Alan Napier

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Alan Napier
Napier in 1949
Alan William Napier-Clavering

(1903-01-07)7 January 1903
Died8 August 1988(1988-08-08) (aged 85)
Resting placeCremated; ashes scattered in the garden of his home in Pacific Palisades, California
EducationClifton College
Alma materRoyal Academy of Dramatic Art
Years active1920s–1981
Emily Nancy Bevill Pethybridge
(m. 1930; div. 1944)
Aileen Dickens Hawksley
(m. 1944; died 1961)

Alan William Napier-Clavering (7 January 1903 – 8 August 1988), better known as Alan Napier, was an English actor. After a decade in West End theatre, he had a long film career in Britain and later on in Hollywood. Napier is best remembered for portraying Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne's butler in the 1960s live-action Batman television series.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

He was born Alan William Napier-Clavering on 7 January 1903 in Birmingham to Claude and Millicent (née Kenrick) Napier-Clavering. He had two older siblings, Mark (born five years earlier) and Molly (born two and a half years earlier).[2]

Napier was a first cousin-once removed of Neville Chamberlain,[3] Britain's prime minister from 1937 to 1940. He was educated at Packwood Haugh School and,[4] after leaving Clifton College,[5] he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, graduating in 1925.[6]

He was engaged by the Oxford Players, where he worked with the likes of John Gielgud and Robert Morley. As Napier recalled, his "ridiculously tall" 6'6" height[7] almost cost him his position immediately after he secured it. J. B. Fagan had dismissed Tyrone Guthrie because he was too tall for most parts.[8] Napier was interviewed (and accepted) as Guthrie's replacement while sitting down. Fagan realized that Napier was even taller than Guthrie when he stood up, but honoured his commitment.[8] Napier performed for ten years (1929–1939) on the West End stage. Napier described himself as having a particular affinity for the work of George Bernard Shaw, and in 1937 appeared in a London revival of Heartbreak House supervised by Shaw himself.[9]

He made his American stage debut as the romantic lead opposite Gladys George in Lady in Waiting.[8] Though his film career had begun in Britain in the 1930s, he had very little success before the cameras until he joined the British expatriate community in Hollywood in 1941. There he spent time with such people as James Whale, a fellow ex-Oxford Player. He appeared in such films as Random Harvest (1942), Cat People (1942), and The Uninvited (1944). In The Song of Bernadette (1943), he played the ethically questionable psychiatrist who is hired to declare Bernadette mentally ill. He also played the vicious Earl of Warwick in Joan of Arc (1948). He performed in two Shakespearean films: the Orson Welles Macbeth (1948), in which he played a priest that Welles added to the story, who spoke lines originally uttered by other characters, and MGM's Julius Caesar (1953), as Cicero. He appeared as Mr. Rutland in the Hitchcock movie Marnie (1964).

In 1949, he made an appearance on the short-lived television anthology series Your Show Time as Sherlock Holmes, in an adaptation of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band".[10] In the 1950s, he appeared on TV in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and guest starred on Dale Robertson's NBC western series Tales of Wells Fargo. He had a recurring role as General Steele on the 1962–1963 situation comedy Don't Call Me Charlie!


In 1965, he was the first to be cast in the Batman TV series,[11] as Bruce Wayne's faithful butler Alfred, a role he played until the series' cancellation in 1968.

I had never read comics before [I was hired for Batman]. My agent rang up and said, 'I think you are going to play on "Batman,"' I said 'What is "Batman"?' He said, 'Don't you read the comics?' I said, 'No, never.' He said, 'I think you are going to be Batman's butler.' I said, 'How do I know I want to be Batman's butler?' It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of. He said, 'It may be worth over $100,000.' So I said I was Batman's butler.[11]

Later life and career[edit]

Napier's career extended into the 1980s with roles on television, including the miniseries QB VII, The Bastard, and Centennial, and the drama The Paper Chase. He retired in 1981, aged 78.

In early 1988, Napier appeared on the late-night talk show The Late Show as part of a reunion of the surviving cast of Batman, despite being in a wheelchair.[9][12] His co-star Yvonne Craig described the reunion show as overbooked, and when host Ross Shafer finally turned his attention to Napier, it was only to ask him a silly question, then cut him off abruptly as he was telling a story, much to Napier's annoyance. Napier did not participate in the subsequent cast reunion held before his death.[11]


Napier was twice married. His second wife, Aileen Dickens Hawksley, was a great-granddaughter of novelist Charles Dickens.[9] Hawsley's daughter from a previous marriage, actress Jennifer Raine, was the mother of former child actor Brian Forster, best known as "Chris Partridge" on the 1970s television show The Partridge Family.[13]


Napier suffered a stroke in 1987, was hospitalized from June 1988, and was gravely ill for several days before his death of natural causes on 8 August 1988, in the Berkeley East Convalescent Hospital in Santa Monica, California. He was 85 years old.[1]


In the early 1970s, Napier wrote a three-volume autobiography which was not published at the time because, as he joked, "I haven't committed a major crime and I'm not known to have slept with any famous actresses."[14] In 2015, McFarland Press published the book under the title Not Just Batman's Butler, with Napier's original text annotated and updated by James Bigwood.[citation needed]

Partial filmography[edit]

Partial television credits[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Alan Napier, 'Batman's' butler, dies". Ukiah Daily Journal. Associated Press. 8 August 1988 – via Open access icon
  2. ^ Napier, Alan; Bigwood, James (2015). Not Just Batman's Butler: The Autobiography of Alan Napier. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. pp. 8–9, 15. ISBN 9781476662879.
  3. ^ ""Good Old Neville" Draws Support from Actor-Cousin". Bradford Evening Star. United Press. 9 May 1940 – via Open access icon
  4. ^ "After Packwood". Packwood Haugh School. Archived from the original on 19 September 2016. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  5. ^ "Clifton College Register" Muirhead, J.A.O. pp446/77: Bristol; J.W Arrowsmith for Old Cliftonian Society; April 1948.
  6. ^ "Student & Graduate profiles". RADA. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  7. ^ Oldham, Michael (8 November 2018), "'Batman' Butler Alan Napier's Castellammare Home", Palisadian-Post, retrieved 28 December 2019
  8. ^ a b c "Alan Napier Gets There is Spite of Skyscraper Effect". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 5 May 1940 – via Open access icon
  9. ^ a b c Napier, Alan; Bigwood, James (24 September 2015). Not Just Batman's Butler: The Autobiography of Alan Napier. McFarland. ISBN 9781476662879.
  10. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 311. ISBN 9780857687760.
  11. ^ a b c "Birmingham actor was Batman's butler". Sunday Mercury. 3 January 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  12. ^ Alan Napier's Disappointing Final TV Appearance - The Late Show with Ross Shafer, April 28, 1988
  13. ^ Variety Staff (14 January 1993). "Jennifer Raine Bissell". Variety. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  14. ^ "Alan Napier", Films in Review, February 1979, Vol XXX No. 2

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Eric Wilton
Alfred Pennyworth Actor
Succeeded by