Hywel Bennett

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Hywel Bennett
Bennett in 1966
Hywel Thomas Bennett

(1944-04-08)8 April 1944
Died24 July 2017(2017-07-24) (aged 73)
Cardiff, Wales
Alma materRoyal Academy of Dramatic Art
Years active1965–2007
(m. 1970; div. 1988)

Sandra Layne Fulford
(m. 1998)
RelativesAlun Lewis (brother)
Amelia Warner (niece)

Hywel Thomas Bennett[1][a] (8 April 1944 – 24 July 2017) was a Welsh film and television actor. Bennett is perhaps best known for his leading roles in films including The Family Way (1966) and for playing the titular "thinking man's layabout"[3] James Shelley in the television sitcom Shelley (1979–1992).

Bennett played opposite Hayley Mills in The Family Way, Twisted Nerve (1968) and Endless Night (1972). Other notable film roles include Private Brigg in the comedy The Virgin Soldiers (1969), Dennis in Loot (1970) and Edwin Antony in Percy (1971). Bennett's character, Ricki Tarr, was pivotal in the BBC serial adaptation of John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979). In later years, he was often cast in villainous roles including Mr Croup in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (1996), Peter Baxter in ITV police drama The Bill (2002) and crime boss Jack Dalton in EastEnders (2003).

Early life[edit]

Bennett was born on 8 April 1944 in Garnant, Carmarthenshire, Wales, the son of Sarah Gwen (née Lewis) and Gorden Bennett.[4] His first language was Welsh, but he learnt to speak English in an accent he called "London-Welsh" after the family moved to south London when he was four.[5][6] He was the brother of actor Alun Lewis, who is best known for playing Vic Windsor in Emmerdale. Bennett attended Sunnyhill School, Streatham, Henry Thornton Grammar School, Clapham (1955–62) and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.[3]


Bennett debuted on stage in the role of Ophelia in a Queen's Theatre production of Hamlet in 1959.[3] He continued with the company for five years, his roles including Richmond in Richard III at the Scala Theatre in 1963. After a brief period working as a supply teacher,[5] Bennett won a scholarship to train at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and performed in repertory in Salisbury and Leatherhead.[1][3] He made his television debut in 1964, making early appearances in episodes of Doctor Who and Theatre 625. In 1966, he appeared as the lead Willy Turner in BBC1 Wednesday Play "Where the Buffalo Roam". This role as a mentally disturbed, cowboy-obsessed teenager was the first of many parts in Dennis Potter television plays.[7]

His first film appearance was as Leonardo in the 1966 Italian Il marito è mio e l'ammazzo quando mi pare ("It's my husband and I'll decide when to kill him"), directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile, a comedy in which a young wife carefully plans to murder her husband, who is 40 years her senior, to marry a young beatnik.[8] Bennett then starred as nervously virginal newlywed Arthur Fitton opposite Hayley Mills in the Boulting brothers' adaptation of Bill Naughton's play The Family Way (1966). He was cast after John Boulting saw him in the Alan Plater play A Smashing Day[9] and felt he had "the appearance of both sensitivity and masculinity."[10] The success of the film gained Bennett a contract with British Lion Films[7] and led the News of the World to dub him "the face of '67".[6] He considered his looks "a boon and a curse. It won me quick fame, but I was a serious actor being written up as a pin-up boy and sex symbol... ...I used to wish for a broken nose."[6] He was reunited with Mills and the Boultings in the psychological thriller Twisted Nerve (1968), playing Martin Durnley in what the British Film Institute has described as "one of cinema's most striking depictions of evil".[7] In 1969, he starred as Private Brigg in The Virgin Soldiers, a comedy-drama film set during the Malayan Emergency. Bennett described the film as "the story of a young soldier's love affair with a Chinese prostitute. And his fear in combat. One day he runs the wrong way and accidentally becomes a hero."[3] In 1969, contemporary critic Roger Ebert called him "one of England's best young actors".[11]

Bennett's film roles continued into the 1970s, notably with the film adaptation of Joe Orton's Loot (1970) and Endless Night (1972), an Agatha Christie adaptation again pairing him with Hayley Mills. He was the preferred choice for the role of Brian Roberts in Bob Fosse's Cabaret (1972), but wrongly assumed it was a singing role and didn't read the script. The part went to Michael York.[12] He starred in the Ralph Thomas-directed sex comedies Percy (1971), in which he plays a shy young man who becomes the recipient of the world's first penis transplant, and The Love Ban (1973).[13] Of this period in his career, Bennett would later state "I had come in at the tail end of everything, the studio system and so on. I found myself in the early 70s with nowhere to go."[1]

He maintained a career in the theatre. His Puck in a 1967 Edinburgh Festival production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was described by Illustrated London News as "the best since Leslie French".[14] He returned to the festival in 1990 as Long John Silver in a stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.[15] He appeared in several National Theatre productions including playing Mark Antony in Julius Caesar (the Young Vic, 1972) and Marlow in the She Stoops to Conquer (the Lyttelton Theatre, 1984). Other notable roles include Prince Hal in Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 (the Mermaid Theatre, 1970), the lead in Hamlet on a 1974 South African tour and Andrey Prozorov in Three Sisters (the Albery Theatre, 1987).[1] He also directed productions in provincial theatres, including a 1975 adaptation of J. B. Priestley's I Have Been Here Before at Theatr Gwynedd, Bangor.[16]

Bennett's television career resumed with appearances in episodes of Play for Today (1973) and The Sweeney (1976).[17] In 1978, he appeared in Dennis Potter's musical drama Pennies from Heaven as Tom, a pimp. In 1979, Bennett appeared as the field agent Ricki Tarr in Arthur Hopcraft's six-part BBC2 adaptation of John le Carré's novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979), playing the character with "an ever-thinning veneer of boyish charm masking years of self-delusion and betrayal" according to the BFI.[7] Bennett then starred in two further BBC miniseries - Malice Aforethought (1979) and The Consultant (1981).[18] In 1981, he played occult novelist Gideon Harlax in David Rudkin's television play Artemis 81.[19]

In 1979, he took the lead role in the Thames Television sitcom Shelley (1979–84) as the titular "professional freelance layabout" James Shelley, a philosophical and sardonic geography graduate with no desire to work.[1][7] The series, created by Peter Tilbury, drew audiences of up to 18 million viewers.[20] According to Bennett, "the writers had done something pretty amazing. They had created what was almost a monologue and turned it into a popular sitcom."[1] The programme resumed, initially under the title The Return of Shelley, in 1988 and continued until 1992.

During the 1980s, Bennett was the voice of British Rail in their advertisements featuring the slogan "We're getting there".[6] He provided further voiceovers for Budweiser and Hoffmeister advertisements.[21] In 1986, he played the investigative journalist Allan Blakeston in Paula Milne's single drama Frankie and Johnnie, a production he described as "one of the best things I've done in quite a long time". He lost weight to give the character a "hungry and haunted look".[6][22] The following year, he played an architect whose reaction to urban violence is to steadily turn his suburban home into a virtual fortress in Andy Hamilton's black comedy Checkpoint Chiswick, part of the Tickets for the Titanic anthology series.[23]

By the mid-1990s, alcoholism and treatment for an overactive thyroid[21] had altered Bennett's appearance.[7][24] He was often cast in unsavoury roles including club owner Arthur 'Pig' Mallion in Dennis Potter's final, linked television plays Karaoke and Cold Lazarus (both 1996) and the villainous Mr Croup in Neil Gaiman's serial Neverwhere (1996).[25] On film, he played in Dr. Crippen in Deadly Advice (1994) and Jean-Baptiste Colbert in Vatel (2000). He appeared in Lock, Stock... (2000) as Deep Throat[26] and joined the cast of the long-running soap opera EastEnders in 2003, playing Jack Dalton – the ruthless gangland kingpin of Walford. Other late television appearances include ten appearances as sex offender Peter Baxter in The Bill (2002–2005) and as Dr. Mike Vine in the first episode of Jam & Jerusalem (2006).[24][27][28] His final television role was opposite Peter Davison in an episode of The Last Detective (2007).[29]

Personal life and death[edit]

In 1970, Bennett married Cathy McGowan, who had been the presenter of the music television programme Ready Steady Go! (1963–66). They had a daughter, Emma. The marriage was dissolved in 1988. In September 1986, Bennett sought treatment for alcoholism at the Priory Hospital, Roehampton.[21][30] In 1998, he married Sandra Layne Fulford and they later moved to Deal, Kent.[1] Bennett retired from acting in 2007 after being diagnosed with a congenital heart defect.[1] He died on 24 July 2017 at the age of 73.[31][32]



Year Title Role Notes
1964 Julius Caesar Octavius Caesar TV film
1966 The Family Way Arthur Fitton
1968 Il marito è mio e l'ammazzo quando mi pare Leonardo Italian
Twisted Nerve Martin Durnley/Georgie Clifford
1969 The Virgin Soldiers Private Brigg
1970 The Buttercup Chain France
Loot Dennis
1971 Percy Edwin Anthony
1972 Endless Night Michael Rogers
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Duckworth
1973 The Love Ban Mick Goonahan
1981 Artemis 81 Gideon Harlax TV film
1985 Murder Elite Jimmy Fowler
1987 Deadline Mike Jessop
1991 A Mind to Kill Gareth D. Lewis TV film
1994 Deadly Advice Dr. Crippen
1997 Hospital! Dickie Beaumont TV film
Harpur and Iles ACC Desmond Iles TV film
1999 Misery Harbour The Captain
Nasty Neighbours The Boss
Mary, Mother of Jesus Herod TV film
2000 Vatel Jean-Baptiste Colbert
Married 2 Malcolm Reg
2003 Lloyd & Hill Dr. Freddie Marks TV film
One for the Road Richard Stevens
2004 The Second Quest Ronno TV film
The Final Quest Ronno TV film


Year Title Role Notes
1964 Redcap Brown Episode: "Nightwatch"
1965 Doctor Who Rynian Episode: "The Death of Time"
Jury Room Joe Mintz Episode: "The Side of Mercy"
Theatre 625 Lipstrob Episode: "Unman, Wittering and Zigo"
1966 Beliayev Episode: "A Month in the Country"
The Idiot Hypolite Terentiev Mini-series
Thirteen Against Fate Gilles Mauvaisin Episode: "The Traveller"
The Wednesday Play Willy Turner Episode: "Where the Buffalo Roam"
1967 Oliver Treefe Episode: "Death of a Teddy Bear"
BBC Play of the Month Romeo Episode: "Romeo and Juliet"
1973 Play for Today Tony Episode: "Three's One"
1976 The Sweeney Steve Castle Episode: "Sweet Smell of Succession"
1978 Pennies from Heaven Tom Episode: "Better Think Twice"
Strangers Jack Slater Episode: "Silver Lining"
1979 Malice Aforethought Dr. Edmund Bickleigh Mini-series
Play for Today Harry Essendorf Episode: "Coming Out"
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Ricki Tarr Mini-series
1979-1984 Shelley James Shelley Series regular
1982 BBC Play of the Month Mr. King/Mr. Puff Episode: "The Critic"
1983 The Consultant Chris Webb Mini-series
1985 Theatre Night John Episode: "Absent Friends"
1986 Screen Two Allan Blakeston Episode: "Frank and Johnnie"
The Twilight Zone Grant Episode: "Devil's Alphabet"
Robin of Sherwood King Arthur Episode: "The Inheritance"
1987 Tickets for the Titanic Brian Stebbings Episode: "Checkpoint Chiswick"
1988 The Modern World: Ten Great Writers Professor Episode: "Joseph Conrad's 'The Secret Agent'"
Boon Richard Jay Episode: "Charity Begins at Home"
1988-1992 The Return of Shelley James Shelley Series regular
1991 Ålder okänd James Williams Mini-series
1992 The Other Side of Paradise Purvis Mini-series
Virtual Murder Harold Bingham Episode: "A Bone to Pick"
Screen One Ralph Episode: "Trust Me"
1993 Casualty Paul Lawson Episode: "Life in the Fast Lane"
Frank Stubbs Promotes Clive Riley Episode: "Book"
1994 Murder Most Horrid Clancy Episode: "Smashing Bird"
1996 Karaoke Arthur 'Pig' Mallion Mini-series
Cold Lazarus Mini-series
Frontiers DS Eddie Spader Series regular
Neverwhere Mr. Croup Mini-series
2000 Dirty Work Mostyn Hughes Episode: "A Fish Called Rhondda"
Lock, Stock... Deep Throat Episode: "...And Spaghetti Sauce"
2001 Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) Roger Whale Episode: "Whatever Possessed You?"
2002 Last of the Summer Wine Kevin Episode: "It All Began with an Old Volvo Headlamp"
Time Gentlemen Please Barsteward in Wheelchair Episode: "Optics Wide Shut"
The Quest Ronno Mini-series
The Bill Peter Baxter Recurring role
2003 EastEnders Jack Dalton Recurring role
2005 Casualty@Holby City David Wincott Episode: "Interactive: Something We Can Do"
High Hopes Uncle Tom Episode: "Uncle Tom"
2006 Jam & Jerusalem Dr. Mike Vine Episode: "Sudden Death"
2007 The Last Detective Reggie Conway Episode: "Dangerous Liaisons"


  1. ^ According to director Roy Boulting, Bennett was not consistent on the pronunciation of his given name: "It's pronounced 'Howell' or 'Hugh-el,' ... altho [sic] he seems to use one pronunciation one day, and another the next."[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Hayward, Anthony (4 August 2017). "Hywel Bennett obituary" – via www.theguardian.com.
  2. ^ Terry, Clifford (9 July 1967). "Little Hayley Now Mature Miss Mills". Chicago Tribune – via Newspapers.com.
  3. ^ a b c d e Williamson, Marcus (3 August 2017). "Hywel Bennett obituary: Beloved actor who rose to fame as a sitcom star". The Independent. Archived from the original on 23 October 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  4. ^ "Hywel Bennett Biography (1944–)". www.filmreference.com.
  5. ^ a b Samuel, Graham (22 February 1973). "His first big role was Ophelia". Aberdeen Press and Journal: 10. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Hywel Bennett". The Times. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Hywel Bennett obituary: fashionable young man who grew up fast – Sight & Sound".
  8. ^ "Il MARITO È MIO E L'AMMAZZO QUANDO MI PARE (1967)". BFI. 2 July 2015. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  9. ^ Bramwell, Tony (8 December 2014). Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with the Beatles. Portico. ISBN 9780312330439.
  10. ^ Little Hayley Now Mature Miss Mills, Clifford, Terry. ;;Chicago Tribune;; 9 July 1967: f13.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Interview with Hywel Bennett". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  12. ^ Stacey, Pat (11 August 2007). "Bogie Men". Evening Herald: 21. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  13. ^ "Hywel Bennett – Movies and Filmography – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  14. ^ Trewin, J. C. "Fantasy at Edinburgh". Illustrated London News: 30. Retrieved 6 December 2021.
  15. ^ Snape, Tony (4 October 1990). "Treasure Island". The Stage: 25. Retrieved 6 December 2021.
  16. ^ "Show hits the road". North Wales Weekly News: 16. 30 January 1975. Retrieved 6 December 2021.
  17. ^ "Il MARITO È MIO E L'AMMAZZO QUANDO MI PARE (1967)". BFI. 2 July 2015. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  18. ^ "Malice Aforethought Part 3 (1979)".
  19. ^ "Artemis 81". BBC Genome. Retrieved 6 December 2021.
  20. ^ "Hywel Bennett dies aged 73". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  21. ^ a b c Bonner, Hilary; Bennett, Hywel (20 September 1988). "The Day I Nearly Died". Daily Mirror: 9. Retrieved 8 December 2021.
  22. ^ Mafham, Rowena (30 January 1986). "Old style journalist is new role for 'Shelley'". Aberdeen Press and Journal: 4. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  23. ^ "Checkpoint Chiswick". The Stage: 17. 31 July 1986. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  24. ^ a b Pendreigh, Brian (4 August 2017). "Obituary - Hywel Bennett, actor best-known for the sit-com Shelley". The Herald. Retrieved 8 December 2021.
  25. ^ "EastEnders star Hywel Bennett passes away aged 73". 4 August 2017.
  26. ^ "Lock, Stock...And Spaghetti Sauce (2000)".
  27. ^ "Hywel Bennett".
  28. ^ TV.com. "Jam and Jerusalem". TV.com.
  29. ^ "Dangerous Liaisons". Imdb. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  30. ^ Belsham, Philip (9 September 1986). "TV Shelley dries out". Daily Mirror: 1. Retrieved 8 December 2021.
  31. ^ "Hywel Bennett". The Gazette. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  32. ^ "Hywel Bennett, star of television and film, dies aged 73". BBC News. 3 August 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017.

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