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Bill Travers in 1966
3 January 1922
Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, England
|Died||29 March 1994
Dorking, Surrey, England
|Spouse(s)||Pat Rains (1 child)
Virginia McKenna (1957–1994; his death; 4 children)
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.
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). 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).
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, as does their son, Will Travers, who is chief executive of the Born Free Foundation.
- The Wooden Horse (1950)
- Trio (1950)
- The Browning Version (1951) (uncredited)
- Hindle Wakes (1952)
- The Square Ring (1953)
- Street of Shadows (1953)
- Romeo and Juliet (1954)
- Geordie (1955)
- Footsteps in the Fog (1955)
- Bhowani Junction (1956)
- The Seventh Sin (1957)
- The Barretts of Wimpole Street as Robert Browning (1957)
- The Smallest Show on Earth (1957)
- Storm in Jamaica (1958)
- The Bridal Path (1959)
- Gorgo (1961)
- Two Living, One Dead (1961)
- The Green Helmet (1961)
- The Invasion Quartet (1961)
- The Everglades as Rand in "The Hostage", syndicated US television series (1962)
- Lorna Doone, as John Ridd, 11 episodes (1963 TV series)
- Rawhide as Jeremiah O'Neal in "Incident at Two Graves" (1963)
- Born Free, as wildlife expert George Adamson (1966)
- Duel at Diablo (1966), as Scotty McAllister. A violent western starring James Garner and Sidney Poitier.
- The Lions Are Free (1967). Travers plays himself in the real-life sequel to the award winning film Born Free. With the help of conservationist George Adamson, he goes to a remote area of Kenya, Africa to find the lions who appeared in the film. This is a film with some scenes of George Adamson and Bill interacting with lions who are living free. James Hill who directed Born Free produced this film along with Bill Travers. In November 2006, this film and the film The Lion at World's End were both released on DVD.
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968)
- An Elephant Called Slowly (1969) Travers plays himself in this lighthearted drama. He and wife Virginia McKenna go to Kenya, to housesit. They encounter some elephants and get advice from their friend and wildlife expert George Adamson. Also starring elephant Eleanor (Daphne Sheldrick orphan) and Pole Pole. Pole Pole's suffering and death at a zoo were to later spur Bill and wife Virginia to form Zoo Check, later called the Born Free Foundation.
- Ring of Bright Water (1969), as Graham Merrill
- The Lion at World's End (1971) Travers plays himself in this feature-length film, for the most part filmed as it happened. A London-born lion is taken to Kenya, to live a free life with the help of George Adamson.
- Lovejoy, as Duncan, 2 episodes (British TV series, 1992)
- To the Manor Born, as Arthur Smith (Tramp) in Tramps and Poachers, late 1970s series 2 number 4
- Dugan, Eleanor. "Linden Travers". The George Formby Society. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
- Louella Parsons, 'Jeff Chandler? He's The Busiest, Now', The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954–1959) [Washington, D.C] 1 November 1955: 35.
- "Chief Executive's Office". Born Free Foundation. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- Glenn Collins (1 April 1994). "Bill Travers, 72, Actor Who Starred in Film 'Born Free'". New York Times.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bill Travers.|
- Bill Travers at the Internet Movie Database
- Photos of Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna and George Adamson and Lions.