TV and Movie Actor
Until John Rhys Davies came upon the scene (see the 'People' section of this website) Hywel Bennett was Ammanford's best known TV and screen actor. Hywel Thomas Bennet was was born in 1944 in Garnant in the Amman Valley, the son of Sarah Gwen, nee Lewis, and Gordon Bennett. As a child his parents moved to London and he went to Henry Horton Grammar School in Clapham, London, and later trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). Hywel was born into a Welsh-speaking family but forgot the language when the family moved to London. When he appeared in the Welsh thriller Night of the Hunter, which was filmed in English first and then Welsh, he needed to pick his mother's brains for help in playing the Welsh language scenes. Whilst at drama college he joined the National Youth Theatre where he stayed for five years, playing many leading Shakespearian roles. This including his London stage debut as Ophelia in Hamlet at the opening of the Queen's Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue a female role! It's important to note, however, that the production was staged by the Youth Theatre, and that it was traditional for men to play female roles in Shakespeare's time, and that, at 15, Bennett's voice hadn't broken yet.
Thereafter, he trafficked in 'angry young men' parts on stage, and as crafty characters posing as naifs in films. One of his most famous film roles was his first. In 1966's The Family Way, he played the briefly impotent husband of Hayley Mills. He went on to star in the anti-war The Virgin Soldiers (1970) and Percy (1973), in which he played the first recipient of a penis transplant.
On British television, Bennett was seen in such dramas as Dennis Potter's Where the Buffalo Roams (1967) and Shelley (1985). Incidentally, Hywel Bennett finally got to play the male lead in Hamlet in a 1974 South African production. The year 2003 saw him appear on the British TV police series 'The Bill' as the prime suspect in the Sunhill serial rape/murders, a far cry from the Ophelia of his first ever London stage role.
(Source: Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide)
The following is from the BBC web site:
Born: 8 April 1944
Place of Birth: Garnant, Ammanford.
Famous For: Television and film star best known for 'Shelley', and 'Eastenders'.
Trivia: He is a Fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Hywel Bennett found fame early making the roles of 'angry young men' his own. He became something of a sixties' icon and in 1966 starred with Hayley Mills and John Mills in the classic Boulting Brothers film, The Family Way. Coincidentally, the accompanying music for the film was written by Paul McCartney it was his first film score.
.....In 1969 he appeared in The Virgin Soldiers with Lynn Redgrave and Nigel Davenport.
.....He starred again with Hayley Mills in 1972 in the film Endless Night, starring alongside Britt Ekland and George Sanders.
.... Hywel's career has been prolific, playing a broad range of roles on stage and screen. He found his biggest television success in the long-running television sitcom Shelley, first on our screens from 1979 to 1992. He played the title role of idle graduate James Shelley, who meanders through life using only a laconic wit for exercise.
.....Other television hits include Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Pennies From Heaven, and Karaoke.
.....Hywel Bennett headed for TV's fictional Albert Square in May 2003, where he joined the cast of Eastenders as Jack Dalton, a feared gangland boss who presides over London's East End.
.....Hywel said of his new role: "I've attempted almost everything in my marathon career, but have never tackled a soap before. I consider EastEnders to be the best there is and regard it as another notch on the bedpost."
.....Moment of Glory: Household fame as the eponymous star of Shelley.
Although he became a heart-throb figure in the 1960s, time has not been kind to Hywel Bennett's youthful good looks. This is true of us all, of course, but Bennett's social behaviour seems to have deteriorated over time as well, if the following item from an Eastenders fan site is to be believed:
THE RETURN OF BELLY
Sept 26 2004
Shelley heartthrob Hywel cuts a sad, boozy figure
Hywel Bennett in younger and presumably happier days.
WEARING no socks and with his huge belly protruding from a scruffy tracksuit, it's difficult to believe this shambling figure was once the highest-paid star on British television.
.....Unshaven and reeking of drink, Hywel Bennett is barely recognisable as his lovable 80s sitcom alter-ego Shelley.
..... And nobody would believe he was once hailed as one of the best-looking stars in British cinema after the film adaptation of The Virgin Soldiers.
..... Shelley ran for seven series (including a 1988 revival called The Return Of Shelley) and at its height had an audience of 18 million more than today's top soaps. Last summer Hywel landed a starring role as gangster Jack Dalton in East Enders, but instead of regaining his old fame he was quickly written out and has since hit the self-destruct button. Despite starring alongside David Jason in a TV movie The Second Quest this summer, all other work seems to have dried up and his decline has been tragically swift.
..... Hywel, originally from the village of Garnant in West Wales, now lives in the seaside resort of Deal, Kent, but is vilified there because of his abusive, erratic behaviour and excessive drinking. He has already been banned from at least two pubs.
..... Glynis McKenna, landlady of the Star and Garter, was left mopping up Bennett's vomit after he became so drunk he was incapable of staggering home. She said: "He's horrible. He won't be welcomed back here again ever.
..... "When he first walked into the bar people wanted to talk to him because he was famous. But he was so arrogant and nasty everyone just left him alone.
..... "He eventually went to bed and the next day we went up to his room and there was sick all over the room. It was in the shower, in the bin, on the walls, everywhere.
..... "The smell was so bad that I couldn't let the room for a week. I wouldn't have him back in a million years."
..... Bennett, 60, is also barred from the King's Head pub after landlord Graham Stiles found him out cold following a massive drinking session and had to call an ambulance. "He's banned but I suppose he would be too embarrassed to come in now anyway," said Mr Stiles. "It's a shame."
..... Neighbours say they are regularly woken in the night by Bennett ringing the 17th-Century bell attached to his historic cottage and shouting: "There's a storm a-coming". "We all know when he's had a few," said one.
..... A life of showbiz hellraising and a bitter divorce from 1960s TV beauty Cathy McGowan have taken a heavy toll on Hywel.
..... One TV insider said: "It's amazing how low he has sunk. If he doesn't clean up his act he's heading down the same road as Michael Elphick, who was written out of EastEnders and drank himself to death not long after.".....
From 1967-88 Bennett was married to Cathy McGowan, best known as the presenter of the TV rock show Ready Steady Go! in the mid 1960s. They had a daughter, Emma, but the marriage was dissolved in 1988 and, since 1992, she has been the partner of singer Michael Ball, almost 20 years her junior.
Sixties pop culture icon Cathy McGowan, married to Hywell Bennett from 1967 to 1988.
HYWEL BENNETT AND JOHN RHYS DAVIES
It's an interesting exercise to compare the careers of Ammanford's two most famous acting luminaries, Hywel Bennett and John Rhys-Davies, so similar in some ways, yet so different in others. Both were born in 1944 in the Amman Valley, and both moved away with their parents in childhood. Then, when their parents eventually returned to Ammanford, Hywel Bennett and John Rhys Davies each stayed in London instead to pursue their respective acting careers.
Hywel Bennett in a pose more typical of his later roles (definitely not Ophelia). Villains and 'heavies' have replaced the earlier 'cheerful chappy' characters he once played.
The differences in the careers of the two men, though, are more numerous than any similarities. Hywel Bennett went into acting very young, becoming a member of the National Youth Theatre at only fifteen. John Rhys Davies chose instead a university education first, only entering the Royal College of Dramatic Art (RADA) after he had successfully completed a degree in English at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. And even the roles each actor has played have been quite different, too, with John Rhys Davies's large build often winning him villainous and threatening roles, while the youthful Hywel Bennett played romantic and cheeky chappy parts appropriate to the cherubic looks of his early years.
Today John Rhys-Davies is the better known of the two Ammanford actors, recognisable worldwide to film audiences for his roles in the blockbuster hits Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In these films he worked alongside Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. In 2001 he re-entered cinemas worldwide as Gimli the Dwarf in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. This was filmed in New Zealand and directed by Peter Jackson. The Fellowship of the Ring which was released in 2001 was the first part of the Tolkien's trilogy, followed by The Two Towers and The Return of the King.
But perhaps the different personalities of the two actors have had the greatest effect on their respective careers. The path John Rhys-Davies took led all the way to Hollywood, with homes in Los Angeles and the tax haven Isle of Man being rewards for judicious management of his career. In contrast, Hywel Bennett's hell-raising lifestyle leaves the public with quite a different perception of him. Where Bennett appears to have used fellow Welshmen Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton as role models for his uproarious off-screen behaviour, John Rhys Davies on the other hand seems to have concluded that a life of dissipation is not the automatic consequence of being Welsh.
For a brief biography of John Rhys Davies in this website, click HERE.
Hywel Bennett's theatre career started in rep at Salisbury and Leatherhead. Parts played include: Wormwood in C.S. Lewis's THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS; with Sir Donald Wolfit and Lennie in A SMASHING DAY by Alan Plater at the Arts Theatre; Puck in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at the Edinburgh Festival; Prince Hal in HENRY IV at the Mermaid; Mark Antony in JULIUS CAESAR at the Young Vic; Bakke in BAKKE'S NIGHT OF FAME at the Shaw; Danny in NIGHT MUST FALL at the Shaw; Konstantin in THE SEAGULL at Exeter; Toad in TOAD OF TOAD HALL at Birmingham Rep; HAMLET in Natal, South Africa; BUTLEY at the English Speaking Theatre, Vienna; Jimmy Porter in LOOK BACK IN ANGER at the Belgrade, Coventry; Simon in OTHERWISE ENGAGED at the Comedy Theatre; the Levantine in THE CAST OF THE OILY LEVANTINE at Her Majesty's; Scott in TERRA NOVA at Chichester; Tim in FLY AWAY HOME at the Lyric, Hammersmith; Marlow in SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER at the National; Andrey in THREE SISTERS at the Albery; Long John Silver in TREASURE ISLAND at the Edinburgh Festival.
Jack Dalton in EASTENDERS for BBC; Peter Baxter in THE BILL for Thames TV (5 episodes); Dr Strange in TIME GENTLEMEN PLEASE for Avalon TV; Old Ronno in THE QUEST for Yorkshire TV; Kevin in LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE for BBC; Freddie Marks in LLOYD AND HILL for Carlton; Roger Whale in RANDALL AND HOPKIRK DEC'D for BBC; Pete Tyler in THE BILL for Thames TV; Deep Throat in LOCK, STOCK for Channel 4; Mostyn Hughes in DIRTY WORK for BBC Wales; Iles in HARPUR AND ILES for BBC Wales; Croup in NEVERWHERE for BBC2; Arthur 'Pig' Malion in Dennis Potter's KARAOKE for BBC; FRONTIERS for Carlton; MURDER MOST HORRID for BBC (guest); FRANK STUBBS PROMOTES for ITV (guest); TRUST ME for BBC; VIRTUAL MURDER for BBC (guest); A MIND TO KILL for HTV; six series of SHELLEY for Thames TV; BOON for Central TV (guest); CHECKPOINT CHISWICK for Channel 4; FRANKIE AND JOHNNIE for BBC Screen Two; THE SECRET AGENT; ABSENT FRIENDS by Alan Ayckbourn; THE CONSULTANT by Alan Plater; Mr Puff in THE CRITIC; Tom the Pimp in Dennis Potter;s PENNIES FROM HEAVEN; Dr Bickleigh in MALICE AFORETHOUGHT; John Le Carre's TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY; COMING OUT; ARTEMIS 81; Simon Gray's DEATH OF A TEDDY BEAR; Dennis Potter's WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM; Romeo in ROMEO AND JULIET; A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY; UNMAN, WITTERING AND ZIGO; THE IDIOT.
Richard Stevens in ONE FOR THE ROAD; Herod in MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS for Hallmark Entertainment; VATEL with Gerard Depardieu and Uma Thurman, directed by Roland Joffe; David Withers in NASTY NEIGHBOURS; The Sea Captain in MISERY HARBOUR; Reg in MARRIED TO MALCOLM directed by James Cellan-Jones; DEADLY ADVICE directed by Mandie Fletcher; Purvis in THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE for Grundy Motion Pictures; AGE UNKNOWN for Swedish TV; THE TWILIGHT ZONE for 20th Century Fox; MURDER ELITE with Ali McGraw; WAR ZONE with Christopher Walken; ENDLESS NIGHT; ALICE IN WONDERLAND; THE BUTTERCUP CHAIN; LOOT; THE VIRGIN SOLDIERS; PERCY; THE TWISTED NERVE; Arthur in THE FAMILY WAY with Hayley Mills and Sir John Mills.
TV appearances include:
Where The Buffalo Roam
Pennies From Heaven
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Secret Agent
Hywel Bennett appeared in or contributed to the following movies:
The Family Man 1966 (Star)
Mind to Kill 1968 (Star)
Virgin Soldiers 1969 (Star)
Endless Night 1972 (Star)
Percy 1973 (Star)
Murder Elite 1986 (Star)
Deadline 1987 (Star)
Deadly Advice 1993 (Star)
Mary Mother of Jesus (Star)
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010