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Trevor Howard (29 September 1913 – 7 January 1988), born Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith, was an Englishmarker film, stage and television actor.

Early life

Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith was born in Cliftonvillemarker, Margatemarker, Kentmarker, Englandmarker, on 29 September, 1913, the only son and elder child of Arthur John Howard-Smith, who worked as the Ceylonmarker representative for Lloyd's of Londonmarker, and his Canadian wife, Mabel Grey Wallace, a nurse. Until he was five, he lived in Colombomarker, Ceylon, but then travelled with his mother until the age of eight, when he was sent to school at Clifton Collegemarker, Bristolmarker.

Howard attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), acting on the Londonmarker stage for several years before World War II. His first paid work was in the play Revolt in a Reformatory (1934), before he left RADA in 1935 to take small roles. That year, he was spotted by a Paramount studio talent scout, but turned down the offer of film work in favour of a career in theatre. This decision seemed justified when, in 1936, he was invited to join the Stratford Memorial Theatremarker and, in London, given the role of one of the students in French without Tears by Terence Rattigan, which ran for two years. He returned to Stratford in 1939.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, Howard volunteered for the RAF and British Army, but was turned down by both. However, in 1940, after working at the Colchester repertory theatre, he was called up into the Royal Corps of Signals, airborne division, becoming a Second Lieutenant, before he was invalided out in 1943. Although stories of his courageous wartime service earned him much respect among fellow actors and fans alike, files held in the Public Records Officemarker reveal he had actually been discharged from the Army for mental instability and having a "psychopathic personality". The stories were originally fabricated without his consent for publicity purposes, although Howard also recounted how he had parachuted into Nazi-occupied Norway and fought in the Allied invasion of Sicily.

Acting career

Howard moved back to the theatre in The Recruiting Officer (1943), where he met the actress Helen Cherry; they married in 1944 and stayed together until Howard's death in 1988; they had no children.

A short part in one of the best British war films, The Way Ahead (1944), provided an entry into the cinema. This was followed by The Way to the Stars (1945), which led to the role for which Howard is probably best remembered, the doctor in the 1945 film Brief Encounter illicitly involved with Celia Johnson's housewife. Directed by David Lean, the film won an award at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker and considerable critical acclaim for Howard. Next came two successful Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat thrillers, I See a Dark Stranger (1945) and Green for Danger (1946), followed by They Made Me a Fugitive (1947), to which the roots of British realism in cinema can be traced. In 1947, he was invited by Laurence Olivier to play Petruchio in an Old Vicmarker production of The Taming of the Shrew. Despite The Times declaring, "We can remember no better Petruchio", the opportunity of working again with David Lean, in The Passionate Friends (1949), drew Howard back to film and, although he had a solid reputation as a theatre actor, his dislike of long runs, and the attractions of travel afforded by film, convinced him to concentrate on cinema from this point. The Passionate Friends though, in which Howard played a similar character to Alec in Brief Encounter also featured Ann Todd and Claude Rains, but was not successful.

Howard's film reputation was secured in The Third Man (1949). As Major Calloway, he played the character type with which he became most associated, the slightly dry, slightly crusty, but capable British military officer. He also starred in The Key, (1958; based on a Jan de Hartog novel), for which he received the best actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and Sons and Lovers, (1960), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Another notable film was The Heart of the Matter (1953), from another Graham Greene story.

Over time Howard easily shifted to being one of England's finest character actors. Howard's later works included such films as Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), Father Goose (1964), Morituri (1965), Von Ryan's Express (1965), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Battle of Britain (1969), Ryan's Daughter (1970), Superman (1978), and Gandhi (1982). The Dawning (1988) was his final film. One of his strangest films, and one he took great delight in, was Vivian Stanshall's 1980 Sir Henry at Rawlinson End in which he played the title role.

In television, Howard began to find more substantial roles. In 1962, he played Løvborg in Hedda Gabler, her former love, with Ingrid Bergman. He won an Emmy award the following year as Disraeli in The Invincible Mr Disraeli. In the 1970s, he played an abbot in the ITV Saturday Night Theatre production of Catholics (1973). He received an Emmy nomination in 1975 for his role as Abbé Faria in a television version of The Count of Monte Cristo. The decade ended with him reunited with Celia Johnson in Staying On (1980), an adaptation of Paul Scott's sequel to his Raj Quartet novels.

The 1980s saw a revival of Howard's career as a film actor. The role of a Cheyenne Indian in Windwalker (1980) revitalized his acting. He continued with cameo roles, including Judge Broomfield in Gandhi (1982). His final films were White Mischief and The Dawning, both released in 1988.

Howard did not abandon the theatre altogether in 1947, returning to the stage on occasion, most notably as Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard (1954) and the captain in The Father (1964). His last appearance on the British stage was in Waltz of the Toreadors in 1974.

Throughout his film career Howard insisted that all of his contracts held a clause excusing him from work whenever a cricket Test Match was being played.


He died on 7 January, 1988, from a combination of bronchitis, influenza and jaundice, in Arkleymarker, Barnetmarker, aged 74, survived by his widow Helen.


Howard left behind just two Shakespeare performances, the first, recorded in the 1960s, was as Petruchio opposite Margaret Leighton's Kate in Caedmon Records' complete recording of The Taming of the Shrew; the second was in the title role of King Lear for the BBC World Service in 1986.

Awards and nominations

Howard was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for Sons and Lovers (1960). He won one BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Key (1958) and was nominated four more times. He won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie for Hallmark Hall of Fame: Invincible Mr. Disraeli in 1963 and received two other nominations, one as a lead and the other as a supporting actor. He also got three Golden Globe Award nominations.

A British government document leaked to the Sunday Times in 2003 shows that Howard was among almost 300 celebrities to decline honors.

Partial filmography


External links

References and sources

  • M. Munn, Trevor Howard: the man and his films, 1989
  • V. Knight, Trevor Howard: a gentleman and a player, 1986
  • T. Pettigrew, Trevor Howard: a personal biography, 2001

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