Stage & Screen Actor Lionel Jeffries Dies, Age 83
Having made a West End debut in 1953, he moved to the Arts Theatre Club in 1954 to appear in Hall’s productions of Lorca’s Blood Wedding and Jean Giraudoux’s The Enchanted.
His last London appearance was in Sir Peter’s revival of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck at the Phoenix in 1990 in which, as a gloriously eccentric Old Ekdal, he sounded the depths of this disturbing play, alongside David Threlfall, Nichola McAuliffe and Alex Jennings.
But it was in film, as both actor and screenwriter, that he made his mark, in a career spanning forty years, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright in 1949 to much-loved The Railway Children, which he adapted from E Nesbit’s novel, and directed, in 1970. As an actor, his best known films included The Colditz Story (1957) and Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang (1968).
He was born on 10 June 1926 in London and educated in Dorset (where he also died), served in the army in Burma during the war, trained at RADA and played in rep. He made over 70 films, but returned to the stage in 1984 for the Prince of Wales revival of Hello, Dolly! with Dora Bryan and, in the following two years, three farces for Ray Cooney’s Theatre of Comedy at the Shaftesbury: Philip King’s See How They Run, Ben Travers’ Rookery Nook and Cooney’s own Two Into One.
Jeffries’ voice was rich and fruity, his presence dominating, and he was usually both bald and mustachioed in a seemingly endless stream of comic roles and cameos. He is survived by his wife, Eileen Mary Walsh, of nearly 60 years, and their three children.