Travers was born in Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, the son of Florence (née Wheatley) and William Halton Lindon-Travers. He and his sister Linden (1913–2001) both became actors. Linden’s daughter Susan Travers also became an actress. William Ingle Linden-Travers enlisted as a Private in the British Army at the age of eighteen, a few months after the outbreak of World War II, and was sent to India. Travers was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Indian Army on the 9th 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 stricken by malaria, he volunteered to be left behind in a native Burmese village. To avoid capture he disguised himself as a Chinese national, 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 Military in 1947.
Travers began his acting career on the stage in 1949 then a year later made his film debut. In the mid 1950s his success in Geordie (1955) saw him contracted by MGM who thought he was going to be a big star. They cast him in Bhowani Junction (1956), The Seventh Sin (1957) and The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957), and tested him for the lead in Ben-Hur (1959). However his MGM movies all performed disappointingly at the box office and enthusiasm for Travers in Hollywood cooled. Travers co-starred with his second wife, Virginia McKenna, in a number of films, most memorably as 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. 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. Together they made a number of films around the subject such as 1969’s Ring of Bright Water and An Elephant Called Slowly, for both of which he co-wrote the screenplay and acted. In 1976 he wrote, directed and produced the film Christian the Lion (also known as The Lion Who Thought He Was People). The importance of animal rights led to Travers and his wife becoming involved in the “Zoo Check Campaign” in 1984 that evolved to their establishing the Born Free Foundation in 1991. 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 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.
- January, 03, 1922
- United Kingdom
- Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, England
- March, 29, 1994
- United Kingdom
- Dorking, Surrey, England