Ian Bannen was born on June 29, 1928 in Airdrie, Lankashire, Scotland. He was the son of Clare (née Galloway) and John James Bannen, a lawyer. Bannen served in the British Army after attending St Aloysius' College, Glasgow and Ratcliffe College, Leicestershire. His first acting role came in a 1947 Dublin stage production of Armlet of Jade. He became a successful figure on the London stage, making a name for himself in the plays of both Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill. He was an original member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared on Broadway as well.
His film debut occurred in the early 1950s with a small role in “Pool of London” (1951), and he quickly rose to prominence, primarily in a wide range of supporting roles. During the early stages of his career he worked with the Boulting Brothers on Private's Progress and Carlton-Browne of the F.O.. His performance as Crow in “The Flight of the Phoenix” (1965) earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, making him the first Scottish actor to receive this honor; he also received a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year - Actor. That same year, he starred alongside Sean Connery in the WW2 prison drama, “The Hill”.
Bannen turned down lead roles in ‘Hawaii Five-O’, ‘Van der Valk’ and ‘The Love Boat’. His notable television appearances include parts in ‘Doctor Finlay’, ‘Thriller’, and as a school teacher and ex-spy in ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’.
Director John Schlesinger cast him as a replacement for Alan Bates in the part of well-off homosexual doctor Daniel Hirsh in his controversial film “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1971), after Bates was deemed unavailable to shoot. According to screenwriter Penelope Gilliatt, Bannen never felt comfortable with the part. The anxiety adversely affected his performance during the early filming. Schlesinger replaced Bannen with Peter Finch, who received an Oscar nomination for the role. His lone Euro-western appearance was in 1971’s “The Deserter” as Captain Crawford.
He received a BAFTA Award nomination for "Best Supporting Actor" for his performance as suspected child molester Kenneth Baxter in “The Offence” (1972). He also won acclaim for his roles as Brother Benedict in “Lamb” (1986), Grandfather George in John Boorman's “Hope and Glory” (1987) (for which he received a second "Best Supporting Actor" BAFTA nomination), the elder Robert de Brus in “Braveheart” (1995), and as the touchingly crafty villager in “Waking Ned Devine” (1998).
In 1996, he was honored with the BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award.
On November 3, 199, Bannen suffered massive injuries in a car accident and died at Knockies Straight, near Loch Ness. He was a passenger in a car driven by his wife, Marilyn Salisbury. He was 71 years old, and was survived by his wife, to whom he had been married since 1976. They had no children.
Today we remember Ian Bannen on what would have been his 85th birthday