Tom Bell (actor)

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Tom Bell
Thomas George Bell

(1933-08-02)2 August 1933
Liverpool, Lancashire, England
Died4 October 2006(2006-10-04) (aged 73)
Brighton, Sussex, England
Years active1959– 2006
Notable credit(s)Albert Stokes in A Night Out
Toby in The L-Shaped Room
Adolf Eichmann in Holocaust
Bill Otley in Prime Suspect
Jack McVitie in The Krays
Lois Daine
(m. 1960; div. 1976)
PartnerFrances Tempest (1976–his death 2006)

Thomas George Bell (2 August 1933 – 4 October 2006) was an English actor on stage, film and television. He often played "menacing or seedy roles, perhaps most memorably playing sexist Detective Sergeant Bill Otley, antagonist to Helen Mirren's DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect.[1]

Early life[edit]

Bell was born on 2 August 1933, in Liverpool, Lancashire. His family was large, and he had little contact with his father, a merchant seaman.[2] Evacuated as a child during the Second World War, he lived with three different families in Morecambe, Lancashire. In 1948, at age 15, Bell began to act in school plays. His younger brother Keith also became an actor.[3]

On leaving school he trained under Esme Church at the Bradford Civic Theatre; fellow pupils included Billie Whitelaw and Robert Stephens. He later worked in repertory in Liverpool and Dublin.


Michael Coveney described Bell as a "naturally gifted and unusually reserved leading actor", with a "quiet, mesmeric brand of acting". On television he had the role of Albert Stokes in Harold Pinter's first success in the medium, A Night Out (1960), while in the same year his first film appearance came in Joseph Losey's The Criminal. He continued to appear in the British New Wave films of the early 60s including The Kitchen (1961) and The L-Shaped Room (1962) with Leslie Caron. [2] At an awards ceremony for the latter, he drunkenly interrupted a speech by Prince Philip, yelling "Tell us a funny story", to the obvious embarrassment of table companions Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes. While the Duke of Edinburgh apparently took the heckle in good humour, retorting "If you want a funny story, I suggest you engage a professional comic", the incident added to Bell's reputation as a hellraiser, and "did little to further [his] career".[1] His other notable films of the decade included H.M.S. Defiant (1962), A Prize of Arms (1962), Ballad in Blue (1965), He Who Rides a Tiger (1965), and The Long Day's Dying (1968), followed by All the Right Noises in 1971.

In 1978, Bell received a BAFTA nomination for his portrayal of convicted armed robber Frank Ross in the crime-drama Out. Produced by Thames TV, this critically-acclaimed six-part 'mini-series' drew an audience of 10 million viewers per episode. That same year he portrayed Adolf Eichmann in the Emmy-winning tv-series Holocaust.

Declared bankrupt in 1982 for Inland Revenue debts of over £20,000,[4] Bell bounced back with a later career renaissance, appearing in several British films including Wish You Were Here,[5] Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books, Swing and the 1990 film The Krays, where he played the part of Jack "The Hat" McVitie, one of the Kray twins' murder victims.[6] In 1991, he played the dour owner of a run-down seaside waxworks museum in the Thames TV sitcom Hope It Rains, written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey and directed by John Howard Davies. It ran for two series comprising thirteen episodes.[7]

Although he tended to eschew live performance, Bell's few stage appearances included a role in the 1979 UK première of Bent, Martin Sherman's play about homosexuality, staged at the Royal Court Theatre.[2] He played the character Horst, opposite Ian McKellen's Max. The play's examination of homosexual love, set in a Nazi death camp, was shocking for many theatregoers at the time and uncovered a previously little-examined area of Nazi brutality.

In the ITV series Prime Suspect, Bell played Detective Sergeant Bill Otley opposite Helen Mirren in the first (1991), third (1993) and final series (2006), the latter being one of his last on-screen appearances.[8] His gripping portrayal of the toxic character secured Bell's second BAFTA nomination, in 1993.

Personal life[edit]

Bell was married to the actress Lois Daine from 1960 to 1976. They had one son, Aran, who is also an actor.[9]

His partner from 1976 until his death was the costume designer Frances Tempest, with whom he had a step-daughter, Nellie, and a daughter, Polly.[10][2]


Bell had enjoyed working with TV director Danny Hiller, and agreed to appear in his first feature film Love Me Still at the suggestion of their mutual friend, showbiz accountant Jose Goumal. While clearly ill, Bell soldiered on and completed filming only a few days before the end of his life. He died in hospital in Brighton on 4 October 2006, aged 73, following a short illness.[2] A few days later, "the poignantly timed broadcast of Prime Suspect - The Final Act" aired, "in which a visibly frail Otley died on screen".[1]



Television (selected)[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Tom Bell". BFI. Archived from the original on 21 July 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Tom Bell". 6 October 2006.
  3. ^ Howard Maxford (8 November 2019). Hammer Complete: The Films, the Personnel, the Company. McFarland. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-4766-2914-8.
  4. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Bell, Tom (1932-2006) Biography". Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  5. ^ Maslin, Janet (24 July 1987). "Wish You Were Here (1987) FILM: 'WISH YOU WERE HERE'". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "Prime Suspect actor Tom Bell dies". BBC News. 5 October 2006.
  7. ^ "Hope It Rains" – via
  8. ^ "Tom Bell". The Daily Telegraph. 7 October 2006.
  9. ^ Howard Maxford (17 December 2018). Hammer Complete: The Films, the Personnel, the Company. McFarland. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-4766-7007-2.
  10. ^ "Frances Tempest".