Brian Bedford, actor, director (born 16 February 1935 in Morley, England; died 13 January 2016 in Santa Barbara, California). Brian Bedford was an award-winning actor best known for his work at the Stratford Festival and on Broadway.
Early Life and Education
Brian Bedford was born to Irish Catholic parents. His father, Arthur Bedford, was a postal worker, and his mother, Ellen (née O’Donnell), worked in a weaving mill. His early years were marked by poverty and family illness. The home he grew up in was squalid and dilapidated: there was no running hot water and the whole family shared one outhouse. Two of his three older brothers died at a young age from tuberculosis. At some point after Brian had left home and begun his career on the stage, his father took his own life.
Throughout his early adolescence, Bedford attended St. Bede’s, a Roman Catholic school in Bradford. When he was 15, he cut his formal education short to work as a warehouseman. Around this time, he joined Bradford’s civic theatre as an amateur actor, where his obvious talents for the stage were first put on display. Bedford then auditioned to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, in London, and was awarded a scholarship for his tryout performance, which featured monologues from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Boy With A Cart by Christopher Fry. Some of his classmates at RADA included Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney and Alan Bates.
Some early lead roles — as Hamlet, at the Liverpool Playhouse, and his London debut as Travis de Coppet in The Young and The Beautiful (adapted from stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald) at the Arts Theatre — put him on the radar of Hugh “Binkie” Beaumont, the leading theatre producer on London’s West End at the time. Beaumont and his partner, John Perry, would eventually take the young Bedford under their wing and act as his surrogate parents for a number of years.
Mid- and Late Career
Brian Bedford’s first role on Broadway came as Clive Harrington in Peter Shaffer’s Five Finger Exercise,in 1959 (the show opened in London and moved to Broadway with the same cast). This marked the beginning of a prolific and celebrated career on Broadway. Bedford went on to appear in many Broadway productions and won a Tony award in 1971 for his role as Arnolphe in Molière’s The School for Wives. He also garnered six Tony nominations, the last of which occurred in 2011 for his drag performance as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Bedford had previously directed and starred in this production at the Stratford Festival in 2009 before it moved on to Broadway.
In 1975, Bedford began performing at the Stratford Festival in Canada after being approached by then-artistic director Robin Phillips. His debut role was as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. The Stratford Festival was a perfect fit for Bedford. It was here that he felt he fully developed into a rigorous classical actor. He would go on to perform in over 50 shows at the Stratford Festival, often in starring roles. He played lead characters throughout the Shakespearean canon — in Macbeth, Richard III, King Lear, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Measure for Measure. He also starred in Chekhov classics at the festival, including as Astrov in Uncle Vanya and Trigorin in The Seagull. Another notable Stratford performance was as Elyot in Noel Coward’s Private Lives alongside Maggie Smith.
Bedford also developed his career as a director at the Stratford Festival, staging over 20 shows. In 1996, he directed Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot,starringTom McCamus and Stephen Ouimette. The play was widely acclaimed as one of the strongest and most memorable productions of Beckett’s masterpiece of the decade.
Although not as prolific in film and television as some of his RADA colleagues — like Peter O’Toole and Alan Bates — Bedford did conduct a fair amount of work in the field. He appeared in Grand Prix (1966) with James Garner, and in Nixon (1995) with Anthony Hopkins. His most well-known film role is probably as the voice of Robin Hood, who is depicted as a fox, in Disney’s 1973 animated version of the English folk tale. He also made guest appearances on a number of popular television series, including Murder She Wrote, Frasier and Cheers.
In 2013, Bedford was forced to drop out of his role as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice due to health problems. He died three years later in Santa Barbara, California, at the age of 80.
Brian Bedford was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1997. He received several Drama Desk Awards, a Tony award in 1971 and an Obie award in 1965.