Nigel Hawthorne profile

One of Britain's most highly regarded actors, with Sir Humphrey possibly his finest hour.

Nigel Hawthorne

Early stages

Nigel Hawthorne was born in Coventry in 1929. Shortly after, his family moved to South Africa. From an early age he was interested in the theatre, but his father wanted him to enter the diplomatic corps. Undeterred, he made his theatrical debut in South Africa in 1950.

Waiting in the wings

He returned to England in 1951, but his first foray into British theatre was not a success. He took the role of understudy to Leslie Phillips for a West End comedy and in 19 months, did not appear on stage once

Full of character

With roles ranging from a couple of lines in an early episode of Dad's Army to an award-winning performance in the TV series Fragile Heart; and from a range of Shakespeare characters in the West End to appearances in touring shows such as Oh, What a Lovely War!, Hawthorne built a reputation as a solid character actor.

Yes, Minister

It was Hawthorne's portrayal of Sir Humphrey Appleby in the political satire Yes, Minister that made him a household name. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher invited him to tea at Downing Street, and insisted on filming a scene with the cast. The show, together with its sequel Yes, Prime Minister, was shown in over 50 countries.

Late developer

Hawthorne was in his 50s by the time he finally enjoyed television success. He once admitted his acting life was "a struggle for dignity and justification." He also said: "I didn't really know who I was, until I was middle-aged."

Mad king

Globally, Hawthorne is best known for his role as George III in the film The Madness of King George. After an award-winning portrayal on stage of the insane monarch, scriptwriter Alan Bennett insisted the film role went to Hawthorne. He earned an Oscar nomination for the part.

Acting with honours

In 1987 Hawthorne received the CBE for services to theatre, film and television. And in the 1999 New Year's Honours List, he was awarded a well-deserved knighthood.

The final curtain

Nigel Hawthorne's last stage performance was the title role of King Lear for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 2001, one of the UK's best-loved character actors died aged 72.