Stanley Baker

For other people named Stanley Baker, see Stanley Baker (disambiguation).
Sir Stanley Baker

Born William Stanley Baker
(1928-02-28)28 February 1928
Ferndale, Glamorgan, Wales
Died 28 June 1976(1976-06-28) (aged 48)
Málaga, Andalusia, Spain
Cause of death Pneumonia stemming from lung cancer
Occupation Actor, film producer
Years active 1943–44, 1948–75
Spouse(s) Ellen Baker (1950–1976 (his death)) (4 children)
Children Martin and Sally (twins), Glyn, Adam

Sir William Stanley Baker (28 February 1928  28 June 1976) was a Welsh actor and film producer.

Early life

William Stanley Baker was born in Ferndale, Glamorgan, Wales, the youngest of three children. His father was a coal miner who lost a leg in a pit accident but continued working as a lift operator at the mine until his death. Baker grew up a self-proclaimed "wild kid" interested in only "football and boxing"[1] although his artistic ability was spotted at an early age by a local teacher, Glynne Morse, who encouraged Baker to act.

When he was 14 he was performing in a school play when seen by a casting director from Ealing Studios, who recommended him for a role in Undercover (1943), a war film about the Yugoslav guerrillas in Serbia. He was paid £20 a week, caught the acting bug, and pursued a professional acting career.[2] Six months later Baker appeared with Emlyn Williams in a play in the West End called The Druid's Rest, appearing alongside a young Richard Burton.

Baker worked for a time as an apprentice electrician, then through Morse's influence he managed to secure a position with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1944. His national service in 1946 interrupted his three years there. He served in the Royal Army Service Corps until 1948, achieving the rank of sergeant.[3] Following his demob he returned to London determined to resume his acting career. He was recommended by Richard Burton for casting in a small role in Terence Rattigan's West End play, Adventure Story.

He began appearing in films and on television, as well as performing on stage for the Middlesex Repertory Company. He impressed when cast as the bosun's mate in the Hollywood-financed Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951).

Rise to stardom

Baker was in New York appearing in a play by Christopher Fry, A Sleep of Prisoners, when he read the novel The Cruel Sea. Attracted to the idea of playing the unpleasant and somewhat cowardly Bennett, he lobbied successfully for the role in the 1953 film version.[4] The success of which established Baker in films, and led to a Hollywood offer when George Sanders fell ill and was unable to play Sir Mordred in the expensive epic Knights of the Round Table (1953).[5] His performance was received favourably and he soon found major roles in Hell Below Zero and The Good Die Young (both 1954).

His career received another boost when Laurence Olivier selected Baker to play Henry Tudor in Richard III (1955). He played important roles in two Hollywood costume epics: Achilles in Helen of Troy (1956) and Attalus in Alexander the Great (1956); he also portrayed Rochester in a TV adaptation of Jane Eyre (1956).


Baker finally broke away from supporting parts when cast as the lead in Hell Drivers (1957). This was directed by Cy Endfield, who had first worked with Baker on Child in the House (1956) and went on to make six films in total with the actor. He followed this up with a series of popular films that featured him as a tough anti-hero, usually an authority figure of some kind, such as Violent Playground (1958), Sea Fury (1958), Yesterday's Enemy (1959) and Blind Date (1959). The latter was the first of what would be four collaborations with director Joseph Losey (of which his favourite was The Criminal (1960)[6]); he also made two films each with Val Guest, Ralph Thomas and Robert Aldrich.

After making The Angry Hills (1959) with Robert Aldrich, Baker stated that the director offered to engage him in a 28-part series about an Englishman in New York but turned it down to stay in Britain.[7] He played the relatively small role of "Butcher Brown", a war-weary commando, in the blockbuster war epic The Guns of Navarone (1961). In 1961 Baker turned down the superspy role James Bond for the forthcoming film Dr. No because he was unwilling to commit to a three-picture contract. Some years later he asked producer Albert R. Broccoli about playing a villain in one of the 007 series' films.

In the words of David Thomson:

Until the early 1960s, Baker was the only male lead in the British cinema who managed to suggest contemptuousness, aggression and the working class. He is the first hint of proletarian male vigor against the grain of Leslie Howard, James Mason, Stewart Granger, John Mills, Dirk Bogarde and the theatrical knights. Which is not to disparage these players, but to say that Baker was a welcome novelty, that he is one of Britain's most important screen actors, and that he has not yet been equalled - not even by Michael Caine.[8]


Baker wanted to move into production, and to this end formed his own company, Diamond Films. While making Sodom and Gomorrah (1963) he struck up a relationship with Joseph E. Levine which enabled him to raise the money for Zulu (1964), directed by Endfield. This was a massive success at the box office and helped make a star of Michael Caine. Baker played the lead part of Lieutenant John Chard VC in what remains his best-remembered-role. Baker later owned Chard's Victoria Cross and Zulu War Medal from 1972 until his death in 1976.[9] (Chard died at age 49 in 1897, only a year older than Baker at his death; both died of cancer).

Baker then made two more films in Africa, Dingaka (1965) and Sands of the Kalahari (1965), also producing the latter. Neither was as successful as Zulu. He formed a production company, Oakhurst Productions, in association with Michael Deeley, which produced such films as Robbery (1967), The Italian Job (1968) and Where's Jack? (1969). Baker starred in some of these and continued to act for other producers, giving a particularly fine performance in Joseph Losey's Accident (1967).[10]

Later career

In the 1970s Baker expanded his business interests. He was one of the founder members of Harlech Television and continued to be a director of it until his death.[11][12] With Michael Deeley and Barry Spikings, he formed Great Western Enterprises, which were involved in a number of projects in the entertainment field, notably music concerts, and in the late 1960s they bought Alembic House (now called Peninsula Heights) on the Albert Embankment, where Baker occupied the penthouse apartment for a number of years.[13] Baker, Deeley and Spikings were also part of a consortium that bought British Lion Films and Shepperton Studios, selling Alembic House in order to finance it.[14] Baker said in 1972 that:

"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."[15]

However Baker was the victim of bad timing. The British film industry went into serious decline at the end of the 1960s, and a number of Oakhurst films were unsuccessful at the box office; plans to make a costume drama, Sunblack, directed by Gordon Flemyng, did not come to fruition.[6] His expansion into music festivals was ultimately disastrous, with the Great Western Bardney Pop Festival in Lincoln ending up losing ₤200,000.[16][17][18] The British stock market crashed at the end of 1973, throwing the over-leveraged British Lion into turmoil. Baker was forced to keep acting to pay the bills, often accepting roles in poor films which adversely affected his status as a star. His son Glyn later said that:

"My dad had to accept any and everything to keep the companies afloat. Doing staggeringly-bad stuff like Popsy Pop, which was an Italian–Venezuelan co-production and A Lizard in a Woman's Skin [both 1971] – a movie which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. At the slowest period, Stanley still had a payroll of at least 100 in his employ. So it was, 'Here we go – take the money, make this trash, hopefully no one will ever see it.' Famous last words."'[19]

According to Michael Deeley, the financiers of British Lion Films were reluctant for Baker to be involved in the management of the company because they felt his focus was more on his acting career.[20] Towards the end of his life Baker pulled back on his business activities and worked mostly as an actor, taking roles in television including two of the BBC's Play of the Month series: The Changeling and Robinson Crusoe (both 1974). A BBC Wales adaptation of How Green Was My Valley (1975), broadcast shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer, was his last role. Shortly before his death he was planning on producing a prequel to Zulu, Zulu Dawn.[21]

In his book 1982 British Film Character Actors, Terence Pettigrew recalled "[i]n the early days, Baker played lower-order tyrants with a rugged physique and a short fuse. He was shaping up nicely as a competent Hollywood-style heavy before his bosses smoothed him out to internationalise his appeal, which made him a star. But in the transformation, some of that splended, raw cutting edge disappeared."

Personal life

He was a close friend and drinking companion of another Welsh actor, Richard Burton. In 1950 Baker married the actress Ellen Martin, who had been introduced to him by Burton. Their partnership lasted until his death and produced four children, Martin and Sally (twins), Glyn and Adam. Glyn appeared in Return of the Jedi as Lieutenant Endicott, the imperial officer that said "Inform the commander that Lord Vader's shuttle has arrived." [22][23]

Baker was a dedicated socialist off-screen, and a friend of the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He was a staunch opponent of Welsh nationalism and recorded television broadcasts in support of the Welsh Labour Party. In a 1969 interview he said, "I'm a Welshman and proud of it. But I'm no nationalist. I think the Welsh nationalists are foolish and misguided people."[24] Baker was heavily criticised for earning vast sums of money despite holding left-wing socialist views, sending all his children to expensive private schools in England, and owning a large holiday home in Spain. He considered becoming a tax exile in the 1960s but ultimately decided he would miss Britain too much. Many of his friends believed Baker had damaged his acting career through his attempts to transform himself into a businessman.[25]

Last years

In an interview shortly before his death he admitted to being a compulsive gambler all his life, although he claimed he always had enough money to look after his family.[21]

On 27 May 1976, it was announced that he was to be awarded a knighthood in the 1976 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours, although he did not live to be invested in person at Buckingham Palace.[26]


Baker was a heavy cigarette and cigar smoker and was diagnosed with lung cancer on 13 February 1976. He underwent surgery later that month. However, the cancer had spread to his bones and he died that same year from pneumonia in Málaga, Spain, aged 48. He was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium, but his ashes were scattered from the top of Llanwonno, over his beloved Ferndale. He told his wife shortly before he died:

"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."[27]


Ferndale RFC, a rugby club in the Rhondda Valleys, South Wales, established a tribute to Baker in the form of their "Sir Stanley Baker Lounge". Officially opened by his widow, Lady Ellen Baker, on Friday 24 November 2006, the day's events featured a presentation to Sir Stanley's sons and family members, and a fitting and moving tribute to the man himself via speeches and tales from celebrities and various local people who knew him best. The afternoon also featured a BBC Radio Wales tribute to Sir Stanley, hosted by Owen Money and recorded live in Ferndale RFC itself. The Sir Stanley Baker Lounge features many pictures and memorabilia from his successful career, including a wall plaque commemorating the official opening in both English and Welsh.



Year Film Role Director Notes
1943 Undercover Peter Sergei Nolbandov
1949 All Over the Town Barnes Derek Twist
Obsession Policeman Edward Dmytryk Uncredited
1950 Your Witness Police Sgt. Bannoch, Trial Witness Robert Montgomery
Lilli Marlene Evans Arthur Crabtree
Something in the City Policeman Maclean Rogers Uncredited
1951 The Rossiter Case Joe Francis Searle
Captain Horatio Hornblower Mr. Harrison Raoul Walsh
Cloudburst Milkman Francis Searle
Home to Danger Willie Dougan Terence Fisher
1952 Whispering Smith Hits London Reporter #1 Francis Searle
1953 The Cruel Sea Bennett Charles Frend
The Red Beret Breton Terence Young
The Tell-Tale Heart Edgar Allan Poe Ted Parmelee Short film
Knights of the Round Table Modred Richard Thorpe
1954 Hell Below Zero Erik Bland Mark Robson
The Good Die Young Mike Morgan Lewis Gilbert
Twist of Fate Louis Galt David Miller
1955 Richard III Henry, Earl of Richmond Laurence Olivier
1956 Helen of Troy Achilles Robert Wise
Alexander the Great Attalus Robert Rossen
Child in the House Stephen Lorimer Cy Endfield
A Hill in Korea Cpl. Ryker Julian Amyes
Checkpoint O'Donovan Ralph Thomas
1957 Hell Drivers Tom Yately Cy Endfield
Campbell's Kingdom Owen Morgan Ralph Thomas
1958 Violent Playground Det. Sgt. Jack Truman Basil Dearden
Sea Fury Abel Hewson Cy Endfield
1959 The Angry Hills Conrad Heisler Robert Aldrich
Yesterday's Enemy Captain Langford Val Guest
Blind Date Insp. Morgan Joseph Losey
Jet Storm Capt. Bardow Cy Endfield
1960 Hell Is a City Inspector Harry Martineau Val Guest
The Criminal Johnny Bannion Joseph Losey
1961 The Guns of Navarone Pvt. Brown J. Lee Thompson
1962 Eva Tyvian Jones Joseph Losey
Sodom and Gomorrah Astaroth Robert Aldrich
A Prize of Arms Turpin Cliff Owen
1963 In the French Style Walter Beddoes Robert Parrish
The Man Who Finally Died Joe Newman Quentin Lawrence
1964 Zulu Lt. John Chard Cy Endfield Also producer
Dingaka Tom Davis Jamie Uys
1965 One of Them Is Named Brett Narrator Roger Graef
Sands of the Kalahari Mike Bain Cy Endfield Also producer
1967 Accident Charley Joseph Losey
Robbery Paul Clifton Peter Yates Also producer
1968 The Girl with the Pistol Dr. Tom Osborne Mario Monicelli
1969 Where's Jack? Jonathan Wild James Clavell Also producer
1970 The Last Grenade Maj. Harry Grigsby Gordon Flemyng
The Games Bill Oliver Michael Winner
Perfect Friday Mr. Graham Peter Hall Also producer
1971 A Lizard in a Woman's Skin Inspector Corvin Lucio Fulci
The Butterfly Affair Inspector Silva Jean Herman
1972 Innocent Bystanders John Craig Peter Collinson
1975 Zorro Col. Huerta Duccio Tessari
Bride to Be Pedro de Vargas Rafael Moreno Alba

TV series

Year Title Role Notes
1949 Choir Practice Geraint Llewellyn Television film
The Luck of the Graces Television film
1950 Marion Tom Price Television film
The Tragedy of Pompey the Great Acillus Television film
1951 Rush Job Sid Bonner Television film
1952 The Taming of the Shrew Petruchio Television film
Martine Alfred Television film
A Cradle of Willow Martin Television film
1955 The Creature Alfred Tom Friend
1956 Jane Eyre Mr. Rochester Television miniseries
Who Goes Home? Tony Spencer Television film
A Death in the Family Richard Eynesham Television film
1958 Arms and the Man Captain Bluntschli Television film
Armchair Theatre Luce Dorell 3.16 "The Criminals"
1960 BBC Sunday-Night Play Big Tom 2.05 "The Squeeze"
1964 Drama '64 Chief Insp. Tom Dyke 4.08 "A Fear of Strangers"
1965 Who Has Seen the Wind? Janos Television film
1966 ITV Play of the Week John Ellis 12.13 "The Tormentors"
1967 After the Lion, Jackals C.C. Conover Television film
Code Name: Heraclitus Frank G. Wheatley Television film
1970 ITV Sunday Night Theatre Sam Tennant 2.31 "Fade Out"
1974 Who Killed Lamb? Detective Inspector Jamieson Television film
Late Night Drama 1.13 "Graceless Go I"
The Changeling De Flores Television film
Robinson Crusoe[28] Robinson Crusoe Television film
1975 How Green Was My Valley Gwilym Morgan Television miniseries
1976 Orzowei, il figlio della savana Paul Television miniseries, (Last appearance)


Year Film Notes
1969 The Other People
The Italian Job
1970 Colosseum and Juicy Lucy

Box office rankings

Baker featured several times in the annual poll of British exhibitors for Motion Picture Annual listing the most popular stars at the local box office:

Select theatre credits



  1. Sylvia Duncan, 'The Home Town I Love', Woman's Own 1971 accessed 26 May 2012
  2. Stanley Baker, 'My Story', Woman's Mirror, November 1961 accessed 26 May 2012
  3. "(Sir) Stanley Baker – Actors and Actresses – Films as Actor:, Films as co-producer:, Publications".
  4. Stanley Baker Interview on YouTube; accessed 8 April 2014.
  5. "Tamiroff set for UK film.". The Mail. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 1 August 1953. p. 4 Supplement: SUNDAY MAGAZINE. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  6. 1 2 'Playing the Game', Films and Filming August 1970 p32 accessed 26 May 2012
  7. Raymond Hyams, 'Why I Turned Down a Fortune', Photoplay, January 1960 p35 accessed 26 May 2012
  8. David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Little Brown 2002 p 45
  9. Victorian & Colonial Anecdotes,; accessed 8 April 2014.
  10. "Accident". TV Guide.
  11. "ITA announcement criticized as 'expropriation without compensation'." The Times [London, England] 12 June 1967: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
  12. JULIAN MOUNTER, South Wales Correspondent. "Harlech TV cake 'will take some chewing'." The Times [London, England] 16 June 1967: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
  13. "The Studio Tour: Walking among the ruins of the British film industry". Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  14. Newland, Paul (2010). Don't Look Now: British Cinema in the 1970s. Intellect Books. pp. 36–38. ISBN 9781841503202. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  15. 'The Tough Guy Who's In Business', Radio Times, 3 March 1973 accessed 28 May 2012
  16. Walker (1985), p.118
  17. Geoffrey Wansell, Bardney, Lincolnshire, May 25. "Pop festivals 'on trial' in Lincolnshire hamlet." Times [London, England] 26 May 1972: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
  18. Geoffrey Wansell. "35,000 arrive in village for four-day pop festival." Times [London, England] 27 May 1972: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
  19. Mel Neuhaus, "Apes of Wrath",, 19 July 2011
  20. Michael Deeley, Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies, Pegasus Books, 2009 p 109
  21. 1 2 'Gambling is Unfair to Punters Says Stanley Baker' Titbits April 1976 pp. 12-13; accessed 26 May 2012
  22. Profile, ODNB; accessed 8 April 2014.
  23. 'My First Love Affair', Daily Mail, p. 11, 4 May 1971; accessed 26 May 2012
  24. Matteo Sedazzari. "ZANI on One of Britain's Greatest Actors- Stanley Baker Part Two".
  25. Shail, Robert (2010). "Stanley Baker and British Lion: A Cautionary Tale", in Don't Look Now: British Cinema in the 1970s, ed. by Paul Newland. Bristol: Intellect Books. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-84150-320-2.
  26. Stanley Baker profile,; accessed 8 April 2014.
  27. Ellen Baker, 'My Husband, My Love', Woman's Own Magazine, December 1976 accessed 26 May 2012
  28. "A spirited "Crusoe" was tough for star.". The Australian Women's Weekly. 1933-1982: National Library of Australia. 1 January 1975. p. 10. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  29. "BRITISH ACTORS HEAD FILM POLL: BOX-OFFICE SURVEY", The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), 27 December 1957, p. 3.
  30. "Year Of Profitable British Films." The Times [London, England], 1 January 1960, p. 13. The Times Digital Archive, 11 July 2012; accessed 8 April 2014.


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