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Bogarde, Sir Dirk (1921-1999)  

In her eulogy for Sir Dirk Bogarde, Glenda Jackson called him Britain's "first home-grown film star." Often dubbed "the British Rock Hudson"--both for his matinee-idol good looks during the 1950s and his discreet homosexuality--his film career spanned five decades and seventy films.

He was born Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde to a Dutch-born father (a London Times arts editor) and an English mother (a former actress) in Hampstead, London, on March 28, 1921. After an inauspicious film debut as an extra in the comedy Come On George (1939), his career was interrupted by military service in World War II, during which he was decorated for valor as a major in the Queen's Royal Regiment.

Bogarde resumed acting after the war. Noël Coward, an early admirer, encouraged him to pursue a stage career, but in 1947, when Stewart Granger dropped out of the romantic lead in Esther Waters, Bogarde assumed the role. As a result, he earned a long-term film contract with the Rank studios and subsequently ceased theatrical work.

During the 1950s, Bogarde starred in romantic comedies, war films, and crime thrillers. As he entered his forties, however, he assumed more serious dramatic roles, some of which touched upon homosexual themes, a particularly risky venture in the years before the decriminalization of male homosexuality with the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.

The first and most significant of these was in Victim (1961), in which he played a married lawyer who is blackmailed for a homosexual affair. Bogarde's moving portrayal of a sympathetic homosexual may have helped sway public opinion in the debate leading to decriminalization.

With this role also came the first of six nominations for the British Academy Award for Best Actor, an honor he won twice, for his performance as the sexually ambiguous valet in Joseph Losey's The Servant (1963) and for the romantic lead opposite Julie Christie in John Schlesinger's Darling (1965).

Bogarde's other significant films include Song Without End (1960); Damn the Defiant! (1962); I Could Go On Singing (1963), opposite Judy Garland; Modesty Blaise (1966); Accident (1967); and Our Mother's House (1967).

In the mid-1960s, Bogarde moved to Provence in the South of France, where he lived with his manager and long-time companion, Tony Forwood. Subsequently, Bogarde appeared mostly in European films, most notably as Aschenbach in Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice (1971), based on Thomas Mann's novella about a dying composer who becomes obsessed with a beautiful boy. Other late and daring films include Visconti's The Damned (1969), Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter (1974), and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Despair (1978).

When Forwood became terminally ill in 1983, Bogarde returned to England with him and saw to his care until Forwood's death in 1988. During this time, Bogarde curtailed his acting and embarked on another career, that of a writer. During the 1980s and 1990s, he published sixteen books, including seven volumes of autobiography and numerous novels.

While in his autobiographical works Bogarde carefully avoids direct discussion of homosexuality, he does discuss his relationship with his partner, particularly his care of him during the latter's long terminal illness.

Bogarde was knighted in 1992, and died of a heart attack in Chelsea, London, on May 8, 1999, after being incapacitated by a stroke in 1996.

For most of his life, Bogarde acknowledged his homosexuality only tacitly, although, as his obituary in The Independent notes, "the public understood he was essentially gay." One result of his discretion is that he was ridiculed in the 1980s by some members of a younger generation of gay men who came of age after decriminalization. His reticence about his personal life should not, however, obscure the fact of his courage in being the first actor to create a sympathetic gay character in British film

Patricia Juliana Smith


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   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  European Film

Since the 1960s, European film has included significant gay-themed films, many of them directed by openly gay and lesbian directors.

arts >> Overview:  Film

Since cinema began, Hollywood has been fascinated with finding ways of representing homosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Film Actors: Gay Male

Although few gay actors have been permitted the luxury of openness, many of them have challenged and helped reconfigure notions of masculinity and, to a lesser extent, of homosexuality.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present

Twentieth-century efforts to reform British law and public opinions about homosexuality met with mixed results, but at the beginning of the twenty-first century the United Kingdom has emerged as a leader in recognizing the rights of its glbtq citizens.

literature >> Coward, Sir Noël

Although Coward's plays are about heterosexual couples, they are written in the language and spirit of camp and reject traditional domestic values.

arts >> Fassbinder, Rainer Werner

Responsible for bringing the much-acclaimed New German Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s to the attention of international audiences, Rainer Werner Fassbinder used cinematic conventions of Hollywood to deliver ideological arguments of the New Left.

arts >> Garland, Judy

The fragile persona and emotion-packed voice of actress and singer Judy Garland are powerfully linked to gay culture and identity; she appealed especially to gay men, but also to lesbians.

arts >> Hudson, Rock

A product of Hollywood's star system, Rock Hudson became an international symbol of heterosexuality, wearing a mask until it was savagely ripped off when he was diagnosed with AIDS.

literature >> Mann, Thomas

One of Germany's greatest twentieth-century authors, Thomas Mann encoded his own homosexuality in his novels but thought that homosexuality led to the destruction of social institutions and the death of the individual homosexual.

literature >> Maugham, Robin

The defiantly homosexual scion of a powerful family, Robin Maugham became a popular and prolific writer who regularly features homosexual themes and homoerotic situations in his work.

arts >> Schlesinger, John

British director John Schlesinger has been a significant force in introducing homosexual themes into mainstream British and American films.

arts >> Visconti, Luchino

The arc of the film career of Luchino Visconti, the most contradictory and varied of the major Italian filmmakers, mirrors his increasing openness about his homosexuality.


Bogarde, Dirk. Backcloth. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.

_____. Cleared for Take Off. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.

_____. For the Time Being. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998.

_____. Great Meadow. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993.

_____. An Orderly Man. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992.

_____. A Particular Friendship. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990.

_____. A Postilion Struck by Lightning. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988.

_____. A Short Walk from Harrods. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994,

_____. Snakes and Ladders. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988.

Bourne, Stephen. Brief Encounters: Lesbians and Gays in British Cinema 1930-1971. London: Cassell, 1996.

Hinxman, Margaret, and Susan d'Arcy. The Cinema of Dirk Bogarde. South Brunswick: A. S. Barnes, 1975.

Medhurst, Andy. "Dirk Bogarde." All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema. Charles Barr, ed. London: British Film Institute, 1986.

Morley, Sheridan. Dirk Bogarde: Rank Outsider. London: Bloomsbury, 1996.


    Citation Information
    Author: Smith, Patricia Juliana  
    Entry Title: Bogarde, Sir Dirk  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 12, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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