Next month marks the centenary of the birth of the late actor Sir John Gielgud and several events, including a West End gala at the theatre named after him, are being held to mark the occasion.

Born in London on 14 April 1904, Gielgud passed away, aged 96, on 21 May 2000 (See News, 22 May 2000). He was the final survivor of a generation of classical actors which included Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft. Over his incredible career, which started in 1917 and continued until a month before his death, Gielgud appeared in countless plays and films. The 1982 Hollywood hit Arthur earned him his only Oscar for his role as Dudley Moore's butler.

But Gielgud, like Olivier, was perhaps best known in the UK for his mastery of Shakespeare. Between 1949 and 1961, he was a key member in the formation of the Royal Shakespeare Company and, over the years, he performed every major Shakespearean male role, including King Lear, Hamlet and Prospero from The Tempest.

To mark the actor’s centenary, the RSC - along with RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), where Gielgud trained, and The Shakespeare Guild by arrangement with producers Thelma Holt and Bill Kenwright - are presenting a special gala evening on Monday 19 April 2004 at the Shaftesbury Avenue theatre, whose name was changed from the Globe to the Gielgud in honour of the actor.

The evening, hosted by broadcaster Ned Sherrin, will include readings and recitals by a cast of internationally renowned actors including Paul Scofield, Ian Richardson, Donald Sinden, Martin Jarvis, Michael Pennington and Judi Dench (who is currently appearing on stage at the Gielgud in the RSC’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well).

Commenting on the event, RSC artistic director Michael Boyd, said: “Gielgud’s legacy to the theatre is alive and well today. Theatre practitioners still look to him as an inspirational speaker of verse.”

The proceeds from the gala evening will go towards a bursary for RADA students, as well as towards the voice and verse training programme for RSC actors in Stratford-upon-Avon. For gala tickets, call 0870 890 1105.

Other events planned for the Gielgud centenary include:

  • An informal discussion on Gielgud’s life with Barbara Jefford, Jonathan Croall, John Miller and Richard Mangan at the Theatre Museum on 1 April 2004 at 6.00pm. (Call 020 7943 4700)
  • A lecture by Jonathan Croall (author of Gielgud – A Theatrical Life) at the National Portrait Gallery, 8 April 2004 at 7.00pm. (Call 020 7306 0055)
  • A special reading of Gielgud’s Letters (just published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson) at the National Theatre, 14 April 2004 at 2.00pm. (Call 0870 443 0096)

    - by Terri Paddock