DESPITE A late start, Alexander Bennett became a leading dancer, first with Ballet Rambert, then Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, sister company to the Royal Ballet. He was one of the rare Royal Ballet recruits not to have gone through the Royal Ballet School system. That he succeeded so well may have owed something to the shortage of male dancers during the 1950s; but even more to his own very real qualities. Tallish, blond and handsome, he was an alluring performer. His abilities, however, existed not just in his body, but in his brain. He was a talented linguist and he had an engaging personality that was friendly, persuasive and resourceful.
Born in Leith, Edinburgh, in 1929, he came from a working-class family (his father was a tram driver) which nevertheless valued education and put him and his elder brother William through the fee- paying Trinity Academy. There Alex Bennett took his Highers in French, German and Latin and was a champion of the school's athletics team. He learnt tap dance and classical piano, performing for organisations such as the Boys' Brigade.
It was watching the films of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly that got Bennett hooked on dance - on one occasion he saw an Astaire film three times on the trot, entering the cinema at 3pm then being found at 9pm by his parents, still wearing his school cap. The deciding factor came with his first sight of the Sadler's Wells Ballet (later renamed the Royal Ballet) in 1946. He began ballet with the Edinburgh teacher Marjory Middleton, who offered him a bursary. To accept this, he successfully fought to get a nine-month deferment of his military call-up. (He had by now left school and was working as a laboratory assistant.)
As a conscript, he found himself in the Intelligence Corps, where he was sent to London to learn Russian. There, he crammed in as many visits to the ballet as possible. Posted to Germany to work for the Secret Service in 1949, he saw Ballet Rambert on tour. He was demobilised in 1950 and returned to Scotland, where he agreed with his parents that a dance career would be too risky, took a job in insurance - and lasted just six months. His linguistic knowledge got him into the Foreign Office. So he was back in London, where he took ballet classes with …