Pinewood Studios publicity shot, circa 1956
Donald Alfred Sinden
9 October 1923
|Died||12 September 2014 90) (aged|
(m. 1948–2004, her death)
|Children|| Jeremy Sinden (1950–1996)|
Marc Sinden (b. 1954)
|Awards|| KB; CBE; FRSA; D.Litt; D.Arts |
see awards table
Sir Donald Alfred Sinden(9 October 1923 – 12 September 2014 ) was an English actor in theatre, film, television and radio as well as an author.
Sinden featured in the 1953 film Mogambo , and achieved early fame as a Rank Organisation film star in the 1950s in films including Doctor in the House (1954), Simba (1955), Eyewitness (1956) and Doctor at Large (1957). He then became highly regarded as an award-winning Shakespearean and West End theatre actor and television sitcom star. winning the 1977 Evening Standard Award for Best Actor for King Lear , and starring in the sitcoms Two's Company (1975–79) and Never the Twain (1981–91).
Sinden made his first stage appearance at the amateur Brighton Little Theatre (of which he later became President) in 1941, stepping into a part in place of his cousin Frank, who had been called up to war and so was unable to appear. Offered a professional acting part by the Brighton impresario Charles F. Smith, he made his first professional appearance in January 1942, playing Dudley in a production of George and Margaret for the Mobile Entertainments Southern Area company (known as MESA) and in other modern comedies, playing to the armed forces all along the South Coast of England during the Second World Warand later trained as an actor for two terms at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.
In 1942, in Hove, Sinden befriended Lord Alfred Douglas (known as "Bosie"), who had been Oscar Wilde's lover. On 23 March 1945, he was one of only two persons who attended his funeral.He is believed to have been the last surviving person to have known Douglas.
After the critical and financial success of his first screen leading role in The Cruel Sea (1953), made by Ealing Studios, in which he co-starred and received top-billing with Jack Hawkins, Sinden was contracted for seven years to the Rank Organisation at Pinewood Studios and subsequently had prominent roles in 23 movies during the 1950s and early 1960s, including Mogambo ; Doctor in the House ; Above Us the Waves ; The Black Tent ; Eyewitness ; Doctor at Large ; The Siege of Sidney Street and Twice Round the Daffodils .
Sinden became associated with his character of "Benskin" in the Doctor film series as the duffel-coated medical student, regularly failing his finals and spending most of his time chasing pretty nurses, accompanied by his trade-mark "wolf-growl".
Sinden was the recipient of several "audience-based" awards during this period, including "The actor who made most progress during 1954".In 1956, a profile was written on him which stated:
In the three years since his début in The Cruel Sea, the un-temperamental Sinden has moved steadily up the British film ladder until people are noticing, not without surprise, that he is suddenly one of the country's prime box-office favourites. It's as though he arrived on tiptoe. He is not colourful or flamboyant, yet he has his niche in public favour, as a recent poll proved: British women-folk voted him "The face we'd most like to see across our breakfast table." This defines with a certain accuracy the sure, dependable appeal of the man who, so far, has shared star billing with some other more boisterous male idols. He has usually been left, crestfallen and jilted, in the last reel.
In 1949, he appeared in The Heiress at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket opposite Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft, directed by John Gielgud. In his Sky Arts documentary series Great West End Theatres , Sinden said that the play ran for 644 performances (19 months) and he was the only member of the cast not to have missed a performance: "As the play is the longest run in the [Haymarket] theatre's history, I therefore gave more consecutive performances in this theatre than any other actor since it was built in 1820." The management gave him an engraved silver ashtray as a present in recognition of the fact, which he showed in the episode.
Theatre being his first "love",he was a noted farceur and won best actor awards for his appearances in the Ray Cooney farces Not Now, Darling (1967); Two into One (1984) and Out of Order (1990). In 1976 he was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actor for his performance on Broadway as Arthur Wicksteed in Alan Bennett's comedy Habeas Corpus . His other notable leading performances in the commercial theatre included roles in productions such as There's a Girl in My Soup (1966); In Praise of Love (1973); An Enemy of the People (1975); Present Laughter (1981); The School for Scandal (1983); The Scarlet Pimpernel (1985); Major Barbara (1988); Diversions and Delights (one-man show as Oscar Wilde, 1989); That Good Night (1996) and Quartet (1999).
Sinden was a leading figure in the fight to launch the Theatre Museum in London's Covent Garden in the 1980s.In 2007, Sinden embarked on a UK, European and American theatre tour to talk about his life, work and anecdotes in An Evening with... Sir Donald Sinden. Produced by his son Marc, this included, on 8 November 2007 as part of Marc's British Theatre Season, Monaco, a performance in front of Prince Albert of Monaco (the son of Grace Kelly, his co-star in the film Mogambo ) at the Théâtre Princesse Grace, Monte Carlo.
Joining the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre company in 1946,Sinden was an Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) from 1967. Outstanding among his many notable stage appearances for the RSC, both at Stratford-upon-Avon and in London's West End (usually at the Aldwych Theatre), was his performance in 1963 as the Duke of York in The Wars of the Roses opposite Peggy Ashcroft as Queen Margaret.
Other notable performances by Sinden for the company were Eh? by Henry Livings in 1964; as Lord Foppington in The Relapse in 1967; Malvolio in Twelfth Night (opposite Judi Dench as Viola) in 1969and again with Judi Dench and her husband Michael Williams in 1974, as Sir Harcourt Courtly in London Assurance (Albery Theatre).
After the production transferred to New York in 1975, Sinden became the first recipient of the newly established Broadway Drama Desk Special Award.Sinden sought and received advice about the character's costume and mannerisms in the role from the Regency novelist Georgette Heyer.
For the 1976 Stratford season and then at the Aldwych Theatre in 1977, Sinden won the Evening Standard Award as Best Actor for his performance in the title role of King Lear (with Michael Williams as the Fool). Meanwhile, he was also portraying in repertory, Benedick (regarded as "the most admired Benedick in living memory")opposite Judi Dench's Beatrice in John Barton's highly acclaimed 'British Raj' revival of Much Ado About Nothing , and in the same time frame also rehearsing the third season of the LWT sitcom Two's Company with Elaine Stritch during the daytime and filming the show at the studio in front of a live audience on Sunday evenings. He claimed "RSC money isn't very good compared with a normal commercial theatre rate. I was on their 'star' salary, which meant it worked out at about £47 per performance! You work for them 'for the honour' of doing the greatest classical plays, not for the money, so you have to make up the financial short-fall somewhere".
In 1979 he played the title role in Othello , directed by Ronald Eyre, becoming the last 'blacked-up white' actor to play the role for the RSC. Everyman editor and critic Gareth Lloyd Evans noted that his interpretation was "not…about colour or racialism" but one that illuminated the character's personal tragedy.
In 2013 Sinden presented a documentary series called Great West End Theatres , which describes the history and stories associated with each of 40 London theatres. Directed and produced by his son Marc, it was to be released as a 40-part DVD and Sky Arts TV series, with the first 10 episodes showing on Sky Arts 2 during the autumn of 2013.
In their review of the series, the British Theatre Guide said "Sir Donald's gorgeous plummy tones are a joy to listen to whatever he is saying but when he is extolling the virtues of one of his own favourite theatres, the pleasure is heightened. At his first entrance, he announces that he is "tingling with excitement" which is just what one wants from a tour guide. Soon enough, so are viewers."
The Daily Telegraph 's review states "Great West End Theatres is a lovely documentary series, made by the director Marc Sinden. Its star, and – it transpires – the best documentary frontman of all time, is his actor-father: Sir Donald Sinden, 90 years old next month. Sir Donald has been let loose and the effect is enchanting beyond belief. It is also, at times, incredibly funny. One has the sense of a lifetime spent in this world, being poured out for our delight like glasses of vintage champagne."
Sinden achieved wide fame with the television-viewing public in 1963 through the Associated Rediffusion series Our Man at St Mark's.His other featured television roles included guest-starring as the Colonel in an episode of The Prisoner ("Many Happy Returns", 1967).
After starring in the series The Organisation (1971), he co-starred in the London Weekend Television situation comedy Two's Company which debuted in 1975. Sinden was cast in the role of an English butler, Robert, to Elaine Stritch's American character, Dorothy. Much of the humour derived from the culture clashes between Robert's very stiff-upper-lip Britishness and Dorothy's devil-may-care New York view on life. Two's Company was well received in Britain and ran for four seasons until 1979. The programme was nominated for a 'Best Situation Comedy' BAFTA in 1977.Stritch and Sinden also sang the theme tune for the opening credits to the programme, which received a BAFTA nomination. They each received a BAFTA nomination in 1979 for 'Best Light Entertainment Performance' and the show received two additional BAFTA nominations that year.
In 1979 Sinden presented a documentary series on BBC2 (later repeated in 1981 on BBC1), Discovering English Churches inspired by his grandfather's architectural drawings and watercolours. Over 10 episodes Sinden explored the unique history of the English church, and the influences that shaped the development of 16,000 unique churches, showing the history of 2-3 specific churches in each episode.
From 1981, Sinden starred in the Thames Television situation comedy, Never the Twain . He played snooty antiques dealer Simon Peel who lived next door to a competitor Oliver Smallbridge (played by Windsor Davies). The characters hated each other and were horrified when they discovered that their son and daughter were to be married – thus meaning they were related. Despite a lack of critical acclaim, the series was a TV ratings success and ran for 11 series until 1991. One episode in 1990 (A Car by Any Other Name) had Sinden being literally picked up by two police officers who were played by his own actor sons, Jeremy and Marc. His wife, Diana, appeared in the last episode. [ citation needed ]
He was the subject of an extended edition of This Is Your Life in 1985 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews. He also appeared on Lily Savage's Blankety Blank.
Sinden was regularly spoofed on Spitting Image , the 1980s British satirical television programme in which famous people were lampooned by caricatured latex puppets. Much of the Spitting Image humour was centred around Sinden being a ″ham″ actor, forever overacting and behaving in an overly theatrical way. For example, when his puppet, sitting in a restaurant, summons a waiter and asks "Do you serve a ham salad?" the waiter replies "Yes, we serve salad to anyone". Another running theme was Sinden's inability to understand why he had never received a Knighthood from the Queen, and his resulting frustration at not being able to be addressed as ″Sir Donald Sinden″.
From 2001 to 2007 he played the part of senior judge (and father-in-law of the title character), Sir Joseph Channing in Judge John Deed and was the voice of Totally Viral . In 2008, he played Colonel Henry Hammond in the Midsomer Murders episode "Shot at Dawn".
He starred in the Walt Disney Productions family film The Island at the Top of the World (1974), playing Sir Anthony Ross, which was filmed at Disney's studios in Burbank, California.
Sinden's distinctive voice was heard frequently on radio, including as Sir Charles Baskerville in a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles .He starred in multiple adaptations of John Dickson Carr's Dr. Gideon Fell mysteries, including The House on Gallows Lane, The Hollow Man and Black Spectacles, To Wake the Dead, The Blind Barber and The Mad Hatter Mystery.
Sinden wrote two autobiographical volumes: A Touch of the Memoirs (1982) and Laughter in the Second Act (1985), edited the Everyman Book of Theatrical Anecdotes (1987), wrote a book to coincide with his BBC TV series The English Country Church (1988) and a collection of "epitaphs and final utterances" titled The Last Word (1994).
Sinden was awarded the CBE in 1979 and was knighted in 1997.He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1966 and received the Freedom of the City of London in 1997.
On 12 July 2005, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of Leicesterand, on 20 July 2011, an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the University of Kent.
In reply to a question from an audience member during a performance at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre of An Evening with... Sir Donald Sinden, he said he had worked out that, apart from "gaps before the next job started", he had only had a total of five weeks' unemployment between 1942 and 2008.
In 2004, the purpose-built theatre located in the grounds of Homewood School at Tenterden in Kent was named the Sinden Theatre.
Sinden was Honorary President of the Garden Suburb Theatre, an amateur theatre group based in Hampstead Garden Suburb where he was resident from 1954 until 1997.
On 9 October 2012, he celebrated his 89th birthday and his retirement after 30 years as the longest-standing President of the Royal Theatrical Fund (founded by Charles Dickens in 1839) with a celebration lunch for 350 guests at the Park Lane Hotel, London; this was compered by Russ Abbott, and the subsequent charity auction was conducted by Jeffrey Archer. Leading the tributes was Jean Kent, who had co-starred with Sinden in Bernard Delfont's 1951 stage production of Froufrou; letters from Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Albert of Monaco were read out, and speeches given by Julian Fellowes, Ray Cooney and Gyles Brandreth.
Sinden received, posthumously, the Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts at the Guildhall, London during the 2014 Theatre Awards UK ceremony, held on 19 October. The award was collected on his behalf by his son Marc Sinden.
Sinden was born in St Budeaux, Plymouth, Devonon 9 October 1923. The middle child of Alfred Edward Sinden and his wife Mabel Agnes ( née Fuller), he had an elder sister Joy who was an English teacher at Claverham Community College in Battle, East Sussex, and a younger brother Leon (1927–2015), likewise an actor. They grew up in Ditchling, where their home 'The Limes' doubled as the local chemist's shop.
According to his second autobiography, while investigating his family genealogy he discovered that the only previous relatives who were also members of the theatrical profession were the Victorian brother and sister act of Bert and Topsy Sinden, who were distant cousins. Topsy achieved "some fame as a 'skirt dancer' and première danseuse at the Empire Theatre of Varieties in Leicester Square."
Sinden was colour blindand suffered from asthma, which prevented him from joining the armed forces during the Second World War and suffered from negative buoyancy, meaning that he was unable to float or swim in water, which was discovered while filming The Cruel Sea when the ship was sinking. Co-star Jack Hawkins saved him from drowning in the open-air water-tank at Denham Studios.
Sinden died at his home in Wittersham on the Isle of Oxney, Kent, on 12 September 2014, aged 90, from prostate cancer diagnosed several years earlier.Attending his funeral, held on 19 September at St John the Baptist Church, Wittersham, were his grandson Hal Sinden, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Patrick Stewart. The eulogy was read by Lord Archer. An Honorary Life Member and Trustee of the Garrick Club in London, which he joined in 1960, Donald Sinden was cremated in a coffin painted in the Club's 'salmon and cucumber' colours.
It was announced that his estate on his death was valued at £2.3 million.
A Blue Plaque in his memory was attached to his former family home in Hampstead Garden Suburb in 2015.
Sinden was married to the actress Diana Mahony from 3 May 1948 until her death from stomach cancer aged 77 in 2004.The couple had two sons: actor Jeremy Sinden (1950-1996), who died of lung cancer, and actor, film director and West End producer Marc Sinden (born 1954). Donald Sinden had four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
|1948||Portrait from Life||Minor Role|
|1953||The Cruel Sea||Lockhart|
|A Day to Remember||Jim Carver|
|1954||You Know What Sailors Are||Lt. Sylvester Green|
|Doctor in the House||Tony Benskin|
|The Beachcomber||Ewart Gray|
|Mad About Men||Jeff Saunders|
|Above Us the Waves||Lt Tom Corbett|
|Josephine and Men||Alan Hartley|
|An Alligator Named Daisy||Peter Weston|
|1956||The Black Tent||Col Sir Charles Holland|
|Tiger in the Smoke||Geoffrey Leavitt|
|1957||Doctor at Large||Dr Tony Benskin|
|Rockets Galore!||Hugh Mander|
|1959||The Captain's Table||Shawe-Wilson|
|Operation Bullshine||Lt. Gordon Brown|
|1960||Your Money or Your Wife||Pelham Butterworth|
|The Siege of Sidney Street||Mannering|
|1962||Twice Round the Daffodils||Ian Richards|
|Mix Me a Person||Philip Bellamy, QC|
|1968||Decline and Fall... of a Birdwatcher||The Prison Governor|
|1973||The National Health||Mr Carr / Senior Surgeon Boyd|
|Father Dear Father||Philip Gloves|
|The Day of the Jackal||Assistant Commissioner Mallinson|
|1974||The Island at the Top of the World||Sir Anthony Ross|
|1975||That Lucky Touch||British Gen. Armstrong|
|1990||The Children||Lord Wrench|
|2003||The Accidental Detective||Professor Stein||Credited as Sir Donald Sinden|
|2012||Run for Your Wife||Man on bus||(final film role)|
|1972||The Organization||David Pulman||TV series (Yorkshire Television)|
|1975–79||Two's Company||Robert||TV Series (LWT)|
|1981–91||Never the Twain||Simon Peel||TV series (Thames Television)|
|1996||The Canterville Ghost||Mr Umney||TV movie|
|1999||Alice in Wonderland||Voice of the Gryphon||TV movie, voice|
|2001–07||Judge John Deed||Sir Joseph Channing||TV drama recurring character|
|2008||Midsomer Murders||Colonel Henry Hammond||TV series, episode Shot at Dawn|
|1975||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play||London Assurance||Nominated|
|1976||Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play||Habeas Corpus||Nominated|
|1977||Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Revival (Society of West End Theatre Awards until 1983)||King Lear||Nominated|
|1977||Evening Standard Award for Best Actor||King Lear||Won|
|1978||Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance||Shut Your Eyes and Think of England||Nominated|
|1979||BAFTA TV Award for Best Light Entertainment Performance||Two's Company||Nominated|
|1981||Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance||Present Laughter||Nominated|
|1982||Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Revival||Uncle Vanya||Nominated|
|1975||Drama Desk Special Mention||London Assurance||Recipient|
|2014||Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts (posthumous)||N/A||Recipient|
Dame Judith Olivia Dench is an English actress. Dench made her professional debut in 1957 with the Old Vic Company. Over the following few years, she performed in several of Shakespeare's plays, in such roles as Ophelia in Hamlet, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. Although most of her work during this period was in theatre, she also branched into film work and won a BAFTA Award as Most Promising Newcomer. She drew rave reviews for her leading role in the musical Cabaret in 1968.
Joseph Alberic Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, known as Joseph Fiennes, is an English film and stage actor.
Samuel Alexander Joseph West is an English actor, theatre director and voice actor. He has directed on stage and radio, and worked as an actor across theatre, film, television and radio. He often appears as reciter with orchestras and performed at the Last Night of the Proms in 2002. He has narrated several documentary series, including five for the BBC centred on events related to the Second World War.
Sir Derek George Jacobi is an English actor and stage director.
Denholm Mitchell Elliott, was an English actor, with more than 120 film and television credits. Some of his well-known roles include the abortionist in Alfie (1966), Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Coleman in Trading Places (1983), and Mr. Emerson in A Room with a View (1985).
Alexander Martin Clunes, OBE is an English actor, television presenter, film director and comedian. He is best known for portraying Martin Ellingham in the ITV drama series Doc Martin and Gary Strang in Men Behaving Badly. Clunes has narrated a number of documentaries for ITV, the first of which was Islands of Britain in 2009. He has since presented a number of documentaries centred on animals. He has also voiced Kipper the Dog in the animated series, Kipper.
Peter Bowles is an English actor of stage and television.
Robert Peck was an English stage, television and film actor best known for his roles as Ronald Craven in the television serial Edge of Darkness and as gamekeeper Robert Muldoon in the film Jurassic Park.
Andrew Scott is an Irish actor. He achieved widespread recognition for playing the role of Jim Moriarty in the BBC series Sherlock, a role that earned him the BAFTA Television Award for Best Supporting Actor. Scott won further acclaim playing the title role of Hamlet in a 2017 production first staged at the Almeida Theatre, for which he was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor. He is also known for playing the Priest on the second series of Fleabag, receiving a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film.
Elizabeth Spriggs was an English character actress.
Brenda Bruce OBE was a British actress. She had a long and successful career in the theatre, radio, film and television.
Sir Simon Russell Beale, is an English actor, author and music historian.
Oliver Robert Ford Davies is an English actor and writer, best known for his role as Sio Bibble in Star Wars Episodes I to III. He is also known for his role as Cressen in HBO series Game of Thrones.
Ruth Alexandra Elisabeth Jones, is a Welsh television actress, novelist and screenwriter. She co-starred in and co-wrote the award-winning British comedy Gavin & Stacey and has appeared in many television comedies and dramas, such as Jimmy McGovern’s The Street with Timothy Spall (2009), and starring as Hattie Jacques in Hattie for BBC Four.
Olatunde Olateju Olaolorun "O. T." Fagbenle, also referred to as O-T, is an English actor, writer and director. He has appeared in several films, stage and television productions.
Lesley Ann Manville is a British actress, known for her frequent collaborations with director Mike Leigh, winning the London Film Critics Circle Award for British Actress of the Year for Leigh's All or Nothing (2002) and Another Year (2010), and the National Board of Review Award for Best Actress for the latter film. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Phantom Thread (2017). Other film roles include Maleficent (2014) and its 2019 sequel, as well as Ordinary Love.
Marc Sinden is an English film director, actor and theatre producer.
Daniel Kaluuya is a British actor and writer who was nominated for the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, and BAFTA Award for Best Actor for his leading role as Chris Washington in the 2017 horror film Get Out. In 2018, he won the BAFTA Rising Star Award.
Great West End Theatres is a documentary series detailing the history, architecture and theatrical anecdotes of the 40 West End Theatres of London, released individually as All-Region DVDs and also as digital downloads and the first 10 episodes were broadcast from 3 August 2013 in the UK by the BSkyB digital satellite channel Sky Arts 2 and were chosen as "Pick of the Day" by the London edition of Time Out magazine.
David Avery is a British film, television and theatre actor. He is best known for The Night Manager, Starred Up and Lost in London.