Miles Malleson

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Miles Malleson
Milles Malleson.jpg
Malleson in Stage Fright (1950)
William Miles Malleson

(1888-05-25)25 May 1888
Croydon, Surrey, England
Died15 March 1969(1969-03-15) (aged 80)
Westminster, London, England
Other namesMiles Malieson
Years active1921– 1965
Spouse(s) Lady Constance Malleson
(m. 1915; div. 1923)
Joan G. Billson
(m. 1923; div. 1940)
Tatiana Lieven
(m. 1946; sep. 1969)

William Miles Malleson (25 May 1888 – 15 March 1969) was an English actor and dramatist, particularly remembered for his appearances in British comedy films of the 1930s to 1960s. Towards the end of his career he also appeared in cameo roles in several Hammer horror films, with a fairly large role in The Brides of Dracula as the hypochondriac and fee-hungry local doctor. Malleson was also a writer on many films, including some of those in which he had small parts, such as Nell Gwyn (1934) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940). He also translated and adapted several of Molière's plays ( The Misanthrope , which he titled The Slave of Truth, Tartuffe and The Imaginary Invalid ).



Malleson was born in Avondale Road, South Croydon, Surrey, England, the son of Edmund Taylor Malleson (1859-1909), a manufacturing chemist, and Myrrha Bithynia Frances Borrell (1863-1931), a descendant of the numismatist Henry Perigal Borrell and the inventor Francis Maceroni. (Miles' cousin and contemporary, Lucy Malleson, had a long career as a mystery novelist, mostly under the pen name "Anthony Gilbert".)[ citation needed ]

He was educated at Brighton College and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. At Cambridge, he created a sensation when it was discovered that he had successfully posed as a politician and given a speech instead of the visitor who had failed to attend a debating society dinner. [1]

As an undergraduate, Malleson made his first stage appearance in November 1909, playing the slave Sosias in the biennial Cambridge Greek Play production of Aristophanes' 'The Wasps' presented at the New Theatre, Cambridge.

He turned professional in November 1911. He studied acting at Herbert Beerbohm Tree's Academy of Dramatic Art, which later was renamed the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Here he met his first wife in 1913.

In September 1914, he enlisted in the Army, and was sent to Malta, but was invalided home and discharged in January 1915. In late 1915, Malleson met Clifford Allen, who converted Malleson to pacifism and socialism. [2] Malleson subsequently became a member of the peace organisation, the No-Conscription Fellowship. [2] By June 1916 he was writing in support of conscientious objectors. [3] Malleson wrote two anti-war plays, "D" Company and Black 'Ell, the latter refused for performance in 1916 and only produced in the UK nine years later. When the plays were published in book form in 1916, copies were seized from the printers by the police, who described them as "a deliberate calumny on the British soldier". [4] [5]

Malleson was a supporter of the Bolshevik revolution and a founder member of the socialist 1917 Club in Soho. Another play of Malleson's, Paddly Pools, (a children's play with a socialist message) was frequently performed by British amateur dramatic groups in the period after World War I. [6]

In the 1920s, Malleson became director of the Arts Guild of the Independent Labour Party. In this capacity Malleson helped establish amateur dramatics companies across Britain. The Arts Guild also helped stage plays by George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy and Laurence Housman, as well as Malleson's own work. [7] His 1934 play Six Men of Dorset (written with Harvey Brooks), about the Tolpuddle Martyrs, was later performed by local theatre groups under the guidance of the Left Book Club Theatre Guild. [5] [8]

Malleson had a receding chin and a sharp nose that produced the effect of a double chin. His manner was gentle and absent-minded; his voice, soft and high. He is best remembered for his roles as the Sultan in The Thief of Bagdad (1940), the poetically-inclined hangman in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and as Dr. Chasuble in The Importance of Being Earnest (1952). He was capable of excellent classical performances. For example, Sir John Gielgud noted that Malleson was 'splendid' as Polonius in Hamlet. [9]

Failing eyesight led to his being unable to work in his last years, though he did write the subtitles for a filmed version of a Comédie Française production of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, which was shown at the Academy Cinema in London in 1962 [10] and in 1964 recorded 'Indian Summer of an Uncle' and 'Jeeves Takes Charge' with Roger Livesey, Terry-Thomas, Rita Webb, Avril Angers, and Judith Furse for the Caedmon Audio record label. [11] He died in March 1969, following surgery to remove cataracts and was cremated in a private ceremony. A memorial service was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields during which Sybil Thorndike and Laurence Olivier gave readings. [12]


Malleson married three times and had many relationships. In 1915, he married writer and aspiring actress Lady Constance Malleson, who was also interested in social reform. Theirs was an open marriage and they divorced amicably in 1923 so that he could marry Joan Billson; they divorced in 1940. His third wife was Tatiana Lieven, whom he married in 1946 and from whom he had been separated for several years at the time of his death. [13]

Partial filmography

As actor

As screenwriter

Playwright credits


  1. Adapted from the short story What Men Live By by Leo Tolstoy
  2. dapted from the short story An Artist's Story by Anton Chekhov
  3. Revived by Mint Theater Company in 2016 off-Broadway in New York City for a limited run in early-2017 starring Max von Essen, [15] a production which from 1 June to 1 July 2023 will tour to the Jermyn Street Theatre in London. [16]
  4. Malleson co-wrote the book with Robert Nesbitt.
  5. He also translated Molière's Le bourgeois gentilhomme , L'avare , L'école des femmes , [17] and the one-act play Sganarelle .
  6. An adaptation of Hermann Rossmann's Flieger.
  7. Later filmed as Hell in the Heavens .

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  1. Catherine De La Roche (1 October 1949). "Miles of Characters". Picturegoer magazine.
  2. 1 2 Arthur Marwick, Clifford Allen: the open conspirator. London, Oliver & Boyd, 1964(pg. 66-67)
  3. Miles Malleson: Cranks and Commonsense, 1916; Miles Malleson: Second Thoughts, nd [1916]
  4. Raphael Samuel, Ewan MacColl, Stuart Cosgrove, Theatres of the left, 1880-1935: Workers' Theatre Movements in Britain and AmericaLondon, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985. ISBN   9780710009012 (p.25)
  5. 1 2 John Lucas, The Radical Twenties: Writing, Politics, and Culture. Rutgers University Press, 1999 ISBN   9780813526829 (p. 39, 166)
  6. Kimberley Reynolds, Left Out : the forgotten tradition of radical publishing for children in Britain 1910-1949. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2016. ISBN   9780191820540 (pg. 52, 218)
  7. Ros Merkin, "The Religion of Socialism or a pleasant Sunday afternoon?: the ILP Arts Guild", in Clive Barker and Maggie B. Gale (ed.), British Theatre Between the Wars, 1918-1939. Cambridge University Press, 2000 ISBN   9780521624077 (pgs. 162-189).
  8. Andy Croft, Red Letter Days : British Fiction in the 1930s. London : Lawrence & Wishart, 1990. ISBN   9780853157298 (pg. 205)
  9. Mangan, Richard (ed.)Sir John Gielgud A Life in Letters, Arcade Publishing 2004, p. 74
  10. Daily Telegraph 23 December 1982, p.8
  11. Caedmon Audio TC-1137-s
  12. Malleson, Andrew pg 268
  13. Malleson, Andrew Discovering the Family of Miles Malleson 1888 to 1969 (2012) pg 267 Google Books
  14. Teachout, Terry (21 June 2018). "'Conflict' Review: A Political Play Without Preaching". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 5 February 2021.
  15. Soloski, Alexis. "Review: 'Yours Unfaithfully,' on an Open Marriage and Its Pitfalls". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 February 2021.
  16. "Yours Unfaithfully". Jermyn Street Theatre. Retrieved 17 May 2023.
  17. "Swan Theatre Company School for Wives production".