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Coup de Guinness

Robert Morley, 5 December 1985

Blessings in Disguise 
by Alec Guinness.
Hamish Hamilton, 238 pp., £9.95, October 1985, 0 241 11681 3
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... Alec Guinness got off on the wrong foot. Like a great many actors he had an unsuccessful childhood. In adolescence he tried to be someone else and after a time succeeded. He never forgave his mother for not telling him who his father was. He never forgave his mother – period. She did, however, care for Alec after her fashion and brought him up and sent him to boarding school, and even for a while provided him with a stepfather, who from time to time held him upside down over bridges, threatening to drop him into the running water to convince him that it was in his best interest to persuade his mother to disgorge part of his patrimony ...


Robert Morley, 21 June 1984

Personal Mark 
by Alec McCowen.
Hamish Hamilton, 236 pp., £7.95, May 1984, 9780241112632
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Feeling you’re behind: An Autobiography 
by Peter Nichols.
Weidenfeld, 242 pp., £10.95, May 1984, 0 297 78392 0
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... Filming a few years back in Paris, we were visited on the set by a cardinal. Alec Guinness being absent, I took it upon myself to show him around and at the same time express my sorrow that he had missed so recent a convert to his faith. His Eminence allowed himself a rather wintry smile. ‘That,’ he observed, ‘is a conversion I understand we owe more to the cinema than the Church ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, 4 July 2019

... money, but that’s it. Dennis Price as Louis, a distant relative of the aristocrats all played by Alec Guinness (eight roles plus another cameo in a flashback), doesn’t at first take his mother’s fantasies seriously. She married beneath her rank, and had to live in Clapham rather than the family castle, but still dreams that one day Louis will ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, 6 October 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
directed by Tomas Alfredson.
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... posters picture it. The posters show Gary Oldman as George Smiley – or rather they show him as Alec Guinness made a little taller, thinner, cooler. The trick, it seems, is to acknowledge Guinness’s ownership of the icon – broad horn-rimmed glasses, dark suit, tie, longish hair swept back, glazed look of the ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: David Lean, 3 July 2008

... submerged but always interesting Johnson is so perfect in Brief Encounter. It also explains why Alec Guinness is such a godsend to Lean. Guinness always seems to be doing the job in hand with exemplary skill while at the same time doing several private jobs of his own – as if the eight parts he played in Kind ...

At the Ashmolean

Peter Campbell: Lucien and Camille Pissarro, 3 February 2011

... part of it. At times the family was so poor they had to rent it out and live in the studio annex (Alec Guinness was one tenant). ‘Low, small, with four deep windows in which were all kinds of flowers’, a Dutch visitor wrote. On the walls paintings by Camille Pissarro, Lucien Pissarro and others. The dining-room is even smaller. When you sit down ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2000, 25 January 2001

... of carnations and the sharp fresh green of the alchemilla light up the room. 13 June. At supper Alec Guinness tells a curious story apropos of a BBC documentary on Anthony Eden last night. In prewar days Eden used to see a good deal of the theatre director Glen Byam Shaw and when he was contemplating resignation over Abyssinia in 1938 he sought Byam ...

At Tate Britain

Inigo Thomas: Frederick Swynnerton, 21 January 2016

... Arabic head dress, and displayed next to John’s portrait of King Faisal – whose resemblance to Alec Guinness, the man who played him in Lawrence of Arabia, is uncanny. When the two pictures were first exhibited at the Alpine Club in 1920, Lawrence was a frequent visitor, as ‘enraptured by his own image’, John said, as he was with ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘No Country for Old Men’, 21 February 2008

No Country for Old Men 
directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
January 2008
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... Even if Tom Hanks is funnier in that film than our idea of Tom Hanks ought to allow, he’s not Alec Guinness. And what about Intolerable Cruelty (2003), with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, which doesn’t look like a Coen Brothers movie because it doesn’t look as if it was directed by anybody? Still, they can’t be after a single perfect ...


Alan Bennett: Finding My Métier, 4 January 2018

... man with a mellifluous voice, but the first inkling I had that he’d been an actor was when Alec Guinness had him down to Steep Marsh for a weekend. I’d no notion that, as recounted in the obituary, Sam had had a late flowering and that in his nineties he had figured in one of the Harry Potter films. The obituary written by Nicholas de Jongh.14 ...

Kiss and Tearle

Robert Morley, 2 June 1983

Godfrey: A Special Time Remembered 
by Jill Bennett.
Hodder, 186 pp., £7.95, May 1983, 0 340 33160 7
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... back.’ Miss Bennett landed a film part with Alan Ladd, Godfrey was doing a commentary for an Alec Guinness film. Robert Hardy came to see him one evening while she was still at the studios and scolded: ‘Godfrey, you’re very lazy sitting about like that. You know what you should be doing? Preparing to play Lear.’ ‘But I didn’t ...


Ian Hamilton, 20 March 1980

Smiley’s People 
by John le Carré.
Hodder, 327 pp., £5.95, February 1980, 0 340 24704 5
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... to follow unless you read the book). Smiley’s People is a sequel to Tinker Tailor, and it stars Alec Guinness as Smiley, supported by a number of other characters you will now be able to put a television face to. So all that couldn’t be better and probably was set up (not Blunt, though, I suppose) by wily publicists. And then there is the revived, or ...


Susannah Clapp, 23 July 1987

A Life with Alan: The Diary of A.J.P. Taylor’s Wife, Eva, from 1978 to 1985 
by Eva Haraszti Taylor.
Hamish Hamilton, 250 pp., £14.95, June 1987, 0 241 12118 3
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The Painted Banquet: My Life and Loves 
by Jocelyn Rickards.
Weidenfeld, 172 pp., £14.95, May 1987, 0 297 79119 2
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The Beaverbrook Girl 
by Janet Aitken Kidd.
Collins, 240 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 00 217602 5
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... with a Communist Party friend and as a ‘round-faced Graham Greene figure’, closely studied by Alec Guinness when he was preparing to become George Smiley; he ‘could never make close ties with people’. Guy Burgess was ‘always dirty and smelt’. This diary is also a love story: ‘The sun was shining and Alan took my hand.’ Eva Taylor ...


Alan Bennett: What I Didn’t Do in 2007, 3 January 2008

... skill, accenting and phrasing even the most trivial script in order to get the rhythm right. And Alec Guinness would work on a text for weeks, walking round the garden listening to the tape and saying the words out loud. 3 May. Lord Browne disgraced largely thanks to the Mail on Sunday and the bribery of a Canadian youth. The newspapers painstakingly ...


John Sutherland, 21 March 1991

by Roger Scruton.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 236 pp., £13.95, February 1991, 9781856190480
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Slave of the Passions 
by Deirdre Wilson.
Picador, 251 pp., £14.99, February 1991, 0 330 31788 1
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The Invisible Worm 
by Jennifer Johnston.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 182 pp., £12.95, February 1991, 1 85619 041 2
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The Secret Pilgrim 
by John le Carré.
Hodder, 335 pp., £14.95, January 1991, 0 340 54381 7
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... calendar. Smiley must be close on eighty rather than (as we are yet again told) ‘middle-aged’. Alec Guinness (to whom The Secret Pilgrim is dedicated) was 68 when he played in the TV adaptation of Smiley’s People, and looked it. But he projected a Teiresian sense of being somehow beyond age, which worked very well and seems true to le Carré’s ...

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