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Robert Stephens

Robert Stephens

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Sir Robert Stephens was a leading English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 actor in the early years of England's Royal National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

.

Early life and career


Stephens was born in Shirehampton
Shirehampton
Shirehampton, near Avonmouth, at the north-western edge of the city of Bristol, England, is a district of Bristol which originated as a separate village. It retains something of its village feel, having a short identifiable High Street with the parish church situated among shops, and is still...

, Bristol
Bristol
Bristol is a city, unitary authority area and ceremonial county in South West England, with an estimated population of 433,100 for the unitary authority in 2009, and a surrounding Larger Urban Zone with an estimated 1,070,000 residents in 2007...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, and rose to become one of the most respected actors of his generation. By the 1960s he was regarded as the natural successor to Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

.

In 1949, Stephens won a scholarship to Esme Church
Esme Church
Esme Church was a British actress and theatre director. In a long career she acted with the Old Vic Company, The Royal Shakespeare Company and on Broadway...

's Bradford Civic Theatre School
The Priestley
Bradford Playhouse is a 290 seat proscenium arch theatre with circle and stall seating based in Little Germany, in the city of Bradford, West Yorkshire, England...

, Yorkshire, (where he met his first wife Nora, a fellow student). His first professional engagement was with the Caryl Jenner Mobile Theatre
Unicorn Theatre
The Unicorn Theatre is a producer of professional theatre for children in Britain. It is based in a RIBA Award–winning centre in Tooley Street, in the London Borough of Southwark, opened in 2005...

, which he followed in 1951 by a year of more challenging parts in repertory
Repertory
Repertory or rep, also called stock in the United States, is a term used in Western theatre and opera.A repertory theatre can be a theatre in which a resident company presents works from a specified repertoire, usually in alternation or rotation...

 at the Royalty Theatre, Morecambe
Morecambe
Morecambe is a resort town and civil parish within the City of Lancaster in Lancashire, England. As of 2001 it has a resident population of 38,917. It faces into Morecambe Bay...

, followed by seasons of touring and at the Hippodrome, Preston. The London director Tony Richardson
Tony Richardson
Cecil Antonio "Tony" Richardson was an English theatre and film director and producer.-Early life:Richardson was born in Shipley, Yorkshire in 1928, the son of Elsie Evans and Clarence Albert Richardson, a chemist...

 saw a performance at the Royalty and this led to an offer of a place in the "momentous" first season of English Stage Company at the Royal Court
Royal Court Theatre
The Royal Court Theatre is a non-commercial theatre on Sloane Square, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is noted for its contributions to modern theatre...

 in 1956. His success was assured.

His other films in this period included a minor role as Prince Escalus in Franco Zeffirelli
Franco Zeffirelli
Franco Zeffirelli KBE is an Italian director and producer of films and television. He is also a director and designer of operas and a former senator for the Italian center-right Forza Italia party....

's Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet (1968 film)
Romeo and Juliet is a 1968 British-Italian cinematic adaptation of the William Shakespeare play of the same name.The film was directed and co-written by Franco Zeffirelli, and stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design; it was also...

 (1968), as well as a starring role in Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder was an Austro-Hungarian born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist, and journalist, whose career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age...

's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a 1970 film directed and produced by Billy Wilder; he also shared writing credit with his longtime collaborator I. A. L. Diamond. It starred Robert Stephens as Sherlock Holmes and Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson...

 (1970) and the science fiction film, The Asphyx
The Asphyx
The Asphyx is a 1972 British horror film directed by Peter Newbrook. Also known as Spirit of the Dead and The Horror of Death, it stars Robert Stephens and Robert Powell.-Plot:...

 (1973). Stephens and his third wife, actress Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith
Dame Margaret Natalie Smith, DBE , better known as Maggie Smith, is an English film, stage, and television actress who made her stage debut in 1952 and is still performing after 59 years...

, appeared together on stage and in film, notably in the film version of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (film)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a 1969 drama film, based on the novel of the same name by Muriel Spark.The novel was turned into a play by Jay Presson Allen, which opened on Broadway in 1968, with Zoe Caldwell in the title role, a performance for which she won a Tony Award...

 in 1969. However, following his departure from the National Theatre in 1970 and the breakup of their marriage in 1973 he suffered a career slump, not helped by heavy drinking.

Although he continued to work on stage (notably in the National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

's The Mysteries
The Mysteries
The Mysteries is a version of the medieval English mystery plays presented at London's National Theatre in 1977. The cycle of three plays tells the story of the Bible from the creation to the last judgement....

 in 1986), film (The Fruit Machine in 1988, aka Wonderland in the USA), and television (notably in the role of Abner Brown in the 1984 BBC TV dramatisation of the children's classic The Box of Delights
The Box of Delights
The Box of Delights is a children's fantasy novel by John Masefield. It is a sequel to The Midnight Folk, and was first published in 1935.-Plot summary :...

 and as the Master of an Oxford college in an episode of Inspector Morse
Inspector Morse (TV series)
Inspector Morse is a detective drama based on Colin Dexter's series of Chief Inspector Morse novels. The series starred John Thaw as Chief Inspector Morse and Kevin Whately as Sergeant Lewis. Dexter makes a cameo appearance in all but three of the episodes....

), it wasn't until the 1990s that he re-established himself at the forefront of his profession, when the Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Company
The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

 invited him to play Falstaff
Falstaff
Sir John Falstaff is a fictional character who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare. In the two Henry IV plays, he is a companion to Prince Hal, the future King Henry V. A fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight, Falstaff leads the apparently wayward Prince Hal into trouble, and is...

 in Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 1 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the second play in Shakespeare's tetralogy dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV , and Henry V...

 and then the title role in King Lear
King Lear
King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The title character descends into madness after foolishly disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological...

. He was awarded the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award in 1993 for Best Actor, for his performance as Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Stephens provided the voice of Aragorn
Aragorn
Aragorn II is a fictional character from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, one of the main protagonists of The Lord of the Rings. He is first introduced by the name Strider, which the hobbits continue to call him...

 in the acclaimed 1981 BBC Radio
BBC Radio
BBC Radio is a service of the British Broadcasting Corporation which has operated in the United Kingdom under the terms of a Royal Charter since 1927. For a history of BBC radio prior to 1927 see British Broadcasting Company...

 serialisation of The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings (1981 radio series)
In 1981 the UK radio station BBC Radio 4 broadcast a dramatisation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings in 26 half-hour stereo instalments...

.

Personal life


Stephens was married four times:
  • 1951, to Nora Ann Simmons; they had one child, Michael Stephens, and divorced 1952.
  • 1956, to Tarn Bassett; they had a daughter and divorced 1967
  • 1967, to Maggie Smith
    Maggie Smith
    Dame Margaret Natalie Smith, DBE , better known as Maggie Smith, is an English film, stage, and television actress who made her stage debut in 1952 and is still performing after 59 years...

    . They had two sons, the actors Toby Stephens
    Toby Stephens
    Toby Stephens is an English stage, television and film actor who has appeared in films in both Hollywood and Bollywood. He is best known for playing megavillain Gustav Graves in the James Bond film Die Another Day , Edward Fairfax Rochester in the BBC television adaptation of Jane Eyre and Philip...

     and Chris Larkin
    Chris Larkin
    Chris Larkin is an English actor.He was born Christopher Stephens in the Middlesex Hospital in London and trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He is the elder son of Dame Maggie Smith, and the late Sir Robert Stephens...

    , and divorced in 1974.
  • 1995, to Belfast-born Patricia Quinn
    Patricia Quinn
    Patricia Quinn, Lady Stephens is a Northern Irish actress best known for her role as Magenta in the film The Rocky Horror Picture Show . Hers were the red lips that appeared in the film's opening song "Science Fiction/Double Feature"...

     (aka Lady Stephens), who appeared with him in Fortunes of War
    Fortunes of War (tv series)
    Fortunes of War is a 1987 BBC television adaptation of Olivia Manning's cycle of novels Fortunes of War. It stars Kenneth Branagh as Guy Pringle, lecturer in English Literature in Bucharest during the early part of the Second World War, and Emma Thompson as his wife Harriet...

     and the BBC adaptation of The Box of Delights
    The Box of Delights
    The Box of Delights is a children's fantasy novel by John Masefield. It is a sequel to The Midnight Folk, and was first published in 1935.-Plot summary :...

    .


Following years of ill health, he died in 1995 at the age of 64 due to complications during surgery, eleven months after having been knighted
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...

.

Selected filmography

  • A Circle of Deception
    A Circle of Deception
    A Circle of Deception is a 1960 British war film directed by Jack Lee and starring Bradford Dillman, Suzy Parker and Harry Andrews.-Plot:A Canadian officer is sent on a secret and dangerous mission during the Second World War in an attempt to feed the Germans false information about the Normandy...

     (1960)
  • A Taste of Honey
    A Taste of Honey (film)
    A Taste of Honey is a 1961 British film adaptation of the play of the same name by Shelagh Delaney. Delaney adapted the screenplay herself, aided by director Tony Richardson, who had previously directed the first production of the play...

     (1961)
  • Pirates of Tortuga
    Pirates of Tortuga
    Pirates of Tortuga is a 1961 American film which invented an alternate history for the actual Welsh privateer Henry Morgan. It was released in October 1961 in the United States.-Plot:...

     (1961)
  • The Inspector
    The Inspector (1962 film)
    The Inspector, is a 1962 British-American drama film directed by Philip Dunne, starring Stephen Boyd & Dolores Hart. Dolores Hart plays Lisa Held, a Dutch Jewish girl who has survived the horror of Auschwitz.-Plot:...

     (1962)
  • Cleopatra
    Cleopatra (1963 film)
    Cleopatra is a 1963 British-American-Swiss epic drama film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The screenplay was adapted by Sidney Buchman, Ben Hecht, Ranald MacDougall, and Mankiewicz from a book by Carlo Maria Franzero. The film starred Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Roddy...

     (1963)
  • The Small World of Sammy Lee
    The Small World of Sammy Lee
    The Small World of Sammy Lee is a 1963 British crime film directed by Ken Hughes and starring Anthony Newley, Julia Foster and Robert Stephens...

     (1963)
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (film)
    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a 1969 drama film, based on the novel of the same name by Muriel Spark.The novel was turned into a play by Jay Presson Allen, which opened on Broadway in 1968, with Zoe Caldwell in the title role, a performance for which she won a Tony Award...

     (1969)
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
    The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
    The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a 1970 film directed and produced by Billy Wilder; he also shared writing credit with his longtime collaborator I. A. L. Diamond. It starred Robert Stephens as Sherlock Holmes and Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson...

     (1970)
  • Travels with My Aunt
    Travels with My Aunt
    Travels with My Aunt is a novel written by English author Graham Greene.The novel follows the travels of Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager, and his eccentric Aunt Augusta as they find their way across Europe, and eventually even further afield...

     (1972)
  • The Asphyx
    The Asphyx
    The Asphyx is a 1972 British horror film directed by Peter Newbrook. Also known as Spirit of the Dead and The Horror of Death, it stars Robert Stephens and Robert Powell.-Plot:...

     (1973)
  • Luther
    Luther (1973 film)
    Luther is the 1973 film of John Osborne's biographical play, presenting the life of Martin Luther. It was one of eight in the first season of the American Film Theater's series of plays made into films. It was produced by Ely Landau, directed by British director Guy Green, and filmed at Shepperton...

     (1974)
  • The Duellists
    The Duellists
    The Duellists is a 1977 historical drama film that was Ridley Scott's first feature film as a director. It won the Best Debut Film award at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival...

     (1977)
  • At Night All Cats Are Crazy (1977)
  • The Shout
    The Shout
    The Shout is a 1978 British horror film directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, based on a short story by Robert Graves which was adapted for the screen by Michael Austin...

     (1978)
  • Holocaust (1978, TV)
  • Les jeux de la Comtesse Dolingen de Gratz (1980)
  • Anyone for Denis? (1982, TV)
  • Comrades
    Comrades (film)
    Comrades is a 1986 British historical drama film directed by Bill Douglas and starring an ensemble cast including James Fox, Robert Stephens and Vanessa Redgrave. It depicts the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were transported to Australia in the nineteenth century...

     (1986)
  • High Season (1987)
  • Empire of the Sun
    Empire of the Sun
    Empire of the Sun is a 1984 novel by J. G. Ballard which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Like Ballard's earlier short story, "The Dead Time" , it is essentially fiction but draws extensively on Ballard's experiences in World War II...

     (1987)
  • American Roulette (1988)
  • The Fruit Machine (1988)
  • Testimony
    Testimony (film)
    Testimony: The Story of Shostakovich is a 1987 British musical drama film directed by Tony Palmer and starring Ben Kingsley, Sherry Baines and Robert Stephens. The film is based on the memoirs of Shostakovich as dictated in the book Testimony and filmed in Panavision...

     (1988)
  • Ada in the Jungle (1988)
  • Henry V
    Henry V (1989 film)
    Henry V is a 1989 film directed by Kenneth Branagh, based on William Shakespeare's play The Life of Henry the Fifth about the famous English king. Branagh stars in the title role, and wrote the screenplay. The film was highly acclaimed on its release....

     (1989)
  • Wings of Fame
    Wings of Fame
    Wings of Fame is a 1990 Dutch English-language comedy fantasy film directed by Otakar Votocek and starring Peter O'Toole, Colin Firth, Marie Trintignant, Andréa Ferréol and Robert Stephens.-Cast:* Peter O'Toole - Cesar Valentin...

     (1990)
  • The Children
    The Children
    Wicked Little Things is a Zombie horror film directed by J. S. Cardone and stars Lori Heuring, Scout Taylor-Compton and Chloe Moretz.- Plot :...

     (1990)
  • Afraid of the Dark
    Afraid of the Dark
    Afraid of the Dark is a 1991 French-British drama film directed by Mark Peploe and starring James Fox, Fanny Ardant and Paul McGann. A boy becomes convinced there is a murderer about as his mind begins to confuse reality and delusion.-Cast:...

     (1991)
  • Chaplin (1992)
  • Searching for Bobby Fischer
    Searching for Bobby Fischer
    Searching for Bobby Fischer is a 1993 film based on the life of prodigy chess player Joshua Waitzkin, played by Max Pomeranc. Adapted from the book of the same name by Joshua's father Fred, the film was written and directed by Steven Zaillian...

     (1993)
  • The Secret Rapture (1993)
  • Century (1993)
  • England, My England
    England, My England
    England, My England is a 1995 British historical film directed by Tony Palmer and starring Michael Ball, Simon Callow and Robert Stephens. It depicts the life of the composer Henry Purcell, seen through the eyes of a playwright in the 1960s who is trying to write a play about him. It was written by...

     (1995)

External links