10 April 1916
Bethnal Green, London, England
|Died||15 July 1987
Barnet, London, England
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; his 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' film 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 'Claude Snudge' and Clive Dunn as 'Henry Beerbohm Johnson'. 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 throughout the 1970s and '80s, in 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 characterisations. He played a memorable Silas Wegg in the BBC's 1976 adaptation of Dickens's Our Mutual Friend.
- The Bells Go Down (1943) - (uncredited)
- Johnny Frenchman (1945) - Corporal
- Brief Encounter (1945) - Waiter at the Royal (uncredited)
- Holiday Camp (1947) - Redcoat
- Jassy (1947) - Witness (uncredited)
- It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) - Dicey
- Vice Versa (1948) - 1st Urchin
- The Monkey's Paw (1948) - Speedway Track Manager
- Man on the Run (1949) - Bert the Barge Mate
- The Hasty Heart (1949) - Orderly
- Boys in Brown (1949) - 'Basher' Walker
- Stage Fright (1950) - Stage Hand With Microphone (uncredited)
- Pool of London (1951) - Alf, a henchman
- Talk of a Million (1951) - Lorcan
- The Galloping Major (1951) - Charlie - the newsboy
- The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) - Shorty
- High Treason (1951) - Albert Brewer (uncredited)
- Brandy for the Parson (1952) - Dallyn
- Treasure Hunt (1952) - Tipster (uncredited)
- Derby Day (1952) - Spider Wilkes
- The Planter's Wife (1952) - Soldier (uncredited)
- Made in Heaven (1952) - Bert Jenkins
- Top of the Form (1953) - Artie Jones
- The Square Ring (1953) - Frank Forbes
- Murder by Proxy (1954) - Ernie
- Time Is My Enemy (1954) - Ernie Gordon
- The Angel Who Pawned Her Harp (1954) - Lennox
- Passing Stranger (1954) - Harry
- To Dorothy a Son (1954) - Cab Driver
- Svengali (1954) - Carrell
- The Night My Number Came Up (1955) - The Soldier
- The Ship That Died of Shame (1955) - Sailor on 1087 (uncredited)
- A Kid for Two Farthing (1955) - Alf the Bird Man (uncredited)
- Make Me an Offer (1955) - Fred Frames
- King's Rhapsody (1955) - Man in Crowd (uncredited)
- Jumping for Joy (1956) - Blagg
- Behind the Headlines (1956) - Sammy
- Child in the House (1956) - Ticket Collector
- Sailor Beware! (1956) - Organist (uncredited)
- A Touch of the Sun (1956) - May
- No Road Back (1957) - Rudge Harvey
- Carry on Admiral (1957) - Orderly (uncredited)
- Hell Drivers (1957) - Tinker
- A Tale of Two Cities (1958) - Jerry Cruncher
- I Was Monty's Double (1958) - The Small Man
- I Only Arsked! (1958) - Excused Boots Bisley
- The Millionairess (1960) - Fish Curer
- Help! (1965) - Doorman
- Bindle (One of Them Days) (1966) - Joseph Bindle
- Doctor in Clover (1966) - Fleming
- Alfie (1966) - Harry
- The Sandwich Man (1966) - Yachtsman
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) - Gatekeeper
- A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967) - Pie Merchant
- The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) - Shagal, the Inn-Keeper
- Up the Junction (1968) - Charlie
- The Fixer (1968) - Potseikin (uncredited)
- The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971) - Mr. Spencer (segment "Pride")
- Come Play with Me (1977) - Kelly / Luigi
- Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) - Fernet
- Moonraker (1979) - Consumptive Italian
- High Rise Donkey (1980) - Donkey Derby photographer
- 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
- "The British Folk Revival". Retrieved 27 December 2015.
- Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006