Actors, directors, playwrights and other theatre dignitaries from the National and elsewhere will gather at midday today (Friday 27 February 2004) at London’s St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, to celebrate the life of multi award-winning actor Denis Quilley (pictured), who passed away on 5 October 2003, aged 75 (See News, 6 Oct 2003).

Amongst those due to present ‘creative’ testimonies are actors Liz Robertson, Maureen Lipman, Imelda Staunton, Simon Russell Beale, Julia McKenzie and former NT artistic director Peter Hall. Following the service, there will be a book launch at the National Theatre for Happiness Indeed – An Actor’s Life (Oberon), Quilley’s autobiography, which he’d been working on in the months before his death.

Quilley was last seen on stage, at the National, in spring 2003 in Trevor Nunn's revival Anything Goes, for which he was posthumously nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award. Throughout a career spanning six decades, the actor appeared regularly at the NT.

Under the artistic directorship of Laurence Olivier, Quilley was part of the company in the theatre’s early days at the Old Vic. In 1976, he appeared in the NT’s first season on the South Bank, playing opposite Albert Finney in Hamlet. As part of the theatre's 25th anniversary season in 2001, he did Hamlet again, this time with Simon Russell Beale playing the prince. That same year, he co-starred with Russell Beale again in Charlotte Jones' Hamlet-inspired Humble Boy.

Quilley's other NT credits included The Front Page, Macbeth, The School for Scandal, Tamburlaine the Great, The White Devil, Sweeney Todd, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Troilus and Cressida, Candide and Money, while elsewhere his many credits included The Lady’s Not for Burning, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Black Arrow, Point of Departure, A Girl Called Jo, Irma La Douce, High Spirits, Privates on Parade (for which he won the SWET Award for Comedy Performance of the Year), A Patriot for Me, Deathtrap, The Boys from Syracuse, Sweeney Todd (SWET Award for Best Performance in a Musical), Fatal Attraction, La Cage aux Folles, Antony and Cleopatra, Venus Observed, She Stoops to Conquer, My Fair Lady, King Lear, Waste and Waiting for Godot.

In August 2001, when he was appearing concurrently in Hamlet and Humble Boy, Quilley ended his 20 Questions interview with Whatsonstage.com in high spirits. Then aged 73, Quilley marvelled that: "I'm as busy as ever. The further I get past retirement age, the harder I seem to work. It reminds me of that Robin Bailey quote: 'I like being busy; I hope to be busy as long as I can stand up and remember the jokes.'"

- by Terri Paddock