This list takes into account acting ability more than level of fame.
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
“ The most versatile actor I've ever seen. Had brilliant comic timing. After achieving great success with Porridge in the mid 1970s, chose to continue acting in British sitcoms for the next decade. In 1988 he retired to run an antique shop in Oxfordshire. Barker returned to acting briefly in 2001, but by then was beginning to look quite frail. Barker is very well known and highly thought of in the UK but not widely known internationally, mainly because he appeared in few well known films. ” - topukactors
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...
“ This Irish-British actor was very versatile and had a strong screen presence. McGoohan was probably the top actor on UK television in the 1960s, with hits such as Danger Man and The Prisoner. After that he acted mainly in America in both films and television, winning Emmys for roles in Columbo. McGoohan also turned down many high profile roles including Simon Templar in The Saint, Dumbledore in the Harry Potter Films and Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Like Ronnie Barker, chose roles that he wanted to play and was not interested in appearing in productions merely to increase his level of fame. ” - topukactors
Timothy Leonard Spall was born in Battersea, London, to Sylvia R. (Leonard), a hairdresser, and Joseph L. Spall, a postal worker. He was raised in London. Spall auditioned and earned a spot with the National Youth Theatre and later showed great promise at RADA where he portrayed the title roles in "Macbeth"...
“ Another very versatile actor. The top living actor on this list. In his early career he appeared mostly on television. One of his first big successes was in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet in the early 1980s. His film career began to gather momentum in the mid 1990s. One of his best roles was as Oswald Bates in Shooting the Past in 1999. Spall is now at the peak of his career. Some of his best roles may lie ahead. ” - topukactors
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.
“ Denholm Elliott is underrated. He had a great range and had great screen presence. One of his best performances came near the end of his life in acclaimed TV mini series Bangkok Hilton, where he played a lead role. Appeared in both television and films in a career spanning more than forty years. ” - topukactors
Alec Guinness was an English actor. He is known for his six collaborations with David Lean: Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946), Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor), Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)...
“ Sir Alec Guinness is widely regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time. From the mid 1940s to the mid 1990s, Guinness appeared in many memorable film roles. His best early roles were as Fagin in Oliver Twist and famously playing eight different roles in Kind Hearts and Coronets. Went on to appear in The Bridge over the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Star Wars. Was also brilliant as George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People on television. ” - topukactors
“ Like Ronnie Barker, was a top British sitcom actor in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Had a great range. Briers went on to appear in a number of films, including Branagh's Shakespeare. Richard Briers died in 2013 aged 79. ” - topukactors
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...
“ Sir Christopher Lee had a film career spanning nearly 70 years in which he made several films a year in most years. Lee and his great friend Peter Cushing were arguably the greatest horror film actors of all time. One of Lee's finest roles was in the 1958 Dracula, where he played the menacing Count. His career was still going strong in his eighties, when Lee appeared in The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Lee was very versatile and, although often cast as villians, could play good guy roles just as well. Lee died aged 93 in 2015. ” - topukactors
Sir Michael Gambon was born in Cabra, Dublin, Ireland, to Mary (Hoare), a seamstress, and Edward Gambon, an engineer. After joining the National Theatre, under the Artistic Directorship of Sir Laurence Olivier
, Gambon went on to appear in a number of leading roles in plays written by Alan Ayckbourn
“ Sir Michael Gambon is one of the great actors of television and film. Just witness his role as Philip Marlow in The Singing Detective to see his incredible range. His career began in the mid 1960s and in recent years has appeared in many well known film roles. ” - topukactors
He was the working class boy from Manchester whose intensity and natural honesty made him British television's most bankable actor. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His first starring role on TV was as Sgt John Mann in Redcap
. His first great success, though, was as Detective Inspector Regan in The Sweeney
“ John Thaw was a great television actor. He began his career in the early 1960s. In the 1970s his most memorable role was in The Sweeney. In the 1980s he appeared in sitcom Home To Roost and from 1987 until 2000 won acclaim playing the title role in Inspector Morse. Thaw had such intensity that some short scenes in Morse showed the character sitting alone in his flat with no dialogue and were still very captivating. The character of Morse was killed off little more than a year before Thaw himself died of cancer aged just 60. ” - topukactors
William Claude Rains, born in the Camberwell area of London, was the son of the British stage actor Frederick Rains. The younger Rains followed, making his stage debut at the age of eleven in "Nell of Old Drury." Growing up in the world of theater, he saw not only acting up close but the down-to-earth business end as well...
“ A great British film actor. Acted in the early days of the talkies until the mid 1960s. Appeared in several classic films. One of his best roles was in the 1946 Hitchcock thriller Notorious. ” - topukactors
“ Iconic Scottish actor. His first big hit was as the first James Bond in the 1960s, a role which made him famous throughout the world. Later won an Oscar for The Untouchables. Like Clint Eastwood, has a very likeable on screen persona. ” - topukactors
Probably more frequently remembered for his turbulent personal life and multiple marriages, Richard Burton was nonetheless regarded as one of the great British actors of the post-WWII period. Burton was born Richard Walter Jenkins in Pontrhydyfen, Wales, to Edith Maude (Thomas) and Richard Walter Jenkins...
“ Richard Burton was a charismatic Welsh actor. He was at his peak in the 1960s. He died aged 58 in 1984. ” - topukactors
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...
“ Sir Cedric Hardwicke was a top character actor from the earliest days of the talkies until his death in the mid 1960s. ” - topukactors
“ A very underrated actor with a long career. Baker appeared in many British films, particularly in the 1950s. Later he appeared in a number of television productions, most notably as Inspector Wexford in Ruth Rendell Mysteries. He showed some top rate acting as Wexford. ” - topukactors
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...
“ He and Christopher Lee appeared in many horror films together from the 1950s to the 1970s. Cushing was a great actor who always gave a good performance, even in some mediocre films. Was a great Van Helsing in the Dracula films. Was also a fine Sherlock Holmes. ” - topukactors
A classical actor (and founding member in 1960 of the Royal Shakespeare Company), Richardson earned international fame as the villainous Francis Urquart in the BBC television trilogy, "House of Cards." Uttered in a cut-glass accent, the Machiavellian Prime Minister's sly "You might well think that ...
“ A fine Scottish born actor that worked mainly on television. He achieved his first big TV hit in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, when he was already in his mid forties. Is best known for playing villain Francis Urquhart in the House of Cards trilogy in the early 1990s. ” - topukactors
One of England's most enduringly successful character actors, Robert Hardy is noted for his versatility and depth. Born in Cheltenham in 1925, he studied at Oxford University and, in 1949, he joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. Television viewers most fondly remember him...
“ A character actor specialising in playing characters with a short fuse. Is best remembered for playing Siegfried Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. Just witness his range in that one part. Has appeared in many film and television roles in a career spanning over 50 years. ” - topukactors
Classically-trained actor Pete Postlethwaite was born Peter William Postlethwaite in 1946 and was a distinguished character actor on stage, TV and film. Growing up in Warrington, Lancashire amid middle-class surroundings, he went to college and while completing his studies developed an interest in theatre...
“ An unusual actor, both in looks and style. In a career spanning over thirty years, Postlethwaite was a top British film actor. Brassed Off was one of his best roles. Postlethwaite died in 2011 aged 64. ” - topukactors
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...
“ Often regarded as the best British actor of all time. Had many roles in a long career that began in the early talkies and continued until the late 1980s. Had a great range. One of the best of his early film roles was in Rebecca. A fine later role was in Marathon Man. If this was a list of top British stage actors he would be in the top 3. ” - topukactors
Michael Caine was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite in London, to Ellen Frances Marie (Burchell), a charlady, and Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, a fish-market porter. He left school at age 15 and took a series of working-class jobs before joining the British army and serving in Korea during the Korean War...
“ His career began in the mid 1950s and reached its peak in the 1960s. One of his best 1960s roles was as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File. Has continued to appear in many high profile roles ever since. Should have won an Oscar for Educating Rita. This role showed a greater depth and versatility than most of his other roles. ” - topukactors
Paddy (Patrick) Considine was born on September 5, 1974 in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire in the U.K. As a teenager, Considine studied a drama course at Burton College where he met with now friend and director Shane Meadows
, who cast Considine in his first role in a feature film as the disturbed character Morell in A Room for Romeo Brass
“ One of the top actors of today, Paddy Considine's best roles have been in the films of Shane Meadows. A Room For Romeo Brass and Dead Man's Shoes are two roles that show the diversity of this great actor. Hopefully will go on to be regarded as one of the all time greats. ” - topukactors
Unassuming, innocent-eyed and always ingratiating, Brit comedy actor Ian Carmichael was quite the popular chap in late 50s and early 60s film. He was born in Hull, Yorkshire, England on June 18, 1920, the son of Arthur Denholm Carmichael, an optician, and his wife Kate (Gillett). After receiving his schooling at Bromsgove High School and Scarborough College...
“ A great character actor, specialising in playing upper class characters. His career began after the war. Initially appeared in films but later branched out into television. Was great as Lord Peter Wimsey on television in the 1970s. Continued to work into old age, though in the last decade of his life appeared only as T. J. Middleditch (in TV series The Royal). ” - topukactors
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...
“ Won acclaim young in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in 1962. Since then has appeared in a number of films and TV series, though since the mid 1970s his appearances have been fewer than one would expect of an actor of his calibre. ” - topukactors
Widely regarded as the one of greatest stage and screen actors both in his native Great Britain and internationally, twice nominated for the Oscar and recipient of every major theatrical award in UK and US, Ian Murray McKellen was born on May 25, 1939 in Burnley, Lancashire, England, to Margery Lois (Sutcliffe) and Denis Murray McKellen...
“ Although his career began in the early 1960s, his best roles have all been from the 1990s onwards. Two of his best roles were Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Mr. Sherlock Holmes. ” - topukactors
Even though he had burned up the London stage for nearly a decade--and appeared in several films--Michael Sheen was not really "discovered" by American audiences until his critically-acclaimed turn as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
in the 1999 Broadway revival of "Amadeus". Sheen was born in Newport, Wales, the only son of Irene (Thomas) and Meyrick Sheen...
“ Great actor of today. Very versatile. Great mimic. Just witness his performance as Tony Blair in The Queen. ” - topukactors
With his breakthrough performance as Eames in Christopher Nolan
's science fiction thriller Inception
, English actor Tom Hardy has been brought to the attention of mainstream audiences worldwide. However, the versatile actor has been steadily working on both stage and screen since his television debut in the miniseries Band of Brothers
“ Another top actor of today. Very versatile. ” - topukactors
“ James Bolam has appeared mainly on television in a long career. His first big hit was sitcom The Likely Lads in the mid 1960s. Went on to appear in the sequel Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads? in the mid 1970s. Then appeared in When The Boat Comes In, Beiderbecke, Second Thoughts, Born and Bred & New Tricks. Just witness his performance in Shipman to see his versatility. ” - topukactors
“ Played an iconic TV character, Alf Garnett, on and off for more than thirty years from the mid 1960s to the mid 1990s. To make an angry bigot like Garnett likeable showed Mitchell's great skill. Like Harry H. Corbett, became somewhat typecast. ” - topukactors
“ Played one of the most iconic British TV characters, Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. Was brilliant in this role. If the writing had been better it would probably be regarded in the top 3 UK sitcoms. By the time he was 40, Crawford had left mainstream acting behind him. Has won acclaim since as a musical theatre actor. Could have been one of the great actors. ” - topukactors
Harry H. Corbett
Harry H Corbett (he added the "H" to avoid being confused with Sooty's friend) was born in Burma in 1925. His father was an officer in the army. His mother died when he was very young and he moved to England as a child and was brought up in Manchester by an aunt. After his war service, he joined a repertory company and during the 1950s appeared in many stage productions...
“ Was seen as one of the top young actors of his generation. In his mid thirties began playing Harold Steptoe in iconic sitcom Steptoe and Son. Although he was brilliant in this role, he became typecast. After finally leaving Steptoe behind in 1974, Corbett struggled to get good roles. He died of a heart attack aged just 57 in 1982. ” - topukactors
Sir Michael Hordern established himself as one of the premier stage actors of his generation, and also had a flourishing career as a supporting player in British and international cinema. Born on October 3, 1911, in Berkhampsted, England, Michael Murray Hordern was the son of John Calvery Hordern, a British Army captain...
“ Sir Michael Hordern was a top stage actor that appeared in many films during his long career. Specialised in playing kindly old men. ” - topukactors
Once told by an interviewer, "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant", Grant is said to have replied, "So would I." Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in Horfield, Bristol, England, to Elsie Maria (Kingdon) and Elias James Leach, who worked in a factory. His early years in Bristol would have been an ordinary lower-middle-class childhood...
“ This suave iconic Hollywood actor tended to play similar roles, but he was brilliant at them. Retired in his early sixties and didn't act at all in the last twenty years of his life. ” - topukactors
“ Probably the most underrated actor on this list. Is brilliant at playing slimy or pompous characters. ” - topukactors
“ Has a fifty year career. His best roles have been on television. Appeared in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy alongside Alec Guinness and Ian Richardson in 1979. Was brilliant as Neville Badger in A bit of a do a decade later. ” - topukactors
Gordon Cameron Jackson was born on December 19, 1923, in Glasgow, Scotland, the youngest of five children, whose father taught painting in the city. His interest in acting began during his school years, when he took part in many amateur productions. This led to him being spotted by the BBC, and that led to work in such radio shows such as "Children's Hour" followed...
“ Was a great Scottish character actor. Had a career spanning nearly fifty years. Brilliant at playing nice, sometimes naive, characters. ” - topukactors
Fulton Mackay was born on August 12, 1922 in Paisley, Scotland. He was an actor and writer, known for Local Hero
, Defense of the Realm
and Doing Time
. He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of authoritarian prison warder Mr Mackay in the BBC sitcom Porridge (1973-1977). He was married to Sheila Manahan. He died on June 6, 1987 in London, England.
“ Like Gordon Jackson, was a top Scottish character actor of a similar age. Was brilliant as warder Mr. Mackay in Porridge. Had other good roles in television and film, though not as many as a man of his talent deserved. ” - topukactors
John Cleese was born on October 27, 1939, in Weston-Super-Mare, England, to Muriel Evelyn (Cross) and Reginald Francis Cleese. He was born into a family of modest means, his father being an insurance salesman; but he was nonetheless sent off to private schools to obtain a good education. Here he was often tormented for his height...
“ Not the most versatile actor, but was brilliant at playing Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers. If Basil isn't the greatest TV character of all time I don't know who is. ” - topukactors
A true character actor in the best sense of the word, offbeat British thespian Peter Vaughan's hefty frame could appear intimidating or marshmallow benevolent; his beady, hollow eyes menacing or tender; his mere presence menacing or avuncular. Adept at playing both sides of the law, his characters usually possessed a strange...
“ In a long career beginning in the early 1950s, Peter Vaughan has played many diverse roles. ” - topukactors
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...
“ Terry-Thomas was a top actor in the years after the second world war. Continued to act until 1980. Died ten years later. Helped his relative Richard Briers to pursue a career in acting. ” - topukactors
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
, There Will Be Blood
, 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...
“ A very versatile actor. ” - topukactors
will perhaps always be remembered as the man who replaced Sean Connery
in the James Bond series, arguably something he never lived down. Roger George Moore was born on October 14, 1927 in Stockwell, London, England, the son of Lillian (Pope) and George Alfred Moore, a policeman. He first wanted to be an artist...
“ Sir Roger Moore's career began in the mid 1940s. Had early successful television roles in Ivanoe and The Saint. Played James Bond from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, one of his best roles. His lighthearted comedy suited the Bond films of this era. Since leaving Bond behind in 1985 has done little of note. ” - topukactors
Malcolm John Taylor was born on June 13, 1943 in Leeds, England, to working-class parents Edna (McDowell), a hotelier, and Charles Taylor, a publican. His father was an alcoholic. Malcolm hated his parents' ways. His father was keen to send his son to private school to give him a good start in life...
“ Played the lead in A clockwork orange and has appeared in a lot of movies since the mid 1960s. ” - topukactors
Tony Award-winning English actor Michael Gough, best known for playing the butler Alfred Pennyworth in the first four of Batman
's (1992) (1995) (1997) movies and for playing the arch-criminal Dr. Clement Armstrong in The Avengers
episode "The Cybernauts", was an accomplished performer on both stage and screen...
“ A top British character actor. His career began after the war. Continued to work into his nineties, though appeared little in his last years. Appeared in many good films, usually in supporting roles. ” - topukactors
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
“ Played villains in many Hollywood movies. His career began in the mid 1930s and ended on his death in the mid 1980s. ” - topukactors
Mackenzie Crook, one of British comedy's best-known faces, who collected Star Wars figurines as a child, is now immortalized in plastic as a six-inch-high pirate action figure. He was born Paul Mackenzie Crook on September 29, 1971, in Maidstone, Kent, England, UK. His father worked for British Airways...
“ Another fine actor of today. Hopefully will establish himself as one of the greats. He was brilliant as Gareth in The Office. ” - topukactors
Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch was born and raised in London, England. His parents, Wanda Ventham
and Timothy Carlton
(Timothy Carlton Congdon Cumberbatch), are both actors. He is a grandson of submarine commander Henry Carlton Cumberbatch, and a great-grandson of diplomat Henry Arnold Cumberbatch CMG...
“ One of the most popular actors of today, one of Benedict Cumberbatch's best roles was the modern day Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock. ” - topukactors
“ Versatile character actor of modern times. One of his best roles was as Doc Martin. ” - topukactors
Sir Ian Holm is an Academy Award-nominated British film and stage actor who was a star of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and played more than 100 roles in films and on television. He was born Ian Holm Cuthbert on September 12, 1931, in Goodmayes, Essex, UK, to Scottish parents who worked at the Essex mental asylum...
“ Fine British character actor. Appeared in films such as Alien and The Lord of the Rings. ” - topukactors
An only child, Idris Elba was born and raised in Hackney, London, England. His father, Winston, is from Sierra Leone and worked at a Ford motor factory. His mother, Eve, is from Ghana and had a clerical duty. Idris attended school in Canning Town, where he first became involved in acting. He gained a place in the National Youth Music Theatre - thanks to a £1,500 Prince's Trust grant...
“ A fine actor of today. ” - topukactors
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)...
“ Just contrast his role in Jeeves and Wooster to his role in House. Very versatile. One of the top British actors on American TV in recent times. ” - topukactors