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Stanley Baker was born William Stanley Baker in Ferndale, Rhondda Valley, Wales. He came to prominence in the 1950s; although he made his film debut in 1941 as a teenager in the Ealing Studios 1943 film Undercover (film) on the Yugoslav guerrillas in Serbia, his first role as an adult was in All Over the Moon (1949).
At first Baker was usually cast as a villain - tough, gritty and fiery. In private life, he was a close friend and drinking companion of another Welsh actor, Richard Burton. Although it has been said that both men had been taught by the same teacher at school who encouraged their theatrical abilities, the fact is that Baker was taught, guided and mentored by Glyn Morse in Ferndale and Burton was mentored by Philip Burton. Notable among his early roles was as the unpleasant and somewhat cowardly Bennett in The Cruel Sea (1953). Laurence Olivier selected him to play Henry Tudor in his 1955 movie Richard III. He also starred with Patrick McGoohan in Hell Drivers.
In 1961 Baker was offered the role of superspy James Bond for the forthcoming film Dr. No, but he turned it down because he was unwilling to commit to a three-picture contract. He may have regretted this decision because some years later he asked producer Albert R. Broccoli about playing a villain in one of the films. He played a war-weary commando in the 1961 war epic The Guns of Navarone.
Yet Baker's most memorable role was as Lieutenant John Chard VC in Zulu alongside newcomer Michael Caine. In Joseph Losey's Accident, he gave a sustained performance as Charley and in 1970's Perfect Friday, he showed his skill in comedy and romantic acting as Mr Graham, opposite Ursula Andress.
He formed his own production company in the 1960s and produced films that included Zulu (1964), Robbery (1967) and The Italian Job (1969). Along with his production and film career Stanley Baker also appeared on the small screen including the 1974 BBC Play of the Month The Changeling, Robinson Crusoe (1974), and also in a BBC Wales adaptation of How Green Was My Valley (1975).
Baker was a dedicated socialist off-screen, and a friend of the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He was a staunch opponent of Welsh nationalism and recorded television broadcasts in support of the Welsh Labour Party.
In 1976 he was awarded a knighthood in Wilson's controversial resignation list of honours, known as The Lavender List, although he did not live to be invested in person at Buckingham Palace.
A lifelong heavy smoker, he died that same year from pneumonia following surgery for lung cancer in Málaga, Spain, aged 48. He was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium, but his ashes were scattered from the top of Llanwonno, over his beloved Ferndale.
Ferndale RFC in the Rhondda Valleys, South Wales, established a tribute to Sir Stanley in the form of their "Sir Stanley Baker Lounge". Officially opened by his widow, Lady Ellen Baker, on Friday 24 November 2006, the day's events featured a presentation to Sir Stanley's sons and family members, and a fitting and moving tribute to the man himself via speeches and tales from celebrities and various local people who knew him best. The afternoon also featured a Radio Wales tribute to Sir Stanley, hosted by Owen Money and recorded live in Ferndale RFC itself. The Sir Stanley Baker Lounge features many pictures and memorabilia from his successful career, including a wall plaque commemorating the official opening in both English and Welsh, and is a fitting tribute to Ferndale's most famous son.