Acting is half shame, half glory. Shame at exhibiting yourself, glory when you can forget yourself
Sir John Gielgud was quite one of the greatest British actors of the 20th century.
Few men had such a distinctive voice. His friend Sir Alec Guinness once described it as sounding “like a silver trumpet muffled in silk.”
Born into a theatrical family, Gielgud initially suffered from a stiff manner. “Like a cat with rickets,” said one of his teachers, unkindly.
However, at the age of 25, he walked into the Old Vic and became an overnight sensation for his unique interpretation of Shakespearian roles, particularly in Richard II and Hamlet.
Although he made some early film appearances, markedly in Hitchcock’s Secret Agent, he was slow to recognise the importance of TV and film as platforms for his art. He eventually appeared in both, notably in old age in TV’s Brideshead Revisited and in the comic film, Arthur, which won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1981.
Knighted in 1953, following the deaths of Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier in the 1980s, Sir John stood alone as the undisputed old master of the British stage. Before his death, the Globe Theatre in London’s Shaftsbury Avenue was renamed in his honour.
“At last,” he said “There is a name in lights on the Avenue which I actually recognise, even if it is my own.”