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A Brief Profile of Stanley Baker

Early Life and Career

The Welsh actor Stanley Baker was born William Stanley Baker on 28 February 1928 in Ferndale, Glamorganshire. He was the youngest of the three children of John Henry Baker, a miner, and his wife Elizabeth Louisa.

At school, by Baker’s own admission, he had little interest in learning. However, he did excel at sports and drama. This saw his acting talent nurtured by his school. Aged 14, he was performing in a school play when a talent scout from Ealing Studios spotted him. This culminated in Baker being cast in the war film Undercover (1943).

Six months later, Baker found himself on the Cardiff stage in The Druid’s Rest. The play also saw fellow Welshman Richard Burton’s stage debut. Baker’s budding acting career then took him to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, followed by the London stage. Between 1946 – 1948, Baker undertook his National Service and served in the Royal Army Service Corps.

Baker’s next film role was an uncredited appearance in Just William’s Luck (1948). He then had a succession of minor roles in a number of British film dramas. These included the likes of All Over the Town (1949), Obsession (1949), Lilli Marlene (1950), The Rossiter Case (1951), and Cloudburst (1951).

Acting Fame

Baker’s career took an upturn when he was cast as the bosun’s mate in the Hollywood-financed Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951). He then gave a solid performance in the UK’s most successful film of 1953, The Cruel Sea. The performance established Baker’s acting credentials and Hollywood came knocking. However, Baker turned down the chance to move across the pond, stating that he want to help resurrect the British film industry. He continued to play his mostly villainous supporting roles in the likes of Hell Below Zero (1954), Helen of Troy (1956), and Campbell’s Kingdom (1957). Baker’s first lead role came in the film Hell Drivers (1957) when he starred along with Patrick McGoohan and William Hartnell.

Baker went on to star in some nine British films before being cast in a supporting role in the Hollywood blockbuster Guns of Navarone (1961). He was then offered the role of James Bond in Dr. No (1962) ahead of his friend Sean Connery. Reputedly, Baker turned it down because he was unwilling to commit to a three-film contract. He also landed the role of Frank Machin in the gritty kitchen sink drama This Sporting Life (1963). However, he had to give back word on the agreement due to other filming commitments.

In the early 1960s, Baker went on to form his own production company, Diamond Films, in partnership with the American director Cy Endfield. Their first film was the epic Zulu (1964), where Baker himself starred in arguably his best-known role. The film depicted the Battle of Rorke’s Drift and also starred Michael Caine in his first major feature film. Baker next starred in the action-adventure film Sands of the Kalahari (1965), also directed by Cy Endfield.

Later Career

From the mid-1960s onwards, Baker increasingly worked in the emerging medium of television. However, he did go on to make another dozen or so feature films before his ill-timed death in 1976. His last film was the Spanish period film, Pepita Jiménez (Bride To Be) (1975), in which he starred opposite Sarah Miles. His very last screen work was starring in the Welsh drama mini-series How Green Was My Valley (1976).

In all, Baker appeared in more than 70 films, which includes seventeen television films. He was also involved in eight films as a producer between 1964 and 1970. The only formal recognition he received from the film industry was a  BAFTA nomination for Best British Actor for Yesterday’s Enemy (1959).

Personal Life

In 1950, Baker married the actress Ellen Martin. The marriage lasted until Baker’s untimely death in 1976. The couple had four children, twins Martin and Sally, Glyn and Adam.

A committed socialist, Baker was on friendly terms with the British Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. However, he often received harsh criticism from certain quarters on his politics, given his huge earning power and luxury lifestyle. During the 1960s, like many of his fellow actors, he considered leaving the UK to become a tax exile. However, he ultimately decided to stay in the country, citing he thought he would miss home too much.

Baker was a good friend and drinking companion of fellow Welsh actor, Richard Burton. In an interview shortly before his death, Baker confessed he had been a compulsive gambler most of his adult life.

In May 1976, it was announced that Baker had been awarded a knighthood in the UK PM’s resignation Honours List. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to attend the Buckingham Palace investiture in person.


Baker had been a heavy smoker since childhood. In February 1976, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Although he underwent immediate surgery, it was already too late as cancer had already spread around his body.

He told his wife shortly before he died: “I have no regrets. I’ve had a fantastic life; no one has had a more fantastic life than I have. From the beginning, I have been surrounded by love. I’m the son of a Welsh miner and I was born into love, married into love, and spent my life in love”. He died from pneumonia on 28 June 1976, in Málaga, Spain, aged 48.

Baker’s body was flown back to the UK and cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium in South West London. His ashes were later scattered on the hillside that overlooks his childhood home.


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