Obituary: Alan Bennion – Actor whose television career spanned 30 years
Alan Bennion’s finest performance came late in his career in Martin Lynch’s Pictures of Tomorrow when he played a partially paralysed Spanish Civil War veteran reunited with fellow anti-Franco combatants and fulminating against declining health and the lurching back towards the right of contemporary politics.
First seen at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast in 1994, it was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 the following year with The Stage noting Bennion’s “brilliant personification of flawed flesh and blood”.
By then he was just two years from retirement at the end of a career that stretched back to the beginning of the 1960s with the Tavistock Repertory Company, to the West End and television.
Born in Castle Northwich, Cheshire, he began performing in amateur drama and, after national service, trained as a civil servant before turning professional. Early appearances included touring schools with The Taveners, a year with the Theatre Centre Company and Jean Anouilh’s The Lark at Sheffield Playhouse in 1962.
After an extended period with Charles Vance’s ambitious, 65-strong Group of Three rep company, he made his West End debut opposite Peggy Mount in Sewell Stokes’ Mother’s Boy at the Globe Theatre in 1964.
At the Vaudeville Theatre he was seen as Officer Klein in Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace (1966), played Voltemand alongside Ian McKellen’s Hamlet on a 1971 tour and was in The Unknown Soldier and His Wife, the inaugural production at the New London Theatre (now the Gillian Lynne Theatre) starring and written and directed by Peter Ustinov in 1973.
He first visited Belfast in 1978 to deliver a vivid portrayal of the psychiatrist Dysart in Peter Shaffer’s Equus and was in the national tour of Brian Clark’s Whose Life Is It Anyway? in 1980.
He spent the middle years of the decade at Bristol Old Vic, notably in the 1985 revival of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci (also seen at the Almeida Theatre), and was seen alongside Derek Jacobi in Anouilh’s Becket at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 1991.
He joined Chichester Festival Theatre the same year for Henry VIII with Keith Michell and Dorothy Tutin, returning in 1993 for Noel Coward’s Relative Values, having toured with Eric Sykes in Johnny Speight’s The 19th Hole in the interim.
His television career spanned 30 years, including spells in Sexton Blake (1967), Z-Cars (1968-72) and three heavily disguised appearances as an Ice Warrior in Doctor Who (1969-74). Later small-screen credits included Juliet Bravo (1981), the Ronnie Corbett comedy Sorry! (1986) and Jan Etherington and Gavin Petrie’s sitcom, Next of Kin (1997).
Alan Bennion was born on April 18, 1930 and died on July 27 aged 88.