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Thesiger, Ernest (1879-1961)


Main image of Thesiger, Ernest (1879-1961)

The cadaverous ancient of, say, Laughter in Paradise (d. Mario Zampi, 1951) or The Man in the White Suit (d. Alexander Mackendrick, 1951), which is no doubt how he is remembered by film buffs, was in earlier decades a famous eccentric in London's literary and social circles. Impeccably descended and Marlborough-educated, he delighted in shocking (there are tales of his wearing pearls next to the skin, of his displaying his legs in pale moleskin shorts, of taking his needlework with him to the trenches in 1915), and even going on the stage, as he did professionally in 1909 with Sir George Alexander, was a rebellious act.

His stage credits ran to four columns in Who's Who in the Theatre (1957) and he appeared in nearly 60 films. In the US, he was the memorably waspish, epicene host of The Old Dark House (d. James Whale, 1932) and mad scientist Dr Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein (d. Whale, 1935). His British credits are full of slyly conceived cameos of prissiness, pedantry and esoteric professionalism: he is the Duc de Berri in Henry V (d. Laurence Olivier, 1944), the hand-writing expert in The Winslow Boy (d. Anthony Asquith, 1948) and the undertaker in Scrooge (d. Brian Desmond Hurst, 1951), putting his mark on the film in the few minutes, which was often all he had to work with.

Autobiography: Practically True, 1927
Adventures in Embroidery, 1945.

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 Ghoul, The (1933)Ghoul, The (1933)

Early sound chiller starring Boris Karloff

Thumbnail image of Henry V (1944)Henry V (1944)

Laurence Olivier turns Shakespeare into rousing propaganda

Thumbnail image of Jassy (1947)Jassy (1947)

Technicolor melodrama about a gypsy girl with second sight

Thumbnail image of Laughter in Paradise (1951)Laughter in Paradise (1951)

Alastair Sim stars in a comedy about a practical joker's legacy

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

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

Thumbnail image of Man Who Could Work Miracles, The (1937)Man Who Could Work Miracles, The (1937)

H.G. Wells fantasy in which an ordinary man receives unexpected gifts

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 My Learned Friend (1943)My Learned Friend (1943)

Surprisingly dark Will Hay comedy about the law, blackmail and murder

Thumbnail image of Night of the Party, The (1934)Night of the Party, The (1934)

Early Powell murder mystery with Ernest Thesiger and Leslie Banks

Thumbnail image of Scrooge (1951)Scrooge (1951)

Alastair Sim's definitive portrayal of Charles Dickens' curmudgeon

Thumbnail image of They Drive By Night (1939)They Drive By Night (1939)

Thriller in which a newly-released criminal tries to prove his innocence

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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