Alan Napier

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Alan Napier
Alan Napier 1949.GIF
Napier in 1949
Born Alan William Napier-Clavering
(1903-01-07)7 January 1903
King's Norton, Worcestershire, England
Died 8 August 1988(1988-08-08) (aged 85)
Santa Monica, California, US
Cause of death Pneumonia
Resting place Ashes scattered in the garden of his home at 17919 Porto Marina Way in Pacific Palisades, CA
Nationality British
Education Clifton College
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Years active 1930–81
Height 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)

Emily Nancy Bevill Pethybridge (1899-1970)

Aileen Dickens Hawksley (1907–61), known as Gypsy. She was a great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens.[citation needed]

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 theatres, he had a long film career first in Britain and then in Hollywood. However, Napier became widely known for portraying Alfred the butler in the 1960s live-action Batman television series.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Napier was the son of Claude Gerald Napier-Clavering (1869–1938) and Mary Millicent Kenrick (1871–1932), sister of Wilfred Byng Kenrick, and a first cousin once removed of Neville Chamberlain,[2] Britain's prime minister from 1937 to 1940. After graduating from Clifton College, he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

He was engaged by the Oxford Players, where he worked with the likes of John Gielgud and Robert Morley. Ironically, as Napier recalled, height played a crucial part in his securing the position and also almost losing it. J. B. Fagan had dismissed Tyrone Guthrie because he was too tall for most parts.[3] 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.[3] Napier performed for ten years (1929–1939) on the West End stage.

He made his American stage debut as the romantic lead opposite Gladys George in Lady in Waiting.[3] 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.

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". 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.


Napier as Alfred in Batman.

In 1965, he was the first to be cast in the Batman TV series,[4] 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."[4]

Later life and career[edit]

Napier's career extended into the 1980s, with TV roles in such miniseries as QB VII, The Bastard and Centennial, and such weeklies as The Paper Chase. He finally retired in 1981, at the age of 78.

In early 1988, Napier appeared on FOX Late Show talk show in a Batman reunion show, with the entire cast of the iconic camp TV series. Though in a wheelchair and visibly tired, Napier was lucid, with fond memories of his work on the show.


Napier suffered a stroke in 1987, was hospitalized from June 1988, and had been 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.[1] He was 85 years old. Napier was a resident of Pacific Palisades, California, and was survived by his daughter, Jennifer Nichols of East Haddam, Connecticut, and his step-daughter, Jennifer Raine Bissell of Los Angeles. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the garden of his home at 17919 Porto Marina Way in the Pacific Palisades.


In the early seventies, 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."[5] 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.

Personal life[edit]

Napier is the step-grandfather of actor Brian Forster, best known as portraying (the second) Chris Partridge on the television series The Partridge Family. Napier was close friends with actor Michael Gough, who would later play Alfred in the first four theatrical Batman films.


The Justice League series finale, "Starcrossed", has Batman going undercover to investigate the true motives of the Thanagarians. His disguise resembles Alan Napier.

In the 1989 Batman film directed by Tim Burton, The Joker's alter ego Jack Napier portrayed by Jack Nicholson was named in homage to Alan Napier.

Partial filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Alan Napier, 'Batman's' butler, dies". Ukiah Daily Journal. Associated Press. 8 August 1988 – via  open access publication - free to read
  2. ^ ""Good Old Neville" Draws Support from Actor-Cousin". Bradford Evening Star. United Press. 9 May 1940 – via  open access publication - free to read
  3. ^ a b c "Alan Napier Gets There is Spite of Skyscraper Effect". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 5 May 1940 – via  open access publication - free to read
  4. ^ a b "Birmingham actor was Batman's butler - Sunday Mercury". Retrieved 23 January 2010. 
  5. ^ "Alan Napier", Films in Review, February 1979, Vol XXX No. 2

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Eric Wilton
Alfred Pennyworth Actor
1966 - 1968
Succeeded by
Michael Gough