Drawing: Sir Tom Courtenay in The Dresser

Tom Courtenay

There’s maybe a dozen actors that I truly admire, some dead at the moment. But very much alive is Tom Courtenay…correction, Sir Tom Courtenay. He was knighted by the Queen in 2001. On a much earlier visit  to the Palace (1965 to be precise) at a reception for Doctor Zhivago in which a not-yet-knighted Tom played Pasha Antipov, Her Majesty apparently noticed his shyness and was said to have remarked,”Look at him…and to think he’s just lead a revolution.” My favourite film and play in which the shy-yet -to -be sir starred is Ray Harwood’s The Dresser. There’s a ‘Sir’ in it, but Tom didn’t play him. He played Norman, an ageing actor’s personal assistant who struggles to keep ‘Sir’s’ life together.  He  played Norman right from the start. The 1980 stage version transferred from Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre to the Queen’s Theatre in London’s West End before moving to Broadway the following year and earning Tom a Tony Award nom. Two years later the film , directed by Peter Yates was released, earning five Academy Award nominations, including one for Tom and for Albert Finney as ‘Sir’. They were both also nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, with Tom picking up the later. Despite his cinematic accolades, Tom prefers his first passion-the stage, which he has excelled in equal measure.  One of his solo performances is in Pretending To Be Me, based on the letters and writing of poet Philip Larkin. I drew this sketch of the now-Sir Tom and was planning to ask him to sign it at the British Film Institute earlier this month. He was doing a Q&A after the screening of his latest film 45 Years with Charlotte Rampling in which both won acting Silver Bears at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. I didn’t however, so I posted it to him and he kindly sent it back adding a compliment.

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