Actor and Oscar-winning writer Colin Welland dies aged 81


Oscar-winning writer and actor Colin Welland has died aged 81, his family has announced.

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 waving his statue and announcing in his acceptance speech: "The British are coming!"

His family said in a statement that he had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for several years but died peacefully in his sleep.

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, who died last night, is survived by his wife Patricia, four children and six grandchildren.

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.

On winning the award for Best Original Screenplay for the film at the Academy Awards in 1982, Welland warned the American audience: "The British are coming!" - a famous quotation attributed to US revolutionary war hero Paul Revere.

His writing credits also include Yanks (1979), which starred Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Gere, and the screenplay for Twice in a Lifetime (1985).

Aswell as screenwriting, Welland had an acting career, appearing as PC David Graham in BBC series Z-Cars and as a villain in The Sweeney. He also starred the films Kes in 1969 and Sweeney! in 1977.

Born Colin Williams in Lancashire, he considered Liverpool his home town.

In a 1973 interview with Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs, Welland - who was then established as an actor and a playwright - discussed his early career.

On his father's advice, Welland first became an art teacher, despite his acting ambitions and recalled: "I wanted to go on the stage, you see, but my dad had his feet firmly on the ground. He said 'Be an art teacher first, you can paint and draw, be an art teacher first, and if you don't like that, then go on to the stage'. So that's what I did."

He studied art in Yorkshire, before attending Goldsmiths college in London, returning to Lancashire to become an art teacher, before his impending marriage motivated him to try his hand at acting.

He said: "I was 26, I was going to get married, and I thought 'If I get married I will lose my opportunity, because responsibilities naturally follow marriage'."

After an audition at Manchester's Library Theatre, he made his stage debut as the lead in Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party.

In between jobs, he turned his hand to BBC newsreading, but only lasted three weeks.

He said: "We decided, the producer and I, to introduce a new element into BBC newsreading. Use a Lancashire accent, use colloquialisms. The whole of Cheshire rose in revolt, and I was out."

He went on to write a number of plays, including Say Goodnight To Grandma and Roll On Four O'Clock.

Explaining the use of northern characters in his plays, he said: "I find northern people wear their hearts on their sleeve, are far more communicative, are far more honest, and they stimulate me far more."