 80s and 90s included many engaging support roles such as the cantankerous grandfather in John Boorman’s Hope and Glory (1987), but few of real merit until Bannen was hailed for his comeback in the touching Ealingesque comedy Waking Ned (1998). The following year he died in a car accident near Loch Ness while on a break from shooting Strictly Sinatra, aged 71.

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