100 British actors from the last 100 years
One of the oldest actors on the screen in the 1920s and 1930s, George Arliss starred on the London stage from an early age. He came to the United States and starred in several films, but it was his role as British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in Disraeli
that brought him his greatest success.
Arthur Askey was a diminutive British comedian, born in 1900. He began his professional career as a music hall performer in 1924, but it wasn't until 1938's Band Waggon
(which lasted a full five seasons), that he became a household name in England. His film debut was in the 1937 British feature Calling All Stars
Rowan Sebastian Atkinson was born on 6 January, 1955, in Consett, Co. Durham, UK, to Ella May (Bainbridge) and Eric Atkinson. His father owned a farm, where Rowan grew up with his two older brothers, Rupert and Rodney. He attended Newcastle University and Oxford University where he earned degrees in electrical engineering...
Lord Richard Attenborough was born in Cambridge, England, the son of Mary (née Clegg), a founding member of the Marriage Guidance Council, and Frederick Levi Attenborough, a scholar and academic administrator who was a don at Emmanuel College and wrote a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law. Attenborough...
British character actor Felix Aylmer was educated at Oxford and later studied drama, making his stage debut at the London Coliseum in 1911. During World War I he served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and resumed his stage career after the war ended. He entered films in 1930 and stayed in them for the next 40 years...
Stanley Baker was unusual star material to emerge during the Fifties - when impossibly handsome and engagingly romantic leading men were almost de rigueur. Baker was forged from a rougher mould. His was good-looking, but his features were angular, taut, austere and unwelcoming. His screen persona was taciturn...
Christian Charles Philip Bale was born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK on January 30, 1974, to English parents Jennifer "Jenny" (James) and David Charles Howard Bale. His mother was a circus performer and his father, who was born in South Africa, was a commercial pilot. The family lived in different countries throughout Bale's childhood...
Ronnie Barker's remarkable versatility as a performer can be traced back to his time in repertory theatre, where he was able to play a wide range of roles and develop his talent for accents, voices and verbal dexterity. It was during this time that he met Glenn Melvyn
, who taught him how to stammer (something he would later use to great effect in the sitcom Open All Hours
If there was ever an actor whose choice of film projects suggested a pure love of acting rather than an interest in commercial gain, it would have to be Alan Bates. A supremely talented and versatile actor, Bates hasn't attained the stardom of far lesser performers because of his preference for challenging and interesting work and an avoidance of being type-cast...
Boisterous British actor Brian Blessed is known for his hearty, king-sized portrayals on film and television. A giant of a man accompanied by an eloquent wit and booming, operatic voice, Brian was born in 1936 and grew up in the mining village of Goldthorpe in South Yorkshire. His father was a miner who wanted a better life for his son; Brian lost three uncles in the pit...
Orlando Jonathan Blanchard Bloom was born in Canterbury, Kent, England on January 13, 1977. His mother, Sonia Constance Josephine (Copeland), was born in Kolkata, India, to an English family then-resident there. The man he briefly knew as his father, Harry Bloom, was a legendary political activist who fought for civil rights in South Africa...
Sir Dirk Bogarde, distinguished film actor and writer, was born Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde on March 28, 1921, to Ulric van den Bogaerde, the art editor of "The Times" (London) newspaper, and actress Margaret Niven in the London suburb of Hampstead. He was one of three children...
Kenneth Charles Branagh was born on December 10, 1960, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, to parents William Branagh, a plumber and carpenter born in 1930, and Frances (Harper) Branagh, also born in 1930. His brother, William Branagh Jr., was born in 1955 and sister, Joyce Branagh
, was born in 1970...
One of England's most versatile character actors, Jim Broadbent was born on May 24, 1949, in Lincolnshire, the youngest son of furniture maker Roy Laverick Broadbent and sculptress Doreen "Dee" (Findlay) Broadbent. Jim attended a Quaker boarding school in Reading before successfully applying for a place at an art school...
Michael Caine is an English actor and author. Renowned for his distinctive working class cockney accent, Caine has appeared in over 115 films and is regarded as a British film icon. He made his breakthrough in the 1960s with starring roles in a number of acclaimed British films, including Zulu (1964)...
George Cole OBE is a veteran British film, television and stage actor whose impressive career has spanned over 60 years. For many, he will perhaps be best remembered for playing one of the most endearing characters of recent times on British television, "Arthur Daley", the shifty but very likable "business man" in the hit ITV drama series, Minder
British leading man of primarily American films, one of the great stars of the Golden Age. Raised in Ealing, the son of a successful silk merchant, he attended boarding school in Sussex, where he first discovered amateur theatre. He intended to attend Cambridge and become an engineer, but his father's death cost him the financial support necessary...
Connery's breakthrough came in the role of secret agent James Bond. He was reluctant to commit to a film series, but understood that if the films succeeded his career would greatly benefit. He played the character in the first five Bond films: Dr. No
, From Russia with Love
Acting chameleon Sir Tom Courtenay, along with Sirs Alan Bates
and Albert Finney
, became front-runners in an up-and-coming company of rebel upstarts who created quite a stir in British "kitchen sink" cinema during the early 60s. An undying love for the theatre, however, had Courtenay channeling a different course than the afore-mentioned greats and he never...
Daniel Craig, one of British theatre's most famous faces, who waited tables as a struggling teenage actor with the National Youth Theatre, went on to star as "James Bond" in Casino Royale
, Quantum of Solace
. He was born Daniel Wroughton Craig on March 2, 1968, at 41 Liverpool Road...
A veritable everyman of stage and screen, both big and small, but relatively unfamiliar to American audiences, Michael Craig is of Scots heritage, born in India to a father on military assignment. When he was three, the family returned to England, but by his eleventh year, they moved on to Canada - where he undoubtedly acquired his North American accent...
Peter Wilton Cushing was born on May 26, 1913 in Kenley, Surrey, England, to Nellie Maria (King) and George Edward Cushing, a quantity surveyor. He and his older brother David were raised first in Dulwich Village, a south London suburb, and then later back in Surrey. At an early age, Cushing was attracted to acting...
At a consistently lean 6' 2", green-eyed Timothy Dalton may very well be one of the last of the dying breed of swashbuckling, classically trained Shakespearean actors who have forged simultaneous successful careers in theater, television and film. He has been comparison-shopped roundly for stepping into roles played by other actors...
Day-Lewis is one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation and has earned numerous awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Actor for his performances in My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007) and Lincoln (2012), making him the only male actor in history to have three wins in the lead actor category and one of only three male actors to win three Oscars...
Much-loved character actor who specialised in playing slightly sleazy/slightly eccentric and often flawed upper middle class English gentlemen. His career spanned nearly 40 years, becoming a well-known face both in Britain and in the States.
Rupert James Hector Everett was born in Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk, to Sara (Maclean) and Anthony Michael Everett, a Major in the British Army, who later worked in business. He is of mostly English, Scottish, and Irish ancestry. Everett grew up in privileged circumstances, but the wry, sometimes arrogant...
London-born David Farrar dropped out of school at 14 and became a writer for the Morning Advertiser newspaper; but it wasn't long before he decided to change careers and become an actor. He started out on the stage in 1932, and five years later made his film debut. Appearing at first in low-budget thrillers...
Despite being one of the finest actors of his generation, Peter Finch will be remembered as much for his reputation as a hard-drinking, hell-raising womanizer as for his performances on the screen. He was born in London in 1916 and went to live in Sydney, Australia, at the age of ten. There, he worked in a series of dead-end jobs before taking up acting...
Colin Andrew Firth was born into an academic family in Grayshott, Hampshire, England. His mother, Shirley Jean (Rolles), was a comparative religion lecturer at the Open University, and his father, David Norman Lewis Firth, lectured on history at Winchester University College (formerly King Alfred's College) in Winchester...
Born in London, England, John Gielgud trained at Lady Benson's Acting School and RADA, London. Best known for his Shakespearean roles in the theater, he first played Hamlet at the age of 26. He worked under the tutelage of Lilian Bayliss with friend and fellow performer Laurence Olivier
and other contemporaries of the National Theatre at the "Old Vic"...
Stewart Granger was born James Leblanche Stewart in London, the grandson of the actor "Luigi Lablache". He attended Epsom College but left after deciding not to pursue a medical degree. He decided to try acting and attended Webber-Douglas School of Dramatic Art, London. By 1935, he made his stage debut in "The Cardinal" at the Little Theatre Hull ...
Cary Grant was an English actor who became an American citizen in 1942. Known for his transatlantic accent, debonair demeanor, and "dashing good looks", Grant is considered one of classic Hollywood's definitive leading men. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Grant the second greatest male star of Golden Age Hollywood cinema (after Humphrey Bogart)...
A former telephone engineer who dabbled in amateur dramatics, John Gregson served aboard a minesweeper with the Royal Navy during World War II. After demobilisation, he joined the Liverpool Old Vic, making his stage debut in 'The Knight of the Burning Pestle'. Freshly married, he moved to London and...
Alec Guinness de Cuffe was born on April 2, 1914 in Marylebone, London, England, and was raised by his mother, Agnes Cuffe. While working in advertising, he studied at the Fay Compton
Studio of Dramatic Art, debuting on stage in 1934 and played classic theater with the Old Vic from 1936. In 1941...
Tony Hancock was born in Birmingham, England, the son of John and Lillian Hancock. He was educated at Durlston Court, Swanage, and Bradfield College, Reading. He served in the R.A.F. (ground crew) during the war. In 1942 he was in the R.A.F. Gang Show. He was de-mobbed in 1946. He appeared at the Windmill Theatre...
Sir Cedric Hardwicke, one of the great character actors in the first decades of the talking picture, was born in Lye, England on February 19, 1893. Hardwicke attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made his stage debut in 1912. His career was interrupted by military service in World War I, but he returned to the stage in 1922 with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre...
Gordon Harker born in 1885 in London into a well-known family of theatrical artists, he first appeared on stage in 1903. Lugubrious, shifty cockney character who starred and supported in over 60 films his first film role as Major Kent in Harold M. Shaw 'General John Regan' starring Milton Rosmer for...
Rex Harrison was born Reginald Carey Harrison in Huyton, Lancashire, England, to Edith Mary (Carey) and William Reginald Harrison, a cotton broker. He changed his name to Rex as a young boy, knowing it was the Latin word for "King". Starting out on his theater career at age 18, his first job at the Liverpool Rep Theatre was nearly his last - dashing across the stage to say his one line...
William Hartnell was born on 8 January 1908, just south of St. Pancras station in London. In press materials in the 1940s he claimed that his father was a farmer and later a stockbroker; it turns out that he had actually been born out of wedlock, as his biography "Who's There?" states. At age 16 he was adopted by Hugh Blaker...
In Britain, special Christmas plays called pantomimes are produced for children. Jack Hawkins made his London theatrical debut at age 12, playing the elf king in "Where The Rainbow Ends". At 17, he got the lead role of St. George in the same play. At 18, he made his debut on Broadway in "Journey's End"...
William Thompson Hay was probably one of the most versatile of entertainers. He was not only a character comedian of the first rank, but was also an astronomer of high repute - he discovered the spot on the planet Saturn in 1933 - and a fully qualified air pilot; he was once an engineer. Born at Stockton on Tees in 1888...
Anthony Hopkins was born on December 31, 1937, in Margam, Wales, to Muriel Anne (Yeats) and Richard Arthur Hopkins, a baker. His parents were both of half Welsh and half English descent. Influenced by Richard Burton
, he decided to study at College of Music and Drama and graduated in 1957. In 1965, he moved to London and joined the National Theatre...
Leslie Howard Stainer was born in London, to Lilian (Blumberg) and Ferdinand "Frank" Steiner. His father was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, and his English mother was of German Jewish, and mostly English, descent. Leslie went to Dulwich College. After school, he worked as a bank clerk until the outbreak of World War I...
The son of an insurance underwriter, who represented Lloyd's of London in Ceylon, Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith was born in Margate, Kent. He spent his early childhood globetrotting with his mother, frequently left in the care of strangers. After attending private school, he subsequently trained at RADA (due to his mother's insistence)...
Jack Hulbert--the brother of actor Claude Hulbert
--began his acting career at Cambridge, where he worked in various plays and variety revues. He later had a very successful career on the stage in comedies and musicals. His film debut was in Elstree Calling
, in which he appeared with his wife, Cicely Courtneidge
The star of the Carry On series of films, Sid James originally came to prominence as sidekick to the ground breaking British comedy actor Tony Hancock, on both radio and then television. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa and named Solomon Joel Cohen, James arrived in England in 1946, second wife in tow...
Sir David Jason was born in Edmonton, London, in 1940. He has become one of Britain's most famous and respected actors. He is a versatile actor who is most famously known for his role in Only Fools and Horses....
as Del Boy. He made his debut as DelBoy back in 1981 and was still playing the same role up to the Christmas special in 2002...
James Robertson Justice
His father was a successful Scottish lawyer and sent him to Marlborough College and wanted him to go on to varsity but James wanted his freedom and drifted in various jobs including working on a barge, selling insurance and freelance journalism. Enjoying the later he went to Canada when 20 to try his...
Hugh was born in Oxford, England on June 11, 1959, to Patricia (Laidlaw) and William George Ranald Mundell "Ran" Laurie, a doctor, both of Scottish descent. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge. Son of an Olympic gold medalist in the sport, he rowed for the England youth team (1977) and for Cambridge (1980)...
Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was perhaps the only actor of his generation to have starred in so many films and cult saga. Although most notable for personifying bloodsucking vampire, Dracula, on screen, he portrayed other varied characters on screen, most of which were villains, whether it be Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film...
Arthur Towle was in show business from 1900 when he left school until his dying day. He started as an "Irish" character comedian in British music halls; touring Ireland with this act in 1913, he met and married Kitty McShane
(she was 15, he 26). They gradually evolved the act of "Old Mother Riley and her Daughter" (Arthur...
Since David McCallum's father, David McCallum Sr.
, was first violinist for the London Philharmonic and his mother, Dorothy Dorman, was a cellist, it's not surprising that David was originally headed for a career in music, playing oboe. He studied briefly at the Royal Academy of Music. He left that, however...
Though born in America, Irish actor Patrick McGoohan rose to become the number-one British TV star in the 1950s to 1960s era. His parents moved to Ireland when he was very young and McGoohan acquired a neutral accent that sounds at home in British or American dialogue. He was an avid stage actor and...
Ian Murray McKellen was born on May 25, 1939 in Burnley, Lancashire, England, to Margery Lois (Sutcliffe) and Denis Murray McKellen, a civil engineer. He is of Scottish, Northern Irish, and English descent. During his early childhood, his parents moved with Ian and his sister Jean to the mill town of Wigan...
British actor Patrick Macnee was born on February 6, 1922 in London, England into a wealthy and eccentric family. His father, Daniel Macnee, was a race horse trainer, who drank and gambled away the family fortune, leaving young Patrick to be raised by his gay mother, Dorothea Mary, and her lover. Shortly after graduating from Eton (from which he was almost expelled for running a gambling ring)...
Actor, playwright and screenwriter Miles Malleson's list of credits reads like a history of British cinema in the first half of the 20th century. Born in Croydon in Surrey, he attended Brighton College in Sussex before studying at Cambridge University with the intention of becoming a schoolmaster. However...
Garry Marsh was the younger brother of Digby George Gerahty who as Robert Standish wrote the novel Elephant Walk adapted to film starring Elizabeth Taylor. Gerahty is the correct spelling of the family name according to a nephew of Garry and Digby. Digby was the prolific writer of some 80 novels, using pen names, Robert Standish, Stephen Lister, George Digby, and George Echlin.
James Mason was a great English actor of British and American films. He was born in Yorkshire, and attended Marlborough and Cambridge, where he discovered acting on a lark, and abandoned a planned career as an architect. Following work in stock companies, he joined the Old Vic under the guidance of Sir Tyrone Guthrie
and of Alexander Korda
The British character actor Bernard Miles was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex, England, in 1907; his father was a farm laborer and his mother was a cook. After graduation from Pembroke College, Oxford, he was a teacher for a while and then joined the New Theatre in London. In 1937, he worked in Herbert Farjeon
's revue company and established his theatrical career...
Because of his commitment to several television shows, in particular the long-lasting series The Saint, Roger Moore was unavailable for the James Bond franchise for a considerable time. His participation in The Saint was not only as actor, but also as a producer and director, and he also became involved in developing the series The Persuaders!...
English character actor Robert Morley was educated in England, Germany, France and Italy. His family planned for him to go into the diplomatic service but he liked the idea of acting more. After studying at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London he appeared on the London stage in 1929 and in 1938 he first appeared on Broadway as the lead in Oscar Wilde...
David Niven was named after the Saint's Day on which he was born, St. David, patron Saint of Wales. He attended Stowe School and Sandhurst Military Academy and served for two years in Malta with the Highland Light Infantry. At the outbreak of World War II, although a top-line star, he re-joined the army (Rifle Brigade)...
While his special gifts seemed to lie in music and composing, the dapper, multi-talented Welsh actor Ivor Novello (ne David Ivor Davies), with his leading-man good looks, had a strong affinity for the camera. Born in Cardiff, Wales, in 1893, he was the son of a tax-collector father and a well-known singing teacher mother...
Laurence Olivier could speak William Shakespeare
's lines as naturally as if he were "actually thinking them", said English playwright Charles Bennett
, who met Olivier in 1927. Laurence Kerr Olivier was born in Dorking, Surrey, England, to Agnes Louise (Crookenden) and Gerard Kerr Olivier, a High Anglican priest. His surname came from a great-great-grandfather who was of French Huguenot origin...
This Britisher was born of humble, working class beginnings and became well-known for playing the same kind of blokes on both film and TV. Born William Rowbotham, he was the son of a tram driver and laundress. He knew early on that entertaining was the life for him. He worked in odd jobs as a printer's apprentice and band vocalist to make do and...
An air of almost smug disdain would hang over his characters like a grey cloud. Yet he could end up being a ray of sunshine with that cloud. Stage or screen, comedy or drama, playing butler or Lord Commander, Englishman Cecil Parker was born in 1897 and took an avid interest in performing following his discharge from World War I military service...
This droll, dry-witted London-born gent came from a family of actors. He made his stage debut in 1932 and established his reputation in stylish plays. He progressed to films in 1939 but his career was immediately interrupted after only one movie appearance by WWII, serving as a lieutenant colonel in the infantry...
A much-loved comic actor who has specialized in playing plummy, quintessentially English stereotypes, Leslie Phillips' heart was in acting from a very young age. He received elocution lessons as a child in order to lose his natural cockney accent (at that time a regional British accent was a major impediment to an aspiring actor) and he attended the Italia Conti School...
Balding, quietly-spoken, of slight build and possessed of piercing blue eyes -- often peering out from behind round, steel-rimmed glasses -- Donald Pleasence had the necessary physical attributes which make a great screen villain. In the course of his lengthy career, he relished playing the obsessed...
This urbane, sourly handsome British actor was born to privilege and most of his roles would follow suit. Born Dennistoun John Franklyn Rose-Price in Berkshire in 1915, Dennis Price, the son of a brigadier-general, was expected to abide by his family wishes and make a career for himself in the army or the church...
Anthony Quayle was born in Ainsdale in September 1913, the son of a Lancashire lawyer. He completed his education at Rugby School and had a brief spell at RADA, before treading the boards for the first time as the straight man in a music hall comedy act in 1931. Tall, burly, round-faced and possessed of a powerful and resonant voice...
Though thoroughly British, actor Basil Radford actually began his film career in a couple of US films. Born in Chester, England, he made his stage debut in 1922 and continued to focus on the theatre until director Alfred Hitchcock
memorably teamed Radford with actor Naunton Wayne
in one of his early cinematic masterpieces - The Lady Vanishes
The British actor Michael Rennie worked as a car salesman and factory manager before he turned to acting. A meeting with a Gaumont-British Studios casting director led to Rennie's first acting job - that of stand-in for Robert Young
in Secret Agent
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
. He put his film career on hold for a few years to get some acting experience on the stage...
Sir Ralph Richardson was one of the greatest actors of the 20th Century English-language theater, ascending to the height of his profession in the mid-1930s when he became a star in London's West End. He became the first actor of his generation to be knighted. He became Sir Ralph in 1947, and was quickly followed Laurence Olivier
Often credited as the greatest comedian of all time, Peter Sellers was born to a well-off English acting family in 1925. His mother and father worked in an acting company run by his grandmother. As a child, Sellers was spoiled, as his parents' first child had died at birth. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force and served during World War II...
Robert Archibald Shaw was born on August 9, 1927 in Westhoughton, Lancashire, England, the eldest son of Doreen Nora (Avery), a nurse, and Thomas Archibald Shaw, a doctor. His paternal grandfather was Scottish, from Argyll. Shaw's mother, who was born in Piggs Peak, Swaziland, met his father while she was a nurse at a hospital in Truro...
He came to acting late being 30 when he started acting on the London stage and 35 when he made his film debut. In the late 30's he was inclined towards the sinister with such films as 'The Terror'(38) although he also appeared in the Crazy Gang's 'Alf's Button Afloat' (38) and with Jesse Matthews in 'Climbing High'(39)...
The son of a country chemist, the British actor Donald Sinden intended to pursue a career in architecture but was spotted in an amateur theatrical production and asked to join a company that entertained the troops during World War II (Sinden was rejected for naval service because of asthma). Following a brief training at drama school...
One of Britain's most beloved eccentric comedians, the irrepressible, gap-toothed Terry-Thomas was born Thomas Terry Hoar Stevens in Lichfield Grove, Finchley. He was the son of Ellen Elizabeth (Hoar) and Ernest Frederick Stevens, a fairly well-to-do London businessman. He was afforded a private education at Ardingly College in Sussex...
British leading man who achieved some success in American films, as well. Born in Ireland as the son of a British officer, Todd grew up in Devon and attended Shrewsbury Public School. His interest in theatre led him to small roles in stock in England and Scotland, following which he helped found the Dundee Repertory Theatre in 1939...
An amiable, beloved Cockney cut-up from the 1930s on, London-born Tommy Trinder, the son of a tram driver, quit school and sought the stage, milking laughs at the tender age of 13 in a musical revue that was touring South Africa. Following that he became a boy vocalist at Collins' Music-Hall. The wry...
Comedy farceur Tom Walls is indelibly associated with the popular Aldwych Theatre farces of the 1920s and 1930s. Born in 1883, this English gent was a former constable and jockey before making his stage debut in 1905. As the star and producer of a succession of witty spoofs typically denigrating society's uppercrust...
Jack Warner started acting with the Sutton Amateur Dramatics Club after the end of World War I. From 1935, performed in cabaret at the London West End as half of the double act of Warner & Darnell. In addition to starring as Dixon of Dock Green
, which ran for over 20 years, he achieved lasting popularity on screen in the role of Joe Huggett...
Linked inextricably with actor Basil Radford
, Welsh-born character actor Naunton Wayne, together with Radford, struck such a major chord with film audiences as an inept, uppercrust pair of cricket-obsessed British gents, that the two were invariably teamed up time and time again in a host of "veddy" popular film comedies. The perennial partners would prove equally popular on radio...
Born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England on July 23, 1912, Wilding became a commercial artist after leaving school. He gained employment in the art department of a film studio in London in 1933, and he was soon approached by producers to become a movie star-in-training due to his dashing good looks. After debuting at age 21 in Bitter Sweet
Born George Emlyn Williams in Pen-y-Ffordd, Mostyn, Flintshire in northeast Wales on November 1905, he lived in a rural village in which Welsh was spoken until he was 12-years-old, when his family moved to an English-speaking town, Connah's Quay. It changed the course of his life as it was there that the teacher...
He joined the army at 14 as a band boy and learnt to play the clarinet, drums and xylophone. He went to India with the army in 1941 and became a comedian by clowning around in camp concerts. When demobbed he returned home and decided to try to get on the stage but couldn't find an agent who was interested in him...