Roger Livesey

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Roger Livesey
Livesey in the 1943 film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Born(1906-06-25)25 June 1906
Barry, Wales
Died4 February 1976(1976-02-04) (aged 69)
Watford, England
Years active1921–1975
(m. 1937;died 1973)

Roger Livesey (25 June 1906 – 4 February 1976) was a British stage and film actor. He is most often remembered for the three Powell & Pressburger films in which he starred: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp , I Know Where I'm Going! and A Matter of Life and Death . Tall and broad with a mop of chestnut hair, Livesey used his highly distinctive husky voice, gentle manner and athletic physique to create many notable roles in his theatre and film work.


Early life

Livesey was born in Barry, Wales. [1] Although most articles about him indicated that his parents were Samuel and Mary Catherine ( née Edwards) Livesey, later research has shown that his father was actually Joseph Livesey. The confusion may have arisen because his mother Mary married Samuel (Joseph's brother) after Joseph's death and the death of Samuel's wife, Mary's sister.

Samuel and Mary had a child of their own, Stella, who was both Roger's half sister (through their mother) and first cousin (through their fathers). Roger Livesey was educated at Westminster City School, London. [2] His two step-brothers (who were also his first cousins) were also actors.[ citation needed ]

Acting career

Roger Livesey and his canine co-star in the Theatre Guild production Storm Over Patsy (1937) Roger-Livesey-Storm-Over-Patsy-Stage-1937.jpg
Roger Livesey and his canine co-star in the Theatre Guild production Storm Over Patsy (1937)

Livesey studied under Italia Conti. [3] His first stage role was as the office boy in Loyalty at St. James's Theatre in 1917. He then appeared in a wide range of productions from Shakespeare to modern comedies. He played various roles in the West End from 1920 to 1926, toured the West Indies and South Africa, and then returned to join the Old Vic/Sadler's Wells company from September 1932 until May 1934. In 1936 he appeared in New York City in Wycherley's comedy The Country Wife . While in New York he married actress Ursula Jeans, whom he had known previously in England [4] (Livesey's sister Maggie was already married to Ursula Jeans' brother Desmond).

At the outbreak of the Second World War Livesey and Jeans were among the first volunteers to entertain the troops. He then applied for flying duties in the Royal Air Force but due to his age was rejected. Instead he worked in an aircraft factory at Desford aerodrome near Leicester to "do his bit for the war effort".

Livesey was chosen by Michael Powell to play the lead in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) after Powell was denied his original choice, Laurence Olivier (Winston Churchill had objected to the film and the Fleet Air Arm refused to release Olivier, who had been a Hollywood movie star before returning to England to take a Navy commission). [5] The film was shown in New York and established Livesey's international reputation as a talented character actor. In 1945, he was the first choice for the male lead role in Brief Encounter , which in the end went to Trevor Howard. [6]

He toured Australia from 1956 to 1958 playing Jimmy Broadbent in The Reluctant Debutante and continued playing many theatrical roles during his film career until 1969. One of his last roles was as the Duke of St Bungay in The Pallisers television series. His final television appearance was in the series Benjamin Franklin in 1975.


Memorial plaque in St Paul's in Covent Garden to Livesey and his wife Ursula Jeans Roger Livesey St Pauls Covent Garden.jpg
Memorial plaque in St Paul's in Covent Garden to Livesey and his wife Ursula Jeans

Livesey died in Watford from colorectal cancer at the age of 69 on 4 February 1976. He shares a memorial plaque with his wife Ursula Jeans in the actors' church St Paul's in Covent Garden.

Livesey family

The Livesey family has a complicated structure. Brothers Joseph and Sam Livesey married the Edwards sisters. Sam married Margaret Ann in 1900 and Joseph married Mary Catherine in 1905. Sam and Margaret Ann had two sons, Jack (1901) and Barrie Livesey (1905). Joseph and Mary Catherine had two children, Roger (1906) and Maggie (1911).

After Joseph died in 1911 and Margaret Ann died in 1913, Sam married Mary Catherine in 1913. [7] They then brought up the children as one large family, having another child of their own, Stella in 1915.

The family tree was further complicated when Roger Livesey married the actress Ursula Jeans, whose brother, Desmond Jeans, was already married to Roger's sister, Maggie.

Many of the family formed a touring company of actors, performing in regional theatres and from the back of an old wagon, one side of which could be dropped to form a stage. Because of their touring, they did not regard themselves as particularly Welsh, or English. They were just British because people happened to be born in the places where their mothers happened to be residing at the time.

Roger EdwardsMary DavidThomas Carter LiveseyMary Wright
Margaret AnnSam LiveseyMary CatherineJoseph Livesey
Jack LiveseyBarrie LiveseyStella LiveseyRoger LiveseyUrsula JeansDesmond JeansMaggie Livesey


Vocal work

In 1958, he, Judith Furse, Terry-Thomas, Rita Webb, Avril Angers and Miles Malleson, recorded Indian Summer of an Uncle, and Jeeves Takes Charge for the Caedmon Audio record label, (Caedmon Audio TC-1137). It was re-released in stereo in 1964.

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  1. "Livesey, Roger (1906–1976)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/60311.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. The Great Stage Stars, by Sheridan Morley, Facts on File Publications, 1986, p. 235
  3. Actor's bio, Theatre Program, "Oh Clarence", Grand Theatre, Leeds, Dec.1970.
  4. A Who's Who of British Film Actors, by Scott Palmer, The Scarecrow Press 1981 p. 307
  5. Chapman, James. "'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' reconsidered". The Powell & Pressburger Pages. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
  6. A Brief Encounter with Carnforth Station Archived 9 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  7. The marriage between Sam and Mary Catherine was legal (just only six years after the passing of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907). However, they did not advertise the fact due to traditionalists who questioned the morality. This led to the confusion that Roger was actually Sam Livesey's son.