Tuesday, November 3, 2015

R.I.P. Colin Welland (1934-2015)

Colin Welland
Actor and writer Colin Welland passed away on November 2, 2015 at the age of 81. Over the course of his career, he won various awards such as a BAFTA for acting and an Oscar for writing. Among his many achievements is writing the screenplay for the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, directed by Hugh Hudson and featuring an iconic score by Vangelis. While he would have a career in writing, he was more prominently an actor, having appeared in films such as Kes and the controversial Straw Dogs. Despite it all, he will likely be remembered for his overt patriotism to his British homestead, of which he made note to in his acceptance speech claiming that "The British are coming." It's a statement that has since rang true not only for the film, but for most of foreseen future.

Colin Welland was born on July 4, 1934 in Leigh, England. While he would become an actor, his initial career lead him to Bretton Hall College of Education, where he mastered in teaching. He would teach art in Leigh at Manchester Road Secondary Modern, where he earned the nickname "Ted" due to his curly hair being similar to that of the British subculture Teddy Boys. Among his students was future magician Debbie McGee. 

He received his start in acting as the Storyteller in the reading TV series Jackanory. In a move that was ironic, his most iconic role would come in 1969 in Kes, where he played the teacher Mr. Farthing. He won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor for his role. He wasn't the only teacher in the group (actor Brian Grover and writer Barry Hines shared the profession). Still, it was the start of a lucrative career as an actor, appearing in TV series such as The Sweeney and its first film spin-off as the villain. Even if he didn't have an acting role as memorable as Kes, he remained busy through most of his career before transitioning into writing.

In 1981, he wrote Chariots of Fire. The film would become iconic thanks to Vangelis' synthesized score and scenes of runners moving alongside a beach in the opening credits. The scene and music would continue to be lampooned for decades to follow. It even appeared as part of England's opening ceremony when they hosted the summer Olympics in 2012. Likewise, the film received a brief rerelease around this time to commemorate the occasion. The film won four Oscars, including a Best Original Screenplay award for Welland. 

The award was presented by Jerzy Kosinski. For the most part, Welland's acceptance speech had the familiar humbleness and excitement mixed in. However, it ended with a coy nod to the film's impact. In a moment that has since been added to the great one liners from Oscar speeches, Welland finished by saying that "The British are coming." While most attribute this line to American history and "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," there are claims that it actually came from a visit to Pennsylvania during his research for Twice in a Lifetime. When he entered a bar, it was recalled that a patron said "Watch your wallets, the British are coming!" While it could still be associated with Revere, it should only be associated indirectly.

Welland would continue to act and write for various productions for the rest of his life, though never quite achieved the same cultural recognition as that of Chariots of Fire. Among his later credits include Twice in a Lifetime, directed by John Schlesinger and starring Gene Hackman and Ann-Margaret. His last known credit came from playing Mr. Barclay in the miniseries Bramwell in 1998. During his later years, he battled with Alzheimer's Disease and would do so until his death.

Welland was a passionate contributor to film and TV, bringing his lively personality to various roles throughout his decades spanning career. Even if he wouldn't ever top Chariots of Fire, he still remained busy, turning in projects that reflected his desires. He was a man who brought British culture to life and made every role he played come to life. Even if saying that "The British are coming" simply meant that he was invading Hollywood, it was a statement that felt appropriate for his career. 

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