The Royal National Theatre will this week celebrate the life and work of the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne (pictured), the veteran of stage and screen who died last year on Boxing Day, 26 December 2001. The free and unreserved event will be held in the NT's Olivier Theatre at 11.30am tomorrow, 6 June 2002, also the day of publication for Hawthorne's autobiography, Straight Face, which pours posthumous scorn on the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Hawthorne is most famous to British television audiences for the long-running television comedy series Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister, in which he played the obsequious civil servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby. He also achieved recognition internationally in films such as Amistad, The Object of My Affection, The Winslow Boy and The Clandestine Marriage.

Throughout his career, Hawthorne also returned regularly to the stage, where his credits included Shadowlands, The Clandestine Marriage, Hapgood, The Magistrate, Uncle Vanya and Privates on Parade for which he won a SWET (Society of West End Theatres) Award for Best Supporting Actor. Perhaps most famously, he played the title role of the National Theatre production of Nicholas Hytner's production of Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III, which won him numerous awards including the Olivier, Evening Standard and London Critics Circle Awards for Best Actor (and was later adapted on film as The Madness of King George, for which he also won a BAFTA and was nominated for an Oscar).

Hytner, the National's artistic director-designate, directs tomorrow's one-hour ceremony which will include eulogies by Bennett, producer Thelma Holt and actors Charles Dance and Julian Wadham, as well as clips from some of Hawthorne's performances and an African choir.

Hawthorne's last stage appearance was in 1999/2000 when he took the title role in the RSC-Japanese co-production of King Lear, directed by Yukio Ninagawa. The production was savaged by the critics and in his autobiography, finished just days' before his death and published by Hodder and Stoughton this week, Hawthorne in turn savaged the RSC for one of the worst experiences of his career. He wrote: "The time has come to be harsh about the Royal Shakespeare Company. I believe they deserve it...They don't know how to behave towards the people they employ. As an actor, I have been horrified by their arrogance and their lack of support."

Soon after King Lear, Hawthorne was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, he claims, the only member of the RSC administration to send any condolences was the Barbican's front-of-house manager.

- by Terri Paddock