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Parker, Cecil (1897-1971)


Main image of Parker, Cecil (1897-1971)

Cecil Parker was one of the great character actors from their golden age, the '30s to the '60s. He could be menacing or authoritative or simply stuffy; he could draw the water of wit from the stone of the most unyielding dialogue. Listen as daughter Sheila Sim asks him in the mildewed Dear Mr Prohack (d. Thornton Freeland, 1949): 'Daddy, you can't lend me a hundred pounds?' 'That is so', he answers, not ceasing to set the table the while. The timing, the absorption in the role of benign but unbudgeable father, is a minute illustration of what made Parker so cherishable.

On stage since 1922 and in films from 1933, he made his first real mark as 'Todhunter', the nervous would-be adulterer in The Lady Vanishes (d. Alfred Hitchcock, 1938), and twice more he and Linden Travers were involved in uneasy liaisons - in The Stars Look Down (d. Carol Reed, 1939), where she is bored with him, and Quartet (segment d. Ken Annakin, 1948), he always anxious about discovery.

He could be austerely unsympathetic as in the title role of Captain Boycott (d. Frank Launder, 1947) and in Hungry Hill (d. Brian Desmond Hurst, 1947); is wonderfully comic as the pained butler in The Chiltern Hundreds (d. John Paddy Carstairs, 1949) and the shifty 'Major' in The Ladykillers (d. Alexander Mackendrick, 1955); and touching as the middle-class probation officer trying to do his job in I Believe in You (d. Michael Relph, 1952).

The truth is that he probably never gave a poor performance - and that there is much more variety in his work than might be supposed. Fortunately for the cinema, he came to prefer it to the stage. WW1 service left him with a neck injury which partly accounted for the courteously tilted head, and which became part of the actor's persona.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Thumbnail image of Captain Boycott (1947)Captain Boycott (1947)

Lively drama about 19th-century Irish civil disobedience

Thumbnail image of Constant Husband, The (1954)Constant Husband, The (1954)

Comedy with Rex Harrison as an amnesiac with a terrible secret

Thumbnail image of Cuckoo in the Nest (1933)Cuckoo in the Nest (1933)

Ben Travers farce about a series of comical misunderstandings

Thumbnail image of Heavens Above! (1963)Heavens Above! (1963)

Comedy of clerical misunderstanding starring an on-form Peter Sellers

Thumbnail image of Lady Vanishes, The (1938)Lady Vanishes, The (1938)

Glorious comic thriller about a mysteriously disappearing old woman

Thumbnail image of Ladykillers, The (1955)Ladykillers, The (1955)

A gang of ruthless criminals meet their match in the elderly Mrs Wilberforce

Thumbnail image of Magic Bow, The (1946)Magic Bow, The (1946)

Stewart Granger (and Yehudi Menuhin) as the violinist Paganini

Thumbnail image of Magic Box, The (1951)Magic Box, The (1951)

Star-studded biopic of British film pioneer William Friese-Greene

Thumbnail image of Magnificent Two, The (1967)Magnificent Two, The (1967)

Eric and Ernie get caught up in a South American revolution

Thumbnail image of Man Who Changed His Mind, The (1936)Man Who Changed His Mind, The (1936)

Wonderful early 'mad scientist' film, with Boris Karloff

Thumbnail image of Man in the White Suit, The (1951)Man in the White Suit, The (1951)

Ealing classic with naive inventor Alec Guinness up against British industry

Thumbnail image of Ships with Wings (1941)Ships with Wings (1941)

Stiff-upper-lipped Ealing war film celebrating the Fleet Air Arm

Thumbnail image of Stars Look Down, The (1939)Stars Look Down, The (1939)

Breakthrough film for Carol Reed, a progressive pit community drama

Thumbnail image of Tale of Two Cities, A (1958)Tale of Two Cities, A (1958)

Dirk Bogarde stars as an idealistic lawyer in this Dickens adaptation

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