Oscar-winning writer and actor Colin Welland has died at the age of 81, his family announced yesterday. In a statement they said he had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years, but died peacefully in his sleep.
Welland, a Lancashire-born father-of-four who acted in everything from Kes to Z Cars, won his Academy Award for the screenplay of Chariots of Fire in 1981, famously announcing in his acceptance speech: “The British are coming!”
Chariots of Fire star Nigel Havers paid tribute, saying: “He was totally down to earth and unpretentious, a fine actor as well as a wonderful writer – many of his screenplays never made the screen but each was wonderfully well researched and written with skill and love.
“When he said ‘The British are coming’ at the Oscars, he really said it as a joke, but it has become the thing he is best known for!
“Certainly that film stands as a wonderful testament to his talent and ability. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”
In a statement released via his literary agent, Anthony Jones, his family said: “Colin will be desperately missed by his family and friends.
“Alzheimer’s is a cruel illness and there have been difficult times but in the end Colin died peacefully in his sleep.
“We are proud of Colin’s many achievements during his life but most of all he will be missed as a loving and generous friend, husband, father and granddad.”
Welland is survived by his wife Patricia, four children and six grandchildren.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts tweeted: “We’re deeply saddened to learn that the BAFTA-winning writer and actor Colin Welland has passed away.”
Former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock said in a statement: “Colin was a bold and brilliant actor and writer who gave authenticity to everything that he did and produced beauty out of the ugliness of life. He’d also want to be recalled as a fine rugby league player and a true devotee of the game.”
Actor and director 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.”
Welland’s most famous film, Chariots of Fire, told the story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice.
As well as screenwriting, Welland had an acting career, appearing as PC David Graham in BBC series Z-Cars and as in The Sweeney on TV and its big-screen adaptation Sweeney!. He also starred in Kes in 1969 as English teacher Mr Farthing.