Theater
The Soldiers' Fortune 2007 Young Vic
Otherwise Engaged British tour and West End 2005 Bernard Wood
The Lisbon Traviata King's Head Theatre London 2003 Mendy
Where There's a Will Peter Hall Company on tour 2003 Savinet
Peter Pan Royal Festival Hall London 2002 Smee
The Glee Club Bush Theatre/West End 2002 Phil
On the Razzle Chichester Festival 2001
Troilus and Cressida National 1999 Pandarus
The Merchant of Venice National 1999 Antonio (also filmed for television)
Honk! The Ugly Duckling National 1999 Greylag Goose
The Real Inspector Hound Moon/Black Comedy Harold Gorringe Donmar Warehouse and West End 1999
The Cocktail Party Edinburgh Festival 1997 Edward Chamberlayne
Peter Pan Leeds 1996 Mr. Darling/Capt. Hook
My Night with Reg Royal Court/West End 1994 Guy (with Anthony Calf)—Olivier Best Actor Award
Search and Destroy Hampstead Theatre 1993 Martin Mirkheim
Schippel the Plumber Greenwich Theatre/Edinburgh Festival 1992 Herr Hiketier
Karate Billy Comes Home Royal Court 1992 Urban
Three Birds Alighting on a Field Royal Court 1991 Yoyo/Mr. Boreman
Wind in the Willows National 1990 Mole
Racing Demon National 1990 Rev. Donald "Streaky" Bacon (with Barbara Leigh-Hunt and Paul Moriarty)
Barthelomew Fair National 1989 John Littlewit (with Barbara Leigh-Hunt)
Hamlet National 1989 Horatio
The Strangeness of Others National 1988 Charlie
Amadeus 1986
Progress Bush Theatre 1984 Oliver
Kissing God Hampstead 1984
Heroes New End Hampstead "Wires" Jackson
Bythrite Royal Court
Masterclass Old Vic/West End 1983–84 Shostakovich
The Oresteia National & Epidaurus, Greece
Outskirts RSC Warehouse 1981
The Arbor Theatre Upstairs
Wednesday Bush Theatre 1979
Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Palace Theatre Westcliff 1979
 
Television
Rome 2005 Cicero
Pollyanna 2003 Rev. Ford
Daniel Deronda 2002 Lush
Casualty, eps. “Scapegoat” 2002 Dr. Martin Campbell and "Pressure! What Pressure?" 1991 Telford
The Merchant of Venice 2001 Antonio
Coupling 2000
My Government and I 2000
The Railway Children 2000 Dr. Forrest
The Victoria Wood Special — Wetty Hainthropp Investigates 1999 Reg
Neville’s Island 1998 Angus
Out of the Past
Chalk 1997 Vice Headmaster Eric Slatt
My Dad’s a Boring Nerd 1997 Mr. Burton
Heartbeat, ep. “Forget Me Not” 1996 Adrian Shaw
My Night with Reg 1995 Guy (with Anthony Calf)
Heavy Weather 1995 Percy Frobisher Pilbeam
Wycliffe, ep. “The Dead Flautist” 1994 Guy Bottrell (with Lynn Farleigh and Tim Wylton)
The Bill, ep. “Games,” 1994 Chris Baxter
Murder Most Horrid, ep. “Smashing Bird” 1994 Ray
The Buddha of Suburbia 1993 Shadwell
Stalagluft 1993 the Professor
The Complete Guide to Relationships 1993 Chris (with Anna Chancellor)
The Good Guys
Poirot, ep. “The Double Clue” 1991 Bernard Parker
The New Statesman 1991 ep. “Natural Selection”
A Very Peculiar Practice ep. “Bad Vibrations” 1988 Prof. Middling
Call Me Mister 1986 Fred Hurley (with Christopher Benjamin)
Cockles 1984 Graham
Crown Court
Feel Free
The Oresteia
Henry VI Parts 1, 2, 3 1983 Gloucester
Juliet Bravo, ep. “Mates” 1983 Mr. Saddlethwaite
 
Film
I Capture the Castle 2003 vicar
Gangs of New York 2002 passenger on omnibus
The Bourne Identity 2002 consulate clerk
Wet and Dry 1996
Year of the Comet 1992 Albert
High Hopes 1988 Rupert Boothe-Braine
Dakota Road 1990 man on train
The Doctor and the Devils 1985 Cronin
Privates on Parade 1982 Flight Sgt. Charles Bishop
 
Radio
Hide 2007 Roger
With Great Pleasure 2006
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime 2006 Podgers
The Rivals 2005 Faulkland
Soldier, Sailor: Trafalgar 2003 Carter
Dr. Finlay, ep. "Miracle by Lestrange" 2002 Lestrange
Life Cycles 2002
The Frankenstein Project 2002
Deptford Wives 2002
It's a Wonderful Divorce 2001
The Hare Lane Diaries 2001 Rex
The Man Without a Cellphone
The Hunting of the Snark 2000 bellman
Emma 2000 Mr. Elton
Dead Men's Shoes 2000
The Boys’ Own Book of the Dead 1999
The Devil and Paganini 1998
 
Audio
Nicholas Nickleby
 
David Bamber portrait
 
David Bamber
Mr. Collins
 
 

The year 1994 was a turning point in David Bamber’s career. In April he opened in a new play called My Night With Reg at the Royal Court, London, winning some of the best notices of his life and, later on, an Olivier award for Best Actor. And in June he began playing Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, the role for which, ten years later, he is still best remembered. So big an impression did these roles make on casting directors that he has become something of a specialist in playing gay and repressed men as well as over-the-top comic characters.

 
 
My Night with Reg, with John Sessions and Anthony Calf

My Night With Reg, by Kevin Elyot, was one of the first successful British plays to treat homo-sexuality as an ordinary fact of life. Bamber played Guy, a nice-guy advertising copywriter who has long nurtured a secret love for his former schoolmate, John (played by Anthony Calf). “He is lonely and diffident and convinced he is unloveable,” wrote John Gross in the Sunday Times. “All of which [Bamber] brilliantly convey[s]. Every wry little grimace rings true, every hesitant gesture: it is in many respects a comic performance, but a progressively painful one as well.” Charles Spencer of the Telegraph agreed. “There is no doubt that the finest acting comes from David Bamber as the hapless Guy, liked by everyone and fancied by no one. There is a feeling of bravely-borne sorrow here that seems to encapsulate all that is best in this wise, deeply affecting and compassionate play.” And Benedict Nightingale wrote in the daily Times, “Bamber is one of our finest yet least recognised comic actors. Here, he outdoes even himself, twitching and wincing and obsessively pushing back his hair in what is eventually revealed as an agony of embarrassed hope.”

 
David Bamber in The Glee Club  
The Glee Club

Bamber’s physicality as an actor is a quality mentioned in most reviews of his performances. Of his work in Richard Cameron’s play The Glee Club in 2003, the Daily Mail wrote, “brilliant David Bamber, contorting his simplest body movement into a question mark, suggests a world of misunderstood frustration.” When he doubled the roles of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in a 1996 production of Peter Pan, the Times noted that he “develop[ed] mannerisms so that the agitated hands of one inspire the scampering feet of the other.” In the 1992 Edinburgh Festival production of Schippel the Plumber, “his entire performance seemed to be some painfully protracted physiognomical wince” (the Observer). As the corruptible hero of Howard Korder’s Search and Destroy, “Bamber's intensely physical performance, stammering and almost clownish at times of stress, traces the departure of dignity, naivety, honour, virtue,” wrote the Times. There are those who find this physicality superficial. Nicholas de Jongh, in the Evening Standard, found Bamber’s Antonio in Trevor Nunn’s 1999 National Theatre production of The Merchant of Venice histrionic, “waving or shaking his arms in silly little circles or flapping and shaking his hands and wrists.” But most critics have pointed out that underneath all this activity lies work of sensitivity and depth. “[H]is performances consistently generate a sense of purpose and integrity,” wrote the critic Michael Coveney. And in the Times, Benedict Nightingale said, “he's unsurpassed when it comes to bringing comic life to odd, edgy, insecure, soft, vulnerable characters.”

 
 
The Merchant of Venice, with Henry Goodman

Bamber was born, on September 19, 1954, in Walkden, a small town halfway between Manchester and Bolton. The youngest of four children of a miner and a nurse, his first acting experience was playing Shylock at the Manchester Youth Theatre as a teenager. Nonetheless, he didn’t originally think he could ever act professionally. “I had very little confidence, and thought I would probably just teach drama,” he told an interviewer in 1994. “I assumed that people like me didn't become actors.” He won a place in a college that would have trained him to teach drama to special education students, but at the last minute changed his mind and went to Bristol University to study acting. He did well enough to win a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where he won several prizes as well as the gold medal. His training there had him “frequently drinking out of goblets with a sword in the other hand. I remember thinking, ‘I'm dying to drink coffee on stage and sit on sofas and things.’”

 
David Bamber in Troilus & Cressida  
Troilus and Cressida, with Peter de Jersey and Sophie Okonedo

He needn’t have worried. Although he’s done the occasional Shakespeare (mostly for the National Theatre, not the Royal Shakespeare Company), most of his stage work has been in contemporary plays, including many new ones. He’s even absorbed some non-RADA acting techniques: rehearsing David Hare’s Racing Demon at the National in 1990, he worried so much about what his character was feeling that his colleague Michael Bryant nicknamed him Marlon. The success of My Night With Reg led directors to think of him when casting gay characters: he has played them in The Glee Club and Terrence McNally’s The Lisbon Traviata, and even his Pandarus in Troilus and Cressida “clearly ha[d] the hots for Troilus and [could] hardly keep his constantly wandering hands off the dear boy” and his Antonio in The Merchant of Venice (which is also available on video) was “a brooding, middle-aged depressive who had long sublimated his secret love for Bassanio into being a self-absorbed businessman.”

 
  David Bamber in Chalk
Chalk

Public acclaim for his portrayal of Mr. Collins was not something Bamber expected. After it aired he was, as the saying goes, a “name in the corridor” at the BBC. "I think what I was surprised at was the impact it had," he said in 1997. “That character seemed to get a lot of response. I suppose I'd been doing that sort of thing for a long time, it's just it had usually been in front of fifty people at the Bush [Theatre].” He was offered many sitcoms, and finally chose one called Chalk, in which he played the tyrannical deputy headmaster of a secondary school who has seized power from his flaky boss. The show stirred some controversy when it was first broadcast due to complaints that it presented the teaching profession in an unflattering light, but it did well enough to be renewed for a second season.

 

David Bamber in Masterclass
Master Class, with Peter Kelly, Timothy West, and Jonathan Adams

Bamber married Julia Swift, an actress, in 1982, and they have two sons — Theo, born in 1991, and Ethan, born 1998. They live in north London, where David is a keen cook and enjoys playing the piano and listening to music. And his confidence has grown considerably from his schooldays in Lancashire. “I am a good actor and I play supporting roles really well,” he has said. “But I have no trouble carrying a play, to be perfectly honest. I am no more averse to playing the lead than to playing the support. What you do as an actor is serve the play.”

 

When you do have great looks, film is very kind and there's a career to be had in your twenties. But often people ask actors, 'Why do you always choose those outsider parts?' And you think, but everybody knows they're the best ones. The one where the hero says to somebody, 'My best friend is coming tonight. Don't be shocked but he's got half his face missing.' That's the part to have.


 
 

Photo credits: top—Lisa Hooley; My Night with Reg—UPPA/Photoshot ; Glee Club—Paul Savident Marketing; Merchant of Venice—Colin Willoughby: Arena Images; Troilus and Cressida—Donald Cooper; Chalk—BBC
Special Thanks to Gill