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Hordern, Sir Michael (1911-1995)


Main image of Hordern, Sir Michael (1911-1995)

A former teacher and sales rep who had one line in A Girl Must Live (d. Carol Reed, 1939) and a fleeting bit in Band Waggon (d. Marcel Varnel, 1940), before WW2 service in the Royal Navy (1940-45), returned to the stage in 1947, to TV (Morning Departure, BBC) and films (School for Secrets, d. Peter Ustinov; Girl in a Million, d. Francis Searle) in 1946 - and thereafter never stopped.

Despite claiming in 1990 that he had 'never been ambitious', he had one of the most productive careers of any 20th century British actor. He had several seasons at Stratford and the Old Vic, playing many of the great classic roles - Lear, Prospero, Brutus, Pastor Manders in Ghosts, as well as new plays - and there was masses of rich TV, culminating in Memento Mori (d. Jack Clayton, tx. 19/4/1992) and, as Farebrother, in Middlemarch (BBC, 1994 - why didn't someone make this when he was young enough to play a definitive Casaubon?).

Besides all this were nearly 100 films. Even in the 30-odd small roles he did in the decade after WW2, he was distinctive as policemen and officials of various kinds; then, from about 1955 he started to have more significant parts. He was Commander Lindsay with a nightmare story to tell in The Night My Number Came Up (d. Leslie Norman, 1955), the embittered, jealous father of the little boy in The Spanish Gardener (d. Philip Leacock, 1956) and the Resident Commissioner in Pacific Destiny (d. Wolf Rilla, 1956), the Governor of Gibraltar in I Was Monty's Double (d. John Guillermin, 1959), a fine Banquo in a dreadful Macbeth (d. George Schaefer, 1960).

He had even more rewarding roles in the '60s, including Ashe in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (d. Martin Ritt, 1965), a great comedy turn in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (US, d. Richard Lester, 1966), and Thomas Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days (d. Charles Jarrott, 1969), to choose three among many; and in 1972, as the seedy journalist Minty in England Made Me (UK/Yugoslavia, d. Peter Duffell), he gives perhaps the quintessential Greenean performance of any adaptation of Greene's work. In or out of uniform, in costume or modern dress, he was an unassuming pillar of British cinema for several decades.

Autobiography: A World Elsewhere, 1993.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

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Comedy with Rex Harrison as an amnesiac with a terrible secret

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Gainsborough melodrama about a girl's descent into ruin

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

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Gentle Michael Palin comedy about a missionary amongst 'fallen women'

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Cherished comedy in which a Pimlico street declares its independence

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Alastair Sim's definitive portrayal of Charles Dickens' curmudgeon

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Assorted celebrities are stranded in an airport when fog hits the runway

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Visually striking BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation

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Michael Hordern stars as Scrooge in this BBC Dickens adaptation

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BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation

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Antony Sher excels as a radical but egotistical Sociology lecturer

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Outstanding adaptation of Muriel Spark's unsettling novel

Thumbnail image of On the Margin (1966)On the Margin (1966)

Alan Bennett's first and only out-and-out comedy series

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The animated adventures of the bear from Darkest Peru

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BBC Television Shakespeare version of the classic doomed romance

Thumbnail image of Whistle and I'll Come To You (1968)Whistle and I'll Come To You (1968)

Jonathan Miller's truly creepy version of M.R. James' ghost story

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Definitive animated version of the Kenneth Grahame children's classic

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