Bill Travers

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For other people of the same name, see William Travers (disambiguation).
Bill Travers
Bill Travers 1966.jpg
Bill Travers in 1966
Born William Lindon-Travers
(1922-01-03)3 January 1922
Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, England
Died 29 March 1994(1994-03-29) (aged 72)
Dorking, Surrey, England
Years active 1950–1992
Spouse(s) Pat Rains (1 child)
Virginia McKenna (1957–1994; his death; 4 children)

William Lindon-Travers MBE (3 January 1922 – 29 March 1994) was an English actor, screenwriter, director and animal rights activist, known professionally as Bill Travers.

Early life[edit]

Travers was born in Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, the son of Florence (née Wheatley) and William Halton Lindon-Travers.[1] He and his sister Linden (1913–2001) both became actors.

War service[edit]

Travers enlisted in the British armed forces at eighteen, a few months after the outbreak of World War II, and was sent to India. Within a year he had advanced to the rank of major. He also served in the 9th Gurkha Rifles in Burma, attached to General Wingate's staff, during which service he came to know John Masters who was his brigade major (Travers was later to act in Bhowani Junction, a tale written by Masters). When stricken by malaria, he was left behind in a native village. To avoid capture he disguised himself as a Chinese national, walked hundreds of miles through jungle territory until he reached an allied position, parachuted into Malaya, and worked there with the resistance forces until the end of the war.[citation needed]

Acting career[edit]

Travers began his acting career on the stage in 1949 then a year later made his film debut. In the mid 1950s his success in Geordie (1955) saw him contracted by MGM who thought he was going to be a big star. They cast him in Bhowani Junction (1956), The Seventh Sin (1957) and The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957), and tested him for the lead in Ben-Hur (1959).[2] However his MGM movies all performed disappointingly at the box office and enthusiasm for Travers in Hollywood cooled.

Travers co-starred with his second wife, Virginia McKenna, in a number of films, most memorably as the conservationist George Adamson in the highly successful 1966 film Born Free, about which experience the two co-wrote the book On Playing with Lions. The experience made him and his wife very conscious of the many abuses of wild animals in captivity that had been taken from Africa and other natural environments around the world. Together they made a number of films around the subject such as 1969's Ring of Bright Water and An Elephant Called Slowly, for both of which he co-wrote the screenplay and acted. In 1976 he wrote, directed and produced the film Christian the Lion (also known as The Lion Who Thought He Was People).[citation needed]

The importance of animal rights led to Travers and his wife becoming involved in the "Zoo Check Campaign" in 1984 that evolved to their establishing the Born Free Foundation in 1991.[citation needed]

Bill Travers spent his last three years travelling around Europe's slum zoos and a TV documentary that he made exposed the appalling suffering of thousands of animals. Travers died in Dorking, Surrey, aged 72. His widow, Virginia McKenna, carries on his work to help suffering animals,[citation needed] as does their son, Will Travers, who is chief executive of the Born Free Foundation.[3]



  1. ^ Dugan, Eleanor. "Linden Travers". The George Formby Society. Retrieved 24 October 2010. 
  2. ^ Louella Parsons, 'Jeff Chandler? He's The Busiest, Now', The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954–1959) [Washington, D.C] 1 November 1955: 35.
  3. ^ "Chief Executive's Office". Born Free Foundation. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  4. ^ Glenn Collins (1 April 1994). "Bill Travers, 72, Actor Who Starred in Film 'Born Free'". New York Times. 
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^

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