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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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... AlecGuinness 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 ...


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. AlecGuinness 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 ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’

4 July 2019
... only far from the mark but off the wall. It’s true that coronets are not everything. There is also money, but that’s it. Dennis Price as Louis, a distant relative of the aristocrats all played by AlecGuinness (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 ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’

6 October 2011
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
directed by Tomas Alfredson.
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... but they keep losing their allure by reuse; they just go on telling us there is a mystery while the posters picture it. The posters show Gary Oldman as George Smiley – or rather they show him as AlecGuinness 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 ...

At the Ashmolean

Peter Campbell: Lucien and Camille Pissarro

3 February 2011
... transformed into what Tyrone Guthrie called ‘the prettiest house in London’ and the books were part of it. At times the family was so poor they had to rent it out and live in the studio annex (AlecGuinness 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 ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: David Lean

3 July 2008
... making it happen, and this explains why Hepburn keeps threatening to escape from Summertime and why the submerged but always interesting Johnson is so perfect in Brief Encounter. It also explains why AlecGuinness 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 ...

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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... he picked up the suitcase and ran down the platform. ‘I suddenly feel better, thank God we’re back.’ Miss Bennett landed a film part with Alan Ladd, Godfrey was doing a commentary for an AlecGuinness 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 ...

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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... for it. What else could have driven them to their 2004 remake of the Ealing comedy The Ladykillers? Even if Tom Hanks is funnier in that film than our idea of Tom Hanks ought to allow, he’s not AlecGuinness. 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 ...

At Tate Britain

Inigo Thomas: Frederick Swynnerton

21 January 2016
... himself, and the happiness of his expression suggests a man who liked to be liked. He’s wearing an Arabic head dress, and displayed next to John’s portrait of King Faisal – whose resemblance to AlecGuinness, 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 ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2000

25 January 2001
... is over-supplied with lady’s mantle, alchemilla mollis, and in early summer particularly the red of carnations and the sharp fresh green of the alchemilla light up the room. 13 June. At supper AlecGuinness 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 ...


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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... an adaptation which had the merit, from Le Carré’s point of view, of being pretty well impossible to follow unless you read the book). Smiley’s People is a sequel to Tinker Tailor, and it stars AlecGuinness 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 ...


Alan Bennett: Finding My Métier

4 January 2018
... one or two embroidery pictures and lots of stuff that went unrecorded. He was a genial and courteous man with a mellifluous voice, but the first inkling I had that he’d been an actor was when AlecGuinness 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 ...

Meaningless Legs

Frank Kermode: John Gielgud

21 June 2001
Gielgud: A Theatrical Life 1904-2000 
by Jonathan Croall.
Methuen, 579 pp., £20, November 2000, 0 413 74560 0
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John G.: The Authorised Biography of John Gielgud 
by Sheridan Morley.
Hodder, 510 pp., £20, May 2001, 0 340 36803 9
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John Gielgud: An Actor’s Life 
by Gyles Brandreth.
Sutton, 196 pp., £6.99, April 2001, 0 7509 2752 6
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... have got away with it if his very distinctive voice, variously described throughout his life as resembling a cello, an ‘unbridled oboe’, or, most spectacularly, ‘a trumpet muffled with silk’ (AlecGuinness), had not been recognised by a person who was in court on some other, unrelated business. If all this indeed happened at the height of a homophobic witch-hunt, the actor seems to have got ...


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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... and good humour I had not seen in him since his wife had her fatal fling with Haydon.’ By the calendar. Smiley must be close on eighty rather than (as we are yet again told) ‘middle-aged’. AlecGuinness (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 ...


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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... own illumination of English life and personalities. Maurice Oldfield features as a shy Cold Warrior with a Communist Party friend and as a ‘round-faced Graham Greene figure’, closely studied by AlecGuinness 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 ...

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