Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth, with his first appearance in the April 1943 DC Comics publication “Batman #16,” is the butler of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. As an associate of Wayne, he is also familiar with his boss being the superhero Batman.
Pennyworth is more than just a butler. During his life, being a retired British intelligence and ex-SAS operative, Pennyworth gained a proficiency in first aid medical techniques and computer systems. Considering his background, not any actor can effectively play Wayne’s butler.
The Alfred in this production was played by Alan Napier. This is one of only a few productions where the butler’s surname is never used. He is only ever referenced as Alfred.
In the same year, Napier was seen reprising the character for a short lived “Batman” series.
Even though it didn’t last very long, it is often remembered as being one of the best DC comics-based productions of the mid-twentieth century.
This series, unlike other “Batman” related productions focused on Dinah Lance / Black Canary, Helena Kyle / The Huntress and Barbara Gordon / Oracle / Batgirl, played by Rachel Skarsten, Ashley Scott and Dina Meyer, respectively.
Zimbalist Jr. is the one actor that has played Pennyworth in more productions combined than anyone else that has taken on the role. Beginning in 1993 with the Eric Radomski / Bruce Timm co-directed “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” Zimbalist Jr. has provided the voice Wayne’s trusted butler in no fewer than ten different television productions.
In the Bruno Heller created series “Gotham,” Pennyworth is played by English actor Sean Pertwee. Pertwee, the son of “Doctor Who” actor Jon Pertwee, has been working in film and television from at least 1987.
With being cast in such productions as “Event Horizon” (1997), “Tale of the Mummy” (1998), “Formula 51” (2001), “Dog Soldiers” (2002) and “The Last Drop” (2006), Pertwee is not someone easily typecast.
Pertwee has provided Batman fans with a small screen interpretation of the butler worthy of the character Don Cameron and Bob Kane created.
In big screen adaptations, William Austin, Eric Wilton, Michael Gough, Michael Caine and Jeremy Irons all presented interpretations of the character synonymous with their own understanding of what Pennyworth was to them individually.
With a distinctly unique interpretation of the character, each actor brought something to the table none of the others had attempted.
In one of the earliest film adaptations of “Batman,” Alfred was played by Austin.
Released in 1943, film saw Austin deliver an uncredited performance of the butler.
Interestingly, in this film the butler’s surname is referenced as Beagle. Up until it was determined Pennyworth was Alfred’s accepted surname, Beagle was the character’s official name.
Beagle was subsequently given to an alternative version of the character from Earth-Two.
Reinforcing the acceptance of Pennyworth as the character’s surname, in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Bruce Wayne leaves the residue of his estate to Alfred. Wayne lists his butler’s name as Alfred J. Pennyworth.
While it is Pertwee that is currently playing the character for the television series “Gotham,” in the developing DC Cinematic Universe franchise, Irons fills the butler’s shoes.
Irons, every bit as accomplished an actor as Caine, first stepped into the butler’s shoes for the 2016 Zack Snyder directed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” A year later, the actor was seen reprising the role for “Justice League.”
While there is currently no release date for “The Batman,” Irons is slated to play Alfred for a third time.