Albert Finney

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Albert Finney Pencil Portrait
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Last update:30/12/16

Times change, and in the modern world of mass communication, it seems rather quaint that national newspapers would have run the headline “Finney lost in the Amazon”. It was 1975, and touring the Galapagos islands with his partner Diana Quick, the esteemed actor Albert Finney had decided to stay on. He sent a cable postponing a meeting with 20th Century Fox in Hollywood, but it never arrived. The couple ended up in Ecuador and were having breakfast in bed one morning when they saw the local paper running a picture of him on the front. Diana said: “Something awful has happened to you”. Up the Amazon they were decidedly not, but rather, safely ensconced at a five-star hotel in Quito.

Truly magical days when one could step off the carousel of life, and remain incommunicado. I practice it sometimes at weekends, just leaving the mobile phone untouched. We’ve been brainwashed into believing a meaningful life can only exist with 24/7 accessibility. I hate it.

Finney is an acknowledged flirt and his actions have – on occasions – garnered more press attention than he would have wished. By the time “My Fair Lady” came out in 1964, Audrey Hepburn’s marriage to Mel Ferrer was in trouble. The film, whilst commercially successful, did not spare Audrey being singled out for individual criticism. Her vocal performances wiped and dubbed throughout by Marnie Nixon, the world’s favourite elf took things hard.

By 1966, it was clear to the public that her marriage was in trouble when reports began to emerge that Hepburn was involved in an affair with her “Two For the Road” co-star Albert Finney. The following year, she began divorce proceedings.

For Audrey, the end of her marriage represented a crisis of faith. “When my marriage broke up, it was terrible,” she said later. “I thought a marriage between two good, loving people had to last until one of them died. I knew how difficult it had to be to be married to a world celebrity, recognised everywhere, second billed on the screen and in real life. How Mel suffered. But believe me, I put my career second.”

Recommended viewing

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1960)

The film dramatisation of Alan Sillitoe’s seething novel, set in 1958 Nottingham, did not establish the template for ‘kitchen sink’ drama, but was nonetheless an important example of the genre.

The character of Arthur Seaton, a machinist in the Raleigh cycle factory, is a prime example of the emerging ‘baby boomer’ generation; a working class individual now free to flex his spending power in the new culture of consumerism that typified Britain’s post-war austerity.

There was a sense of self assuredness about Arthur that mirrored Finney’s real life personality; colleagues from his RADA days commenting on this ‘central belief’ he had within himself. Seemingly unaffected by stage nerves, young Albert would focus on being ‘terrific’ each night and deliver. His vocal delivery, projection, and welsh rhythm belied a magnicent yet vaguely neutral accent. All credit therefore, and due testimony to his immense acting skills, that he was able to create an authentic midlands dialect for his leading character.

I have always been fascinated by regional accents. Whilst individuals meeting me for the first time will be immediately aware that I do not hail from the north, they also habitually fail to second guess where my origins lie. I actually moved with my parents to Nottingham in the late 60’s, and was instantly regaled with indiginous colloquialisms such as “Ey up mi duck” – a greeting thought to be of Old Norse origin and widely used throughout the North Midlands and South Yorkshire. “Mi Duck” is thought to be derived from a respectful Anglo Saxon form of address, “Duka” (Literally “Duke”), and is unrelated to waterfowl. As a non-native of the East Midlands, I was often surprised to hear men greet each other as ‘Mi Duck’. My late father equally struggled with the dialect. Ushered in by one of our earliest neighbours with the comforting words – ‘We’ve just mashed’ – and having just eaten lunch himself, he sought to excuse himself on the grounds of being ‘replete thank you’. Handed a freshly brewed cup of tea simply left him perplexed, but naturally rather relieved. We would also often jointly fear for the impoverishment of the definite article, consistently noting how locals would recount one of their tales with the opening gambit – ‘I was just comin’ round t’corner….’.

Tom Jones (1963)

Scrooge (1970)

Let’s get personal and why not? After all, this is my website.

Alongside Alistair Sim’s much revered 1951 screen adaptation, this is the best ever film version of Dickens’ classic Xmas tale. A musical delight, the film boasts several ‘live to camera’ vocal performances from Finney, and his portrayal as a hunched up old miser – more ragged than previous incarnations – conveys his tramp like persona to perfection. It would necessitate three hours in daily makeup to transform the thirty four year old actor into Scrooge.

It gets an annual screening in my household, and woe betide anyone ‘talking over it!!’

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

The Dresser (1983)

A rather English Marriage (1998)

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Gathering Storm (2002)

Recommended reading

The Net Delusion - How not to liberate the world (Evgeny Morozov) 2011

I purchased this heavily discounted book on the premise of its back cover heading – \‘Does free information mean free people?\’ The writer goes onto state that;

At the start of the twenty-first century, we were promised that the internet would liberate the world. We would come together as never before, and from Iran\‘s \‘twitter revolution\’ to Facebook \‘activism\’, technological innovation would spread democracy to oppressed peoples everywhere.\’

Nevertheless, as I began to read more, it became apparent that Morozov was not only unconvinced, but rather more inclined to take a polar opposite view. In this engrossing read, he argues that the west\‘s reckless promotion of technological tools as pro-democratic agents has provoked authoritarian regimes to crack down on online activity in some style; not just closing down or blocking websites, but using social networks to infiltrate protest groups and track down protesters, seeding their own propaganda online, and generally out-resourcing and out-smarting their beleaguered citizenry.

We cannot \‘disappear\’ for a few days like Albert Finney did in the mid-70\‘s. We\‘re tracked by CCTv cameras, cookies and heaven knows what else. For better and no doubt for worse, the world has arrived online, a forum for individuals to \‘freely\’ express opinion – or so we are led to believe. Some of these ramifications are unsettling yet benign, whilst others are politically destabilising.

I am aware that the actor Stephen Fry has a significant number of followers on Twitter (an estimated 6m to be somewhat precise). One journalist in question, Tim Walker of The Telegraph, suggested in an editorial (20/9/13) that Fry doesn\‘t even compose his own tweets.


Fry was perfectly entitled to answer the allegation, yet the manner of his response simply highlights the puerile nature of social media.

It’s hardly surprising I annoy some people. I annoy myself. But new depths were plunged today by some shiny faced, arse-witted creep called Tim Walker who published a nasty little piece in the Telegraph today implying that I don’t write or compose my own tweets. As you will probably know, I don’t read newspapers, but a friend sent me the link without thinking, so I couldn’t but read it.

Walker repeats the story of how I “gave twitter up” for a while (as has every sane person I know: many magnificent writers, comedians and artists have given up completely precisely because of the viciousness, disingenuous, calumny and boring presence of people like this Walker excrescence) and concludes that he wishes I would leave permanently. Which shows his complete ignorance of twitter. All he has to do is block me or unfollow me and then, to all intents and purposes I have left. D’uh. Do you actually even know how twitter works, you boil-in-the-bag scum, you purulent tit, you nauseating anus?

Perhaps, if they were to consider the tone of their response to another individual on a face-to-face basis, then social media users might be more inclined to temper their tweets. If I were a famous artist or more importantly, seeking five minutes of fame on social media, I still wouldn\‘t inform my followers that I was struggling to capture Michael Caine\‘s left nostril the previous evening. To even contemplate that anyone could be remotely interested would be a complete anathema to me; in essence a palpable fear that my followers have \‘no life\’. Where my art is concerned, I have enjoyed the look of pleasure on customers\’ faces upon taking receipt of my work. I have also been subjected to ridicule and abuse in certain quarters, significantly from individuals with no presence on the net. I look forward to the opportunity of reviewing their work (in whatever form that might take), and with an emphasis on a balanced critique devoid of personal slurs.

Don't Let the bastards grind you down - how one generation of British actors changed the world (Robert Sellers) 2011

They were working class and they did make an undeniable impact on British and then international cinema. Yet as Roger Lewis so succinctly puts it, in his literary review of Sellers\‘s entertaining read, they weren\‘t the first breed of troglodytes crawling out from the dark shadows of austerity to tread the boards, and they remained vaguely uncommitted to the incessant demands of theatrical work. Unquestionably a motley group of unique talents, with Finney ranking amongst the best of them, it was nevertheless their predilection for outlandish misbehaviour that marked them apart from their predecessors. Sellers enjoys recounting their bacchanalian days and nights.


Albert Finney -In Character (Quentin Falk) 1992/2015

Falks updated biography explores Finney’s world from his early playing days in the streets of Salford to the bright lights of the Hollywood scene. Nominated for an Oscar five times, he’s never picked up the coveted trophy. As with Richard Burton, that’s intriguing enough, but add in his colourful relationships, spectacular bust-ups with directors and TV, stage and film career, and you have a riveting read with a touch of Northern soul.

“He is a natural talent and a mimic,” says Quentin. “Critical and commercial success arrived very early for him which gave him the freedom perhaps the indulgence to pick and choose what he wanted to do, though he didn’t as it turned out, necessarily always pick well.”

Nevertheless, his selective process in the early 60s was spot on; electrifying in “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” and the stage version of “Billy Liar,” these were groundbreaking portrayals of rugged working-class folk and their exploits. Less intuitive was his decision to reject an offer to star in the all-time classic “Lawrence of Arabia.” He would say at the time: “I hate being committed to a girl or to a film producer or to a certain kind of big-screen image.” True to his word, his list of ‘big films’ in his 40-year career is probably not as extensive as it should be, yet he appears to have wanted it that way.

“The ones who might have felt he was wasting his talent were probably those whose projects he rejected because he had an important race meeting or a nice holiday in the offing,” says Quentin.

But his film work is still wide-ranging and diverse. Apart from “Saturday Night,” there is “Tom Jones,” “Scrooge,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Annie,” “The Dresser,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “The Browning Version,” “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic” among many others.

“If you take the overview of his career,” adds Quentin, “he’s done more than 30 films not to mention tons of time-consuming theatre and irregular and prestigious TV too. There are only so many hours in the day, I guess.”

But along with working hard there are some wonderful quotes in the book which seem to suggest that Finney has a wicked sense of humour as well as a relaxed attitude to his career.

“If you don’t feel it, fake it, that’s what I do for a living,” is a nice little ditty but “I don’t think anything’s a waste of time, even wasting time” is an absolute gem and probably one of the best insights to his character.

His life story also has an uncanny resemblance to now megastar Anthony Hopkins, but that’s where the similarities end.

Their careers are similar in many ways lower middle-class, RADA, provincial background, says Quentin. But Hopkins lacked Finney’s self-confidence and because international success came much later to him he was, by own admission, always waiting nervously by the phone for his next project.

“Finney has given every impression of being more relaxed about his work.” So relaxed that British director Alan Parker, who had some interesting clashes with Finney on the set of Shoot the Moon, says of him: “He was a brilliant actor. Then he enjoyed lunch more than acting”.

The book is peppered with such juicy moments and, ultimately, Finney seems to come across as a man at ease with his work, and not too serious about life. Although Falk’s tome is unauthorised, the biographer was still able to conduct more than seventy interviews