Sir Peter Ustinov
(1921 - 2004)

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Peter Alexander Ustinov was born in London in 1921.His father, an officer in the Russian Czar's army, refused to take an oath to the Eastern Orthodox church because he was a Protestant and he had to flee the country. Peter was educated at the Westminster School in London, he left at 16 because he hated it, but had almost instant success on the London stage. His first play was staged when he was only 19.


By the time he was in his early 20s war was gripping Britain and, the then Private Ustinov, was legendarily meeting with Captain Carol Reed, Lt Colonel David Niven and Lieutenant Eric Ambler at the Ritz to prepare the screenplay for ‘The Way Ahead’ (1944), in which he also played the North African cafe owner (he didn't look English enough for anything else).


After the war he continued writing but it was in 1951 that Ustinov was to star as Nero in the film ‘Quo Vadis’ – he delivered a hypnotic performance as the insane emperor that completed captures the screen. He had a good supporting cast with Deborah Kerr and Robert Taylor and in truth he really should have received an Oscar for this role.


Between 1952 and 1955 Ustinov starred alongside Peter Jones in the much-loved BBC radio comedy In All Directions. The show featured Ustinov and Jones as themselves in a car in London perpetually searching for Copthorne Avenue. The comedy derived from the characters they met along the way, often also played by themselves.


The 1960’s were good for Ustinov he won Oscars for Best Supporting Actor for his roles in Spartacus (1960) in which he played the affable slave owner and eventual enemy of Laurence Oliver (Crassus) then a few years later in Topkapi (1964).

Never one to turn down a good television assignment whilst not appearing in films or writing, Ustinov appeared on American TV in such guises as King George and Dr. Samuel Johnson, winning the first of his three Emmy awards for the latter characterisation; he was also a frequent talk show guest, regaling audiences with his droll wit and his mastery over several dialects. While he has never starred on-camera in a weekly TV series, his voice could be heard essaying virtually all the roles on the 1981 syndicated cartoon series ‘Dr. Snuggles’.


The closest he has come to repeating himself was with his frequent theatrical film and TV-movie appearances as Agatha Christie's Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, in the late '70s and early '80s. The author of several plays (the most popular of which included ‘Love of Four Colonels’ and ‘ Finish’), books (including two autobiographies), Peter Ustinov was still going strong into the 1990s, making a long-overdue return to cinema in the 1992 film ‘Lorenzo's Oil.’

 

 













 

 

 

 

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