A DANGEROus Double Life; Alan Bates Was One of Our Most Dazzling Actors - and Adored by Women. but a New Biography Reveals His Agonised Secret Life with Gay Lovers Including Olympic Skater John Curry

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DURING the spring of 2003, Alan Bates set off for Paris to make what was to be one of his final films. By then, nearly 70, and suffering from pancreatic cancer, he knew he had only months to live. But his regular treatments were often followed by sudden bursts of energy, and it was in high spirits that he checked into the city's Hotel Raphael.

Determined to make the most of his springtime visit to the French capital, the actor spent his days off soaking up its culture, and even agreed to meet a fan who had written asking for an introduction.

Less than a week later, Bates had spent at least two days and one night with this handsome young Frenchman. When he returned home to Britain he told his friends his new acquaintance was the latest - and greatest - love of his life.

'He decided to have an affair,' says the actress Felicity Kendal, a longstanding friend. 'Now what sort of person, knowing that he's dying of cancer, sets up a situation like that?

'But his attitude to romantic entanglements was just like his attitude to desserts at dinner - "I really shouldn't, but I'll just have one more" - and he did!' Playwright Alan Bennett remembers: 'He was an incorrigible romantic.

He was always in love, or on the edge of love, and it was always with the one who was going to be the love of his life.

'No matter that he had told you exactly the same thing about somebody else six months earlier and six months before that.

Status, gender or familiarity didn't matter - always, this was going to be the real thing.' By any standards - even theatrical ones - the private life of Alan Bates, one of Britain's most accomplished, enduring and versatile actors, was extraordinary.

Famed for his rugged good looks, he was adored by women throughout his life and - perhaps as the result of his numerous nude scenes (a critic remarked that he had 'one of the most exposed behinds in cinematic history') - he was voted one of the sexiest men alive by Playgirl magazine.

Princess Margaret was among those who pursued him, with, as we shall see, unfortunate results.

For 22 years he was married to the beautiful Victoria Ward, by whom he had two sons, and he later had an intimate relationship with the actress Angharad Rees.

In his final illness, he was devotedly attended to by Joanna Pettet, an actress who had first fallen in love with him nearly 40 years earlier.

But there was another, hidden side to Alan Bates - and one that caused him considerable anguish. While he liked to appear publicly with women, and to cuddle with them privately, his deepest romances and his most passionate sexual life occurred with men.

Among them were the Olympic skater John Curry and the actor Peter Wyngarde, best known for his role as the television sleuth Jason King.

Alan enjoyed an intense, two year romance with Curry while still married to Victoria Ward.

When he later discovered that Curry was suffering the ravages of Aids, he tended his old flame throughout his last days. Curry eventually died in his arms.

His relationship with Wyngarde lasted a decade, and there were other serious, long-term male lovers. The pressing need to keep this part of his life secret took a huge toll on him.

It must be remembered that same-sex relations between consenting adults were illegal for at least the first 30 years of Alan's life, and the punishment for transgressions severe.

Even after the law was changed, the need to preserve his public image left him terrified of exposure. Alan rigorously avoided interviews and questions about his personal life, and invariably denied - even, bizarrely, with his lovers - that there was a homosexual component in his nature.

'I told him labels didn't matter, but that we must be who we are,' recalled the actor Nickolas Grace, with whom Alan had an intense affair. …