Sir Stanley Baker
William Stanley Baker, one of Britain's most rugged screen actors, played everything from cops to kings. Born 28th February, 1928, to a coalminer father, John Henry Baker, and mother, Elizabeth Louisa Lock, he was the third of 3 children, from Ferndale, Rhondda Valley, South Wales. As a lad, he was unruly, quick to flare, and first to fight. Baker was rescued from a gruelling life of coal mining by a local teacher, Glynne Morse, who recognised in the proud and self-willed lad a potent combination of a fine speaking voice, a smouldering intensity, and a strong spirit. Stanley Baker was specially and specifically tutored for theatrical success. Early on, Richard Burton and Baker appeared together on stage as juveniles in The Druid’s Rest, in Cardiff, in Wales. But later, by way of Birmingham Repertory Theatre and then the London stage, Stanley Baker charted his inevitable course toward the Cinema.
on stage in A Sleep of Prisoners from the Stanley Baker Story interview.
Stanley Baker was unusual star material to emerge during the Fifties – when impossibly handsome and engagingly romantic leading men were almost de rigour. Baker was forged from a rougher mould. His was good-looking, but his features were angular, taut, austere and unwelcoming. His screen persona was taciturn, even surly, and the young actor displayed a predilection for introspection and blunt speaking, and was almost wilfully unromantic. For the times a potential leading actor cast heavily against the grain. Baker immediately proved a unique screen presence - tough, gritty, combustible – and possessing an aura of dark, even menacing power.
Film welcomed the adult Baker as the embodiment of evil. Memorable early roles cast the actor in feisty unsympathetic parts. Then, for a time there was a distillation of Baker’s screen persona in a series of roles as stern and uncompromising policemen. Despite never having been cast as a romantic leading man, and being almost wholly associated with villainous roles, Stanley Baker nevertheless became a star by dint of his potent personality.
Although now enthroned by enthusiastic audiences Stanley Baker was obviously aware he need not desert unsympathetic parts- and his relish in playing the scheming Astaroth in Sodom and Gomorrah and the unscrupulous mobster Johnny Bannion in The Criminal (1960) was readily evident. But soon there were more principled, if still surly characters, in The Guns of Navarone (1961), The Games (1970), Eva (1962), and Accident (1967), the latter two films reuniting Baker with the American ex-patriot director of The Criminal, Joseph Losey. Stanley Baker also established a fruitful working relationship with the American director Cy Endfield, following their early collaboration on Hell Drivers . When Baker inaugurated his own film production company – it was Endfield who came to him with the idea of ZULU. He was commissioned to write and direct both Zulu (1964) and Sands of the Kalahari (1965), with Baker allotting himself the downbeat roles of the martinet officer John Chard in Zulu and the reluctant hero Mike Bain in The Sands Of The Kalahari.
Baker must have felt more assured in disenchanted roles – as further films from Baker’s own stable still promoted the actor in either criminal or villainous mode. The success of Baker’s own productions was timely and did much to enhance the prestige of what was then considered an ailing British film industry. Stanley Baker also took the opportunity to move into the realm of television.
Knighted in 1976 it was evident that Stanley Baker may well have continued to greater heights, both as an actor and a producer. But he succumbed to pneumonia, after seeming to have beaten lung cancer that he had fought so hard against, and died at the very early age of forty-eight, in Malaga, Spain, 28th June, 1976. But his legacy is unquestioned. He was a unique force on screen, championing characterisations that were not clichéd or compromised. He established his own niche as an actor content to be admired for peerlessly portraying the disreputable and the unsympathetic. In that he was a dark mirror, more accurately reflecting human frailty and the vagaries of life than many of his more romantically or heroically inclined contemporaries. There have forever been legions of seemingly interchangeable charming and virile leading men populating the movies – but Stanley Baker stood almost alone in his determination to be characterised and judged by portraying the bleaker aspects of the human condition. Consequently, more than thirty years after his death, his sombre, potent personality still illuminates the screen in a way few others have achieved.
Sir Stanley served just over 2 years in the Royal Army Service Corps, achieving the rank of Sergeant.
A dedicated socialist, he made political broadcasts for Harold Wilson's Labour Party in Wales and was active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
He was warned not to address a CND rally prior to the release of Zulu (1964), in case his left-wing political activism hurt the film's performance in the United States.
He formed Diamond Films for the making of Zulu. And later Oakhurst Productions.
He was one of the founder members of Harlech Television (HTV) and continued to be a director up until his death in 1976.
In May 1972 he was one of the co organisers of the Great Western Bardney Pop Festival, Lincoln.
..taken at the Bardney Pop Festival, 1972.
He has four children: Martin and Sally [twins]. Glyn and Adam.
According to Anthony Storey's biography, Stanley was colour blind [?]
Sir Stanley once owned Lt. John Rouse Merriott Chard's [Zulu] Victoria Cross medal, from 1972 till his death in 1976. The Baker family believed at the time, that it was a 'cast copy', and not the original. It was only after Sir Stanley's death, that the family sold it, still believing it was a copy, that it was later authenticated as the original!
At the beginning of his career he was typecast as villains until Laurence Olivier invited him to play Henry Tudor in Richard III (1955).
According to Robert Shail's biography, Sir Stanley once owned a race horse called Rhondda Prince.
On 24th November 2006 a Sir Stanley Baker Lounge, dedicated to his life and work was opened by his widow, Lady Ellen Baker and his sons at Ferndale Rugby club in the village of his birth. *As of June 2011, a new Sir Stanley Baker Lounge has been installed in the new Glynreddyn Building which was rebuilt on the original site of the Ferndale Rugby Club/The Salisbury. This again was opened by Lady Baker, Sir Stanley's sister, Muriel and his son Glyn.(please see photos in The Gallery)
There is also a plaque commemorating the house where he grew up in, in Albany St, Ferndale, Wales.
His ashes are scattered on the mountainside on Blaenllechau over looking Ferndale.
(at the unveiling of the plaque, Ferndale. 1970)
The plaque. (from left to right) Martin, Lady Baker, Adam & Glyn Baker. At the opening of the Sir Stanley Baker Lounge. [with kind permission from FRC]
Sir Stanley's sister, Muriel with Owen Money of BBC Wales at the opening of the lounge. [with kind permission of FRC]
He is quoted as having said: '"It's impossible to direct yourself in a movie."
Also: " I made up my mind years ago, that the best parts in films always went to the villain. I was determined to corner the bad man's market"
And: "I'm a dedicated Socialist first of all, I suppose, because ... I saw the things that happened to ... my family, and to the people around me. That sort of existence must stay in your mind."