Thomas George Bell was born on 2 August 1933 in Liverpool, Lancashire, England. 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 his first school plays, and though he never dominated the performances he nonetheless demonstrated an acting ability. 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. Bell made his first film appearances in the 1960s in so-called “kitchen sink dramas”, including The Kitchen (1961) and The L-Shaped Room (1962), opposite Leslie Caron. As a young actor, he gained somewhat of a reputation for being a hellraiser who liked a drink. At an awards ceremony, drunk, he interrupted a speech by the guest of honour, Prince Philip, by yelling “Tell us a funny story” – to the obvious embarrassment of table companions, Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes. Although (it is said) the Prince took the heckle in good humour with his retort “If you want a funny story, I suggest you engage a professional comic”, the incident didn’t do Bell’s career any favours at the time.
In 1978 he came to worldwide attention portraying Adolf Eichmann in the Emmy-winning tv-series Holocaust, and he received a BAFTA nomination for the series Out, in which he played convicted armed robber, Frank Ross. In the 1980s and 1990s he appeared in several British films including Wish You Were Here, 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. He played the dour owner of a run-down seaside waxworks museum in Thames-tv’s sitcom Hope It Rains, written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey and directed by John Howard Davies. There were two series (thirteen episodes in all) aired in 1991-92. Although he tended to eschew live performance, his few stage appearances included a rôle in the 1979 UK première of Bent, Martin Sherman’s play about homosexuality, staged at the Royal Court Theatre. He played the character Horst opposite Ian McKellen’s Max. The play’s setting of homosexuals and love in a Nazi death camp was shocking for many theatregoers at the time and uncovered a previously little-examined area of Nazi brutality.
Bell played sexist police officer, Detective Sergeant Bill Otley opposite Dame Helen Mirren in the first and third series of the ITV series Prime Suspect. In 1993, in the third season, he received his second BAFTA nomination. One of his final screen appearances was a supporting role in 2006 in the seventh: Prime Suspect: The Final Act. Viewers could see that he was ill throughout the programme. Bell had enjoyed working with TV director Danny Hiller and when his friend and adviser, showbiz accountant Jose Goumal (also a close friend and adviser to Hiller) asked Bell he agreed to appear in Hiller’s first feature film Love Me Still. It was evident throughout filming that Tom was not well, but he soldiered on and completed filming only a few days before the end of his life. Bell died in hospital in Brighton on 4 October 2006, aged 73, following a short illness. He is survived by his partner Frances Tempest, a son (from an earlier marriage to the actress Lois Daine), a daughter, and a stepdaughter.
- August, 02, 1933
- United Kingdom
- Liverpool, Lancashire, England
- October, 04, 2006
- United Kingdom
- Brighton, England