The passing of film and stage legend Peter O’Toole, first immortalised in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, has a history entwined with the game of rugby league.
O’Toole was evacuated from Leeds early in World War II and went to St Joseph’s Secondary School in Holbeck, Leeds.
Upon leaving school O’Toole obtained employment as a trainee journalist and photographer on the Yorkshire Evening Post.
Later he was called up for national service as a signaller in the Royal Navy.
O’Toole attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) from 1952 to 1954 on a scholarship.
At RADA, he was in the same class as Albert Finney.
Peter O’Toole grew up in Hunslet playing rugby league.
In his 1996 autobiography Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice he gained local fame as a speedy twelve-year-old back playing for a side known as the Raggy-Arsed Rovers.
As he explained, their rugby league balls were of a rather inconsistent quality; patchworks of leather pieces were inflated by a bicycle tyre inner-tube, newspapers or just rags.
At the worst, an unlucky player would ‘volunteer’ a shoe. To say the least, as O’Toole recounted them, his childhood games were rugby league at its rawest:
The autobiography states “Two or three matches between teams from various clusters of streets were played simultaneously. One sometimes found oneself straying into others’ matches. Goalposts were a premium. If the pair had already been snatched, often a player’s younger brother, ‘our kid’, would find himself elected as a post. Kit was irrelevant. A familiar figure with the ball, you supported him; an unfamiliar, you downed the bastard”.
Perhaps the Irish born actor can now join the Elite Actors XIII with that other famous deceased Irish actor Richard Harris, who played rugby league player Frank Machin in This Sporting Life.
Other notables in the XIII line-up could include another well-known actor in early British film Sydney Howard in the 1935 rugby league themed comedy film Where’s George?
Or the original Doctor Who actor William Hartnell, another to get his big break due to his rugby league links in This Sporting Life.