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Bill Travers in 1966
3 January 1922
Sunderland, County Durham, England
|Died||29 March 1994
Dorking, Surrey, England
Virginia McKenna (1957–1994; his death)
William Inge Lindon-Travers MBE (3 January 1922 – 29 March 1994) was a Special Forces Army officer, English actor, screenwriter, director and animal rights activist, known professionally as Bill Travers.
Travers was born in Sunderland, County Durham, the son of Florence (née Wheatley) and William Halton Lindon-Travers. He and his sister Linden (1913–2001) both became actors, as did Linden's daughter Susan.
William Ingle Linden-Travers enlisted as a private in the British Army at the age of eighteen, a few months after the outbreak of the Second World War, and was sent to India. Travers was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Indian Army on 9 July 1942 (from the rank of private). He served in the Long Range Penetration Brigade 4th Battalion 9th Gurkha Rifles in Burma, attached to Orde 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). While deep behind enemy lines Major Travers was struck by malaria and volunteered to be left behind in a native Burmese village. To avoid capture he disguised himself as a Chinese national, and walked hundreds of miles through jungle territory until he reached an allied position.
In 1945 Travers was promoted to the rank of major, and he joined Force 136 Special Operations Executive and was parachuted into Malaya. Travers was responsible for training and tactical decisions with the main resistance movement, the communist-led Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA).
Major Travers left the armed forces in 1947.
Travers got out of the army in 1947 and decided to become an actor. He began working on stage in 1949 then a year later made his film debut in Conspirator (1949). He had unbilled parts in Trio (1950), and The Wooden Horse (1950). Travers had a slightly bigger part in The Browning Version (1951) and a good role on TV in "Albert" (later filmed as Albert R.N.) for BBC Sunday-Night Theatre (1951).
Travers could be seen in Hindle Wakes (1952), The Planter's Wife (1952), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), It Started in Paradise (1952), Mantrap (1953), Street of Shadows (1953), and The Square Ring (1953). He was in "The Heel" for Douglas Fairbanks Jr Presents.
Travers remained a supporting player in Counterspy (1953) and had a good part in Romeo and Juliet (1954) as Benvolio. His best chance to date was in Footsteps in the Fog (1955), starring Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons.
Geordie and MGM
Travers breakthrough came when he was cast in the title role of Geordie (1955), directed by Frank Launder. This was popular in Britain and the US and saw him contracted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who thought he was going to be a big star and brought him to Hollywood.
MGM cast him in the expensive Imperial epic Bhowani Junction (1956), with Granger and Ava Gardner. He followed this as the romantic lead in a remake of The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957), opposite Jennifer Jones. Powell and Pressburger wanted him to star in the lead of Ill Met By Moonlight but the role went to Dirk Bogarde. Travers briefly returned to Britain to make a comedy, The Smallest Show on Earth (1957) with his second wife Virginia McKenna, who he had married in 1957.
Back in Hollywood he was Eleanor Parker's love interest in The Seventh Sin (1957), a remake of a Greta Garbo film. MGM tested him for the lead in Ben-Hur (1959) and he wrote a swashbuckler to star himself The Falcon. However his MGM films all performed disappointingly at the box office - Barretts and Seventh Sign were notable flops - and enthusiasm for Travers in Hollywood cooled.
Travers did "A Cook for Mr. General" for Kraft Theatre (1958) on TV. Then he returned to Britain.
Return to Britain
Travers and McKenna starred in a melodrama for the Rank Organisation, Passionate Summer (1958). He tried to get up a war film set in Greenland The Sledge Patrol but it appears to have not been made. He and Launder tried to repeat the success of Geordie with The Bridal Path (1960), but the film was not a success.
Travers did "Born a Giant" for Our American Heritage (1960) on TV, then returned to Britain where he made a British monster film, Gorgo (1961). Travers and McKenna reteamed on a thriller, Two Living, One Dead (1961). He then starred in a race car drama for MGM, The Green Helmet (1961), and a comedy with Spike Milligan, Invasion Quartet (1961).
He was in a Broadway production of "A Cook for Mr General" (1961). Travers starred in a TV adaptation of Lorna Doone (1963). He returned to Hollywood to do some episodes of The Everglades, Rawhide ("Incident at Two Graves") and Espionage ("A Camel to Ride"). Back on Broadway he played the title role in Abraham Cochrane which had a short run.
Travers' most famous film role came when he played 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. He co-starred with McKenna and 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.
Travers received an offer to play a support role in Duel at Diablo (1967); during filming he broke a leg and dislocated a shoulder. He played the title role in a British TV version of The Admirable Crichton (1968), alongside his wife, and had a small part in Peter Hall's adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968).
Travers and McKenna made another "animal movie", Ring of Bright Water (1969) for which he also wrote the script. They followed this with An Elephant Called Slowly (1970), which Travers helped write and produce with James Hill, who directed. In 1969 he played Captain Hook on a stage production of Peter Pan.
Travers worked as an actor only on Rum Runners (1971) with Brigitte Bardot and Lino Ventura. He directed and appeared in a documentary, The Lion at World's End (1971) about Christian the lion.
He was reunited with James Hill on The Belstone Fox (1973) and co-wrote a documentary, "The Wild Dogs of Africa" for The World About Us (1973). He later produced "The Baboons of Gombe" (1975) for the same show.
He and Hill wrote and produced The Queen's Garden (1977) together, and Travers helped produce Bloody Ivory (1980).
One of his last credits was "Highland Fling" on Lovejoy (1992).
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 his sleep 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)
- Counterspy (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)
- Passionate Summer (aka Storm Over 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 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.
- The Belstone Fox (1973), as Tod
- To the Manor Born, as Arthur Smith (Tramp) in Tramps and Poachers, late 1970s series 2 number 4
- Lovejoy, BBC, two episodes 1992
- Dugan, Eleanor. "Linden Travers". The George Formby Society. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
- By, M. H. (1956, Jul 15). BIG BRITON. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/113764461?accountid=13902
- Schallert, E. (1956, Mar 16). Drama. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/166926619?accountid=13902
- Bill travers weds actress. (1957, Sep 20). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/114348031?accountid=13902
- Louella Parsons, 'Jeff Chandler? He's The Busiest, Now', The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954–1959) [Washington, D.C.] 1 November 1955: 35.
- Schallert, E. (1957, Jan 31). Travers scripts own starring film; 'million dollar answer' slated. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/167022075?accountid=13902
- By, H. T. (1959, Dec 12). GREENLAND SCENE OF NEW WAR FILM. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/114836623?accountid=13902
- By, S. Z. (1960, Nov 10). TV COMEDY DUE AS PLAY IN MARCH. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/115122240?accountid=13902
- By, H. T. (1961, Oct 20). Theatre: Comic view of the military. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/115254377?accountid=13902
- "DID YOU KNOW?". The Australian Women's Weekly. 30 (50). 15 May 1963. p. 19. Retrieved 23 November 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Lorna Doone to be seen on ABC-3". The Canberra Times. 38, (10,925). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 15 August 1964. p. 13. Retrieved 23 November 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- By, H. T. (1964, Feb 18). Theater: 'abraham cochrane' opens. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/115685395?accountid=13902
- Scott, J. L. (1966, Aug 07). HOLLYWOOD CALENDAR: IT ONLY HURTS WHEN.. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/155487928?accountid=13902
- ""THE LIONS ARE FREE"". The Australian Women's Weekly. 37 (16). 17 September 1969. p. 17. Retrieved 23 November 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- Bill travers takes special look at lions. (1968, Jul 19). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/156000358?accountid=13902
- ""RING OF BRIGHT WATER"". The Australian Women's Weekly. 37 (29). 17 December 1969. p. 32. Retrieved 23 November 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- Barker, D. (1994, Apr 01). Life with the lions. The Guardian (1959-2003) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/187505227?accountid=13902
- "A LION IN LONDON". The Australian Women's Weekly. 38 (9). 29 July 1970. p. 10. Retrieved 23 November 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- "A BRITISH LION MIGRATES TO AFRICA". The Australian Women's Weekly. 41 (21). 24 October 1973. p. 10. Retrieved 23 November 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Chief Executive's Office". Born Free Foundation. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- "Will Travers (@willtravers) | Twitter". twitter.com. Retrieved 2015-12-21.
- Glenn Collins (1 April 1994). "Bill Travers, 72, Actor Who Starred in Film 'Born Free'". New York Times.
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