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Michael Hordern (October 4, 1911 – May 2, 1995) was an English actor named knight in 1983 for his services to the theater.
His full name was Michael Murray Hordern , and he was born in Berkhamsted, England, studying at Brighton College, as was his brother Peter. He acted in school, and later as an amateur with the St. Pancras People’s Theater. Before working in acting, he worked as a teacher and as a commercial traveler. In 1937 he made his theatrical debut at the People’s Palace in East London, playing a small role in Othello, and at the end of that year he joined the repertoire company of the Little Theater of Bristol. Here he met his future wife, actress Grace Eveline Mortimer, with whom he married in 1943. The marriage lasted until Mortimer’s death in London in 1986. They had a daughter, Joanna.
His theatrical work, for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon and in London, in the Old Vic and in the West End, demonstrated his wide range of records and his personal voice. In addition to many roles in works by William Shakespeare (Jaques in As You Like It, Casio in Julius Caesar, Polonius in Hamlet, Malvolio in ‘Night of Kings), Hordern worked on works by August Strindberg, Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Wing Pinero, Harold Pinter, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Edward Albee, Alan Ayckbourn, Friedrich Dürrenmatt – Physicists – and Tom Stoppard.
Perhaps his most accomplished theatrical performance was that of King Lear, work directed by Jonathan Miller at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1970. He played the role for Miller on two other occasions, in 1975 and on the BBC Television series Shakespeare in 1982, without a doubt one of the best moments of this series. In 1978 he returned to Stratford to play Prospero in The Tempest, equally admirable. This work was also covered on the BBC Shakespeare in 1980.
Cinema, television and radio
Hordem made more than 160 film performances, usually in character roles, including Passport to Pimlico (1949), Scrooge (1951, as Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge in a 1977 television adaptation), The Heart of the Matter (1953), Grand National Night (1953), The Spanish Gardener (1956), Sink the Bismarck! (1960), El Cid (1961), Cleopatra (1963), The VIPs (1963), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), Khartoum (1966), A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum (Golfus of Rome) (1966), The Taming of the Shrew (1967), The Challenge of the Eagles (1969), Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), England Made Me (England made me) (1972), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1972), Juggernaut (1974), The Slipper and the Rose (1976), Shogun (1980), Gandhi (1982).
In 1968, he played the main character of Jonathan Miller’s adaptation for TV of the Montague Rhodes ghost story James’ Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad and, coincidentally, a few more years Later he narrated nineteen supernatural stories by MR James, edited in four audio tape collections by Argo Records in the 1980s. In 1986 he worked on the television series Paradise Postponed, and in 1992 he recorded two films with the story of John Mortimer Rumpole on Trial. Hordern did other jobs as a voice actor, including Paddington and Badger’s voice in the 1980s series The Wind in the Willows. He was also a voice actor in Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon, as well as Martin Rosen’s cartoon production, adaptation of Richard Adams’ ‘Watership Hill’.
On the radio was Gandalf in the adaptation for the BBC of the work of J. R. R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings (1981); Merlin, in an adaptation of T. H. White’s novel The Sword in the Stone (1982); and the famous Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse in several series of the seventies.
The compendium of the readings of Sir Michael Hordern made in 1991 on the work of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, remains a classic interpretation of it.
On television he played Tartufo for the BBC in 1971, and Professor Marvin in The History Man, in 1980. He also performed in several dramatic serials, with his last performance for TV being that of Middlemarch (1994).
Michael Hordern died in Oxford, England, in 1995, because of a nephropathy. Shortly before his death, Brighton College gave his name to a room in which is a bronze figure of his, of which the National Portrait Gallery has a copy in London.
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