10 April 1916
Bethnal Green, London, England
|Died||15 July 1987
Barnet, Greater London, England
|Spouse(s)||Beryl Bryson; two children|
Alfie Bass (born Abraham Basalinsky, 10 April 1916 – 15 July 1987) was an English actor. He was born in Bethnal Green, London, the youngest in a Jewish family with ten children; their parents had left Russia many years before he was born. He appeared in a variety of stage, film, television and radio productions throughout his career.
After leaving primary school in Bethnal Green at the age of 14, he worked as a tailor's apprentice, a messenger boy and a shop-window display fitter, before taking to the stage.
Bass's acting career began at Unity Theatre, London in the late 1930s, appearing in Plant In The Sun alongside Paul Robeson, and as the pantomime King in Babes In The Wood. After the outbreak of the Second World War, Bass joined the Middlesex Regiment as a despatch rider. Despite being kept busy with his duties, he found time to become involved in concert parties, as well as taking part in documentaries for the Army Film Unit.
His stage career included plays by Shakespeare and Shaw. 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. 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. Bass also took over from Chaim Topol in the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on the West End stage.
Bass first appeared on film in wartime documentaries. 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' movie Help! (1965), as Clouseau's seafaring informant in Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), and in Moonraker (1979). 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 of 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 in the first episode of The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Richard Greene. 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 1960-63 (there was also a one series revival in colour in 1974) working at a Gentleman's Club with Bill Fraser as Snudge and Clive Dunn. Bass 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 radio series Journey into Space.
He continued working until the turn of the 1980s. Later work included roles in the TV series Till Death Us Do Part, Minder, and Are You Being Served? 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 on-screen characterizations. He played a memorable Silas Wegg in the BBC's 1976 adaptation of Dickens's Our Mutual Friend.
- Brief Encounter (1945)
- Jassy (1947)
- The Monkey's Paw (1948)
- Man on the Run (1949)
- Boys in Brown (1949)
- Talk of a Million (1951)
- The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
- Derby Day (1952)
- The Planter's Wife (1952)
- Made in Heaven (1952)
- The Square Ring (1953)
- The Angel Who Pawned Her Harp (1954)
- Murder by Proxy (1954)
- To Dorothy a Son (1954)
- Svengali (1954)
- Make Me an Offer (1954)
- The Night My Number Came Up (1955)
- The Ship That Died of Shame (1955)
- Jumping for Joy (1956)
- Behind the Headlines (1956)
- A Touch of the Sun (1956)
- Hell Drivers (1957)
- I Only Arsked! (1958)
- Alfie (1966)
- A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967)
- Up the Junction (1968)
- The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971)
- Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978)
- Moonraker (1979)
- Robert Sharp, ‘Bass, Alfred (1916–1987)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 29 Jan 2011
- General Register Office index of deaths, London Barnet registration district, July 1987, Vol. 11 Page 205
- "Alfie Bass Obituary". The Jewish Chronicle. 1987-07-24. p. 14.
- Colin Chambers The Story of Unity Theatre, London (1990)
- Alfie Bass biography accessed 26 Jun 2007
- Deaths England and Wales 1984-2006