Tom Bell (1933 -2006)

I met the late Tom Bell (August 2nd 1933-October 4th 2006) only once, but that single meeting, in a rather small room in a pub I regularly frequented in my younger days, was sufficient to convince me that one of the finest screen actors of his generation – I never saw him on stage – was also one of most modest and self effacing of men when off the screen.  

His best work, in films like The L Shaped Room, Wish You Were Here and The Krays and on television in Sons and Lovers, Out and Prime Suspect was always done in a low key and with very little fuss. I cannot ever recall him giving a performance stood out and hit you between the eyes as a great piece of screen acting. Yet almost everything he did was, when you examined it closely, patently screen acting of the highest order. He appeared to inhabit roles. It was just that he never drew more attention ion to himself or overshadowed in any damaging way what other performers were doing.

And that, from what I recall from that one meeting some thirty or so years ago, was what he was like as a man, quiet, retiring, thoughtful and unassuming.   

Like John Hurt, a near contemporary whom I also met a few times, he seemed to take pleasure in being complimented, but I got the feeling the praise was false or forced, or was coming from someone who was obviously determined to rub shoulders with Bell the celebrity or so they could namedrop later, then he would withdraw into himself.  

Well, now that he has gone, he can no longer be embarrassed by our saying that he was probably a lot more special as an actor than even he cared to admit, or at least admit publicly.

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