Born 14th April 1904, in London, Sir John (Arthur) Gielgud is considered as one of the greatest ambassadors (with Sir Laurence Olivier) of English (and Shakespearean in particular) theatre..

Sir John, the grandnephew of the English actress Ellen Terry, made his acting debut in 1921 at the Old Vic Theatre, London after studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art ; Brett followed a similar path as, after two years at the Library Theatre, Manchester (1954-1955), he, too, starred at Old Vic 1, in 1956.

Both actors were also well appreciated in States ; for the first time in 1928 for Gielgud, and in 1957 for Brett, Winter Garden, New-York2.

It is interesting to note that both Gielgud and Brett earned the title of Most Promising Actor with the same role, the part of the «sweet prince» Hamlet, the former in 1929 for the Old Vic Company, and the later in 1961 at the Strand Theatre, London.

However their careers became diverging : Brett‘s career taking off on television, which began to become very popular in the mid 1950s ; Whereas Gielgud, as with Olivier, was always keen to direct3. He directed many plays, including «Richard II» in which he also played the title role, «Hamlet» (with Richard Burton), in New York, 1964, and was the director of the repertory season of 1937-38 at the Queen’s Theatre (London) and again in 1944-45 at the Haymarket Theatre (London). He was knighted in 1953 and received the Order of Merit from HRH Queen Elizabeth II in 1996.

Gielgud was not overly found of contemporary plays, preferring the classical writers such as Richard Brinsley Sheridan («School for Scandal»), Oscar Wilde («The important of Being Earnest», Anton Chekhov («The Seagull») and of course William Shakespeare ( for example touring the world in «Ages of Man », 1959 ; a solo recital of passage of Shakespeare). However in the 1970’s he took contemporary roles in plays as «Home» de David Storey (1970) et «Veterans» de Charles Wood (1972). 

He appeared also on TV and in numerous films, even if he was quite suspicious about cinema. We can quote, for example (see the filmography at the end of the newsletter) : S. Maugham’s «The Secret agent» (1936) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, «Romeo and Juliet» (1954) directed by Renato Castellani4, «Murder by Decree» (1979), «Arthur» (1981) for which he won the Academy Award for best supporting role, «The Elephant Man» (1980) with Anthony Hopkins (in correct clothes, this time !!!!), «Ghandi» (1982) with Ben Kinsley, «Prospero’s Book» (1991), «Gulliver's Travels» with Peter O‘Toole (1996), «Looking for Richard» (1996), and « Elisabeth » (1998) .

In recent years Gielgud lived in semi-retirement in a beautiful 17th century home with splendid gardens, which he shared with his long-time companion Martin Hensler, a gardener and landscape architect, with whom he lived for over forty years.

Gielgud died at the age of 96, on 21st May 2000, about a year after his companion, and was cremated at oxford on 1st June. He was one of those men who, when one asks the secret of their great old age, answer with lot of humour that «they never dieted or exercised, smoked furiously and enjoyed drinking wine». He caused also «controversy at his 90th birthday celebration by admitting to Hello! Magazine that he doesn’t understand Shakespeare properly» .

Gielgud’s writings about his life and his work are numerous : his autobiography Early Stages (1938; rev. ed., 1976); Stage Directions (1963), a collection of speeches and essays; Distinguished Company (1972), detailing some of his «youthful enthusiasms» for stars of stage and screen; an amply illustrated memoir, Gielgud: An Actor and His Time, with John Mills and John Powell (1980); and Shakespeare: Hit or Miss? (1991; also published as Acting Shakespeare, 1992), with John Miller, reminiscences and observations on his Shakespeare acting and directing.


Gielgud starred with Brett on a recording of «The Life and Death of King Richard II» made in 1960. Sir John played Richard II, Brett was Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Edward Hardwicke starred too but we don’t know what was his role (does anybody known it ?).

Notes :  

1- In the roles of : Patroclus («Troilus and Cressida»), Malcom («Macbeth»), Paris («Romeo and Juliet») and the duke of Aumerle («Richard II»).

2- In the roles of : Patroclus («Troilus and Cressida»), Malcom («Macbeth»), Paris («Romeo and Juliet»). An Old Vic company tour

3- But Brett directed the play «The Tempest», where he played Prospero (1982, Stratford Festival, Ontario).

4- A Technicolor film, shot in Italy. Costumes and decors was made by the painter Leonor Fini. Laurence Harvey was Romeo, Susan Shental played Juliet, and Gielgud played the chorus.

Internet Sources :

*Encyclopaedia Britannica on line

*« Gielgud, Sir (Arthur) John, » Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopaedia.

*Braun (Liz), « Good night, sweet prince », Toronto sun, 23 May 2000.

*« I made my first broadcast in 1923 », BBC online, 12 July 2000.

"When you're my age, you just never risk being ill - because then everyone says, 'Oh, he's done for.'" - Sir John Gielgud at 84

"Like all professions acting has terrible drawbacks. It can be fearfully boring, fearfully unglamorous...But what is fun about the theatre is that we get our prizes while we are alive to enjoy them. We have the pleasure of the audience's reaction, we have the applause, we have the publicity, we have the tribute and the honours and whatever it may be. Much more than we probably deserve."

(To Richard Burton on seeing Burton's first Hamlet) "I'll come back and see it when you're better."



1.  Tichborne Claimant, The (1998) [Cockburn]

2.  Elizabeth (1998) [Pope Paul IV]
... aka Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen (1998) 

3.  Quest for Camelot (1998) [Merlin]
... aka Magic Sword: Quest for Camelot, The (1998)

4.  Merlin (1998/II) (TV) [King Constant]

5.  "Dance to the Music of Time, A" (1997) (mini) TV Series [St. John Clarke]

6.  Hamlet (1996) [Priam]
... aka William Shakespeare's Hamlet (1996)

7.  Portrait of a Lady, The (1996) [Mr. Touchett]

8.  Leopard Son, The (1996) [Narrator]

9.  Shine (1996) [Cecil Parkes]

10. Looking for Richard (1996) [Himself]

11. Dragonheart (1996) [King Arthur]

12. Gulliver's Travels (1996) (TV) [Professor of Sunlight]

13. Haunted (1995) [Doctor Doyle]

14. First Knight (1995) [Oswald]

15. Best of Friends, The (1994) (TV) [Sydney Cockerell]

16. "Scarlett" (1994) (mini) TV Series [Pierre Robillard]

17. Power of One, The (1992) [St. John]
... aka Puissance de l'ange, La (1992) (France)

18. Swan Song (1992) [Svetlovidov]

19. Shining Through (1992) [Konrad Friedrichs/Sunflower]

20. "Strauss Dynasty, The" (1991) (mini) TV Series [Dreschler]

21. Walk Through Prospero's Library, A (1991) (TV) [Prospero]

22. Prospero's Books (1991)[Prospero]
... aka Ultima tempesta, L' (1991) (Italy)

23. Strike It Rich (1990) [Herbert Dreuther]
... aka Loser Takes All (1990)
... aka Money Talks (1990)

24. "Summer's Lease" (1989) (mini) TV Series [Haverford Downs]

25. "War and Remembrance" (1989) (mini) TV Series [Aaron Jastrow]

26. Getting It Right (1989) [Sir Gordon Munday]

27. TV Dante: The Inferno Cantos I-VIII, A (1989) (TV) [Virgil]

28. Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988) [Hobson]

29. Man for All Seasons, A (1988) (TV) [Cardinal Wolsey]

30. Appointment with Death (1988) [Colonel Carbury]

31. Barbablú, Barbablú (1987)
... aka Bluebeard, Bluebeard (1987)

32. Funny, You Don't Look 200: A Constitutional Vaudeville (1987) (TV)

33. Quartermaine's Terms (1987) (TV) [Eddie]

34. Canterville Ghost, The (1986) (TV) [Sir Simon de Canterville]

35. Whistle Blower, The (1986) [Sir Adrian Chapple]

36. Ingrid (1985) [Himself]

37. Invitation to the Wedding (1985) [Reverend Clyde Ormiston]

38. Leave All Fair (1985) [John Middleton Murry]

39. Plenty (1985) [Sir Leonard Darwin]

40. Time After Time (1985) [Jasper Swift]

41. Romance on the Orient Express (1985) (TV) [Mr. Woodward]

42. Antigone (1984) (TV)[Teiresias]

43. Buddenbrooks (1984) (TV)

44. Frankenstein (1984) (TV) [Blind Man]

45. Oedipus the King (1984) (TV)[Teiresias]

46. Shooting Party, The (1984) [Cornelius Cardew]

47. Camille (1984) (TV) [Duke de Charles]

48. Scandalous (1984) [Uncle Willie]

49. "Far Pavilions, The" (1984) (mini) TV Series[Major Sir Louis Cavagnari]
... aka "Blade of Steel" (1984) (mini)

50. Master of Ballantrae, The (1984) (TV)[Lord Durrisdeer]

51. "Wagner" (1983) (mini) TV Series [Pfistermeister]

52. Wicked Lady, The (1983) [Hogarth]

53. Scarlet and the Black, The (1983) (TV) [Pope Pius XII]
... aka Scarlatto e nero (1983) (TV) (Italy)
... aka Vatican Pimpernel, The (1983) (TV)

54. "Brideshead Revisited" (1982) (mini) TV Series [Edward Ryder]

55. "Marco Polo" (1982) (mini) TV Series [The Doge]

56. Gandhi (1982) [Lord Irwin]

57. Laurence Olivier: A Life (1982) (TV) [Interviewee]

58. Seven Dials Mystery, The (1982) (TV) [Marquis of Caterhan]

59. Inside the Third Reich (1982) (TV) [Albert Speer Sr.]

60. Hunchback of Notre Dame, The (1982) (TV) [Charmolue]
... aka Hunchback (1982) (TV)

61. Voyage to the End of the Earth (1981) (TV)[Narrator]

62. Priest of Love (1981) [Herbert G. Muskett]

63. Arthur (1981) [Hobson]

64. Sphinx (1981) [Abdu Hamdi]

65. Chariots of Fire (1981) [Master of Trinity College]

66. Elephant Man, The (1980) [Carr Gomm]

67. Formula, The (1980) [Dr. Esau]
... aka Formel, Die (1980) (West Germany)

68. Human Factor, The (1980) [Brigadier Tomlinson]

69. Lion of the Desert (1980) [Sharif el-Gariani]
... aka Omar Mukhtar: Lion of the Desert (1980)

70. Caligula (1980) [Nerva]
... aka Caligula, My Son (1980) (UK: changed title)
... aka Io, Caligola (1980) (Italy)

71. Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (1980) (TV) [Reverend Jones]

72. Dyrygent (1979) [John Lasocki, Conductor]
... aka Conductor, The (1979)
... aka Orchestra Conductor (1979) (USA)

73. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, A (1979) [The Preacher]

74. Murder by Decree (1979) [Lord Salisbury]
... aka Sherlock Holmes: Murder by Decree (1979)

75. Miserables, Les (1978) (TV) [Gillenormand]

76. King Richard the Second (1978) (TV)[John of Gaunt]
... aka BBC Television Shakespeare: King Richard the Second (1978) (TV)
... aka Richard II (1978) (TV)

77. Romeo and Juliet (1978) (TV) [Chorus]
... aka BBC Television Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (1978) (TV)

78. Joseph Andrews (1977)[The Doctor]

79. Providence (1977)[Clive Langham]

80. Heartbreak House (1977) (TV)
... aka Play of the Month: Heartbreak House (1977) (TV) (UK)

81. Aces High (1976) [Headmaster]

82. "Edward the King" (1975) (mini) TV Series [Benjamin Disraeli]
... aka "Edward the Seventh" (1975) (mini)
... aka "Royal Victorians, The" (1975) (mini)

83. Edward VII (1975) (TV) [Benjamin Disraeli]

84. Galileo (1975) [The Old Cardinal]
... aka Galileo Galilei (1975)

85. "Pallisers, The" (1974) TV Series [Host]

86. Murder on the Orient Express (1974) [Beddoes]

87. 11 Harrowhouse (1974) [ Meecham]
... aka Anything for Love (1974) (USA: TV title)
... aka Eleven Harrowhouse (1974)
... aka Fast Fortune (1974)

88. Gold (1974)[Actor .... Farrell]
... aka Great Gold Conspiracy, The (1974) (USA)

89. "QB VII" (1974) (mini) TV Series [Clinton-Meek]

90. Lost Horizon (1973) [Chang]

91. Frankenstein: The True Story (1972) (TV) [Chief Constable (Police)]

92. Home (1972) (TV) [Harry]

93. Probe (1972) (TV) [Harold Streeter]
... aka Search (1972) (TV)

94. Eagle in a Cage (1971) [Lord Sissal]

95. Julius Caesar (1970) [Julius Caesar]

96. Hamlet (1970/I) (TV) [Ghost]

97. Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) [Count Leopold Von Berchtold]

98. Conversation at Night (1969) (TV)
... aka Thirty-Minute Theatre: Conversation at Night (1969) (TV) (UK: series title)

99. Sebastian (1968) [Head of Intelligence]
... aka Mr. Sebastian (1968)

100.        Shoes of the Fisherman, The (1968) [The Elder Pope]

101.        Charge of the Light Brigade, The (1968) [Lord Raglan]

102.        Assignment to Kill (1968) [Curt Valayan]

103.        From Chekhov with Love (1968) (TV) [Anton Chekhov]

104.        Alice in Wonderland (1967) (TV) [Mock Turtle]

105.        Révolution d'octobre (1967) [Narrator]
... aka October Revolution (1967)

106.        Romeo and Juliet (1967) (TV)
... aka Play of the Month: Romeo and Juliet (1967) (TV) (UK)

107.        Mayfly and the Frog, The (1966) (TV)
... aka Wednesday Play: The Mayfly and the Frog (1966) (TV) (UK: series title)

108.        Ages of Man, The (1965) (TV) [Himself]

109.        Loved One, The (1965) [Sir Francis Hinsley]

110.        Campanadas a medianoche (1965) [Henry IV]
... aka Chimes at Midnight (1965) (UK)
... aka Falstaff (1967/I) (Switzerland: German title) (USA)

111.        Hamlet (1964/I) [Ghost] [Director] [Miscellaneous crew]

112.        Becket (1964) [King Louis VII]

113.        Mourir à Madrid (1963) [Narrator]
... aka To Die in Madrid (1963)

114.        Browning Version, The (1959) (TV) [Andrew Crocker-Harris]

115.        North West Frontier (1959)
... aka Flame Over India (1959) (USA)

116.        Immortal Land, The (1958) [Narrator]

117.        Saint Joan (1957) [Warwick]

118.        Barretts of Wimpole Street, The (1957) [Edward Moulton-Barrett]

119.        Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) [Foster]

120.        Romeo and Juliet (1954) [Chorus]
... aka Giulietta e Romeo (1954) (Italy)

121.        Richard III (1954) [George, Duke of Clarence]

122.        Julius Caesar (1953) [Cassius]
... aka William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1953)

123.        Hamlet (1948) [Voice of the Ghost]

124.        Airman's Letter to His Mother, An (1941) [Narrator]

125.        Prime Minister, The (1941) [Benjamin Disraeli]

126.        Secret Agent (1936) [Edgar Brodie/Richard Ashenden]

127.        Good Companions, The (1933) [Inigo Jollifant]

128.        Insult (1932) [Henri Dubois]

129.        Clue of the New Pin, The (1929) [Rex Trasmere]

130.        Who Is the Man? (1924) [Daniel]

Notable TV guest appearances

1.  "Lovejoy" (1986) playing "Lord Wakering" in episode: "Lost Colony, The" (episode # 5.14) 12/26/1993

2.  "Inspector Morse" (1987) playing "Lord Hinksey" in episode: "Twilight Of The Gods" (episode # 7.3) 1/20/1993

3.  "Tales of the Unexpected" (1979) playing "Jelks" in episode: "Neck" (episode # 1.6) 4/28/1979

4.  "Second City TV" (1976) playing "Himself" in episode: "Crosswords" (episode # 1.4) 1976

5.  "DuPont Show of the Month, The" (1957) in episode: "Browning Version, The" 4/23/1959

Tony award, 1961
Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Mini-series, 1981.
Grammy Award winner for The Ages of Man, 1979
Grammy Award nominee for No Man's Land, 1982
Grammy Award nominee for Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, 1983
Grammy Award nominee for Gulliver, 1986
Grammy Award nominee for A Christmas Carol, 1988
Grammy Award nominee for Alice in Wonderland, 1989