Colin Welland, Oscar Winner for ‘Chariots of Fire,’ Dies at 81

Oscar-winning writer and actor Colin Welland died on November 2. He was 81 and had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

Welland won an Oscar in 1982 for best original screenplay for “Chariots of Fire,” about two very different British athletes competing at the 1924 Olympic Games.

He won a Bafta for playing the English teacher Mr. Farthing who’s sympathetic to the young protagonist in Ken Loach’s popular, critically hailed film “Kes” in 1969.

Chariots of Fire” director David Puttnam told the BBC that Welland was “an unswervingly good man; a fine actor, and a seriously gifted screenwriter. These gifts not only brought him most of the accolades TV and cinema can ever offer, but cemented the careers of everyone who rode on the back of his ‘Chariots of Fire.’
The depth of his feelings, and sense of identity with the people he wrote about, was achingly real.”

Welland first came to the British public’s attention in the early 1960s on TV police drama “Z Cars,” in which he played PC David Graham.

Welland began acting relatively late. He was 26 and an art teacher in Lancashire when he opted to pursue an acting career. He became part of Manchester’s Library Theatre and spent three weeks as a newsreader for the BBC before joining “Z Cars.”

He picked up a Bafta TV Award for writing TV plays in 1971, the same year he won the Bafta film award for best supporting actor for “Kes.”

His big-screen writing credits also included “Yanks” (1979), which starred Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Gere, and 1985’s “Twice in a Lifetime.”

Welland played a vicar in Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 thriller “Straw Dogs,” starring Dustin Hoffman, and appeared in both the TV series and the film version of crime drama “Sweeney.”

In his 1982 Oscars acceptance speech for “Chariots of Fire,” he created something of a stir by declaring at the end, “The British are coming.”

After the film’s success, he sought to make a film about George and Robert Stephenson, who developed rail travel, but Hollywood was uninterested.

Most of his own plays were set in the north of England and “usually champion the individual against the system,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 1973.
“I usually find that it’s one man’s effort to break through what is usually expected of an individual.”

Fellow actor David Morrissey tweeted: “Colin Welland RIP. Such a great actor and writer. Kes is my all-time favourite film and he was so wonderful in it. So sad.”

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