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Holloway, Stanley (1890-1982)

Actor, Comedian, Singer

Main image of Holloway, Stanley (1890-1982)

One of the best-loved British entertainers of the 20th century, Stanley Holloway first trained for opera, then, post-World War I infantry service, became a seaside concert artist and music hall performer, making his London stage debut in 1919, enduringly famous for his classic monologue, "Albert and the Lion".

He made one silent film, The Rotters (d. A.V. Bramble, 1921), but entered films in earnest in the 1930s, revealing a huge demotic appeal that was noticeable in an essentially middle-class cinema.

His first talkie was a film version of his concert-party revue, The Co-Optimists (d. Edwin Greenwood, 1929), and some of his other 1930s movies enabled him to film his famous monologues (e.g., the animated films Sam and His Musket and Drummed Out, both d. Anson Dyer, 1935), but his real fame as a character star came in the 1940s.

He brings a bluff lower-middle to middle-class solidity and authenticity to such roles as the former Parliament House stoker in The Way Ahead (d. Carol Reed, 1944), the next-door neighbour in This Happy Breed (d. David Lean, 1944), the police sergeant in Wanted for Murder (d. Lawrence Huntington, 1946), the bottom-smacking porter in Brief Encounter (d. David Lean, 1945), the shopkeeper-councillor in Passport to Pimlico (d. Henry Cornelius, 1949), Alec Guinness's souvenir-making colleague ("Anne 'athaway cottages for string") in The Lavender Hill Mob (d. Charles Crichton, 1951), the embattled householder in The Happy Family (d. Muriel Box, 1952), the turning-worm husband in Meet Me Tonight (d. Anthony Pélissier, 1952, "Fumed Oak" episode), the true Labour man who tells MP Peter Finch "You learnt the words but not the music" in No Love for Johnnie (d. Ralph Thomas, 1961) - and so on.

As well, there are cherishable breaks with realism in, say, his Vincent Crummles in Nicholas Nickleby (d. Cavalcanti, 1947) and the Gravedigger in Hamlet (d. Laurence Olivier, 1948).

And, for many people, the crowning achievement of a great career was his originating of Doolittle in My Fair Lady (US, d. George Cukor, 1964), his famous song from which, "Wiv a little bit of luck", provided the title for his 1969 autobiography. By then, he'd become an institution on stage, screen and TV. He was the father of Julian Holloway.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Alligator Named Daisy, An (1955)Alligator Named Daisy, An (1955)

All-star farce starring Donald Sinden, Diana Dors and an alligator

Thumbnail image of Brief Encounter (1945)Brief Encounter (1945)

Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson start a great British romance

Thumbnail image of Champagne Charlie (1944)Champagne Charlie (1944)

Lively recreation of the bawdy atmosphere of Victorian music-halls

Thumbnail image of Hamlet (1948)Hamlet (1948)

Laurence Olivier's multi-Oscar-winning Shakespeare adaptation

Thumbnail image of Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)

A group of eccentric Londoners plot the perfect crime

Thumbnail image of Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, The (1947)Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, The (1947)

Cavalcanti's adaptation of Dickens' classic novel

Thumbnail image of Noose (1948)Noose (1948)

Stylish 'B' thriller in which a fashion journalist takes on a Soho gangster

Thumbnail image of Passport to Pimlico (1949)Passport to Pimlico (1949)

Cherished comedy in which a Pimlico street declares its independence

Thumbnail image of Sam Small at Westminster (1935)Sam Small at Westminster (1935)

Stanley Holloway delivers a monologue in support of the National Government

Thumbnail image of This Happy Breed (1944)This Happy Breed (1944)

David Lean/Noël Coward film about a London family between the wars

Thumbnail image of Way Ahead, The (1944)Way Ahead, The (1944)

Inspiring propaganda film following the making of an Army unit

Thumbnail image of Winslow Boy, The (1948)Winslow Boy, The (1948)

Adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play about a boy accused of theft

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Thumbnail image of Ealing Studios (1938-59)Ealing Studios (1938-59)

Film Studio, Production Company