James Donald: Scottish Actor (1917 - 1993) | Biography
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James Donald
Scottish Actor

James Donald

James Donald
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Scottish Actor
Was Actor
From United Kingdom
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender male
Birth 18 May 1917, Aberdeen
Death 3 August 1993, Wiltshire (aged 76 years)
The details (from wikipedia)


James Donald (18 May 1917 – 3 August 1993) was a Scottish actor. Tall and thin, he specialised in playing authority figures.
Donald was born in Aberdeen, and made his first professional stage appearance in the late-1930s, having been educated at Rossall School on Lancashire's Fylde coast. During the Second World War he had minor roles in war films, including In Which We Serve (1942), Went the Day Well? (1942) and The Way Ahead (1944). He played Mr. Winkle in the 1952 film version of The Pickwick Papers. However, leading roles eluded him until he played Theo Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956).
His work in the theatre included Noël Coward's Present Laughter (1943) which starred Coward himself and The Eagle with Two Heads (1947), You Never Can Tell (1948) and The Heiress (1949) with Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft and Donald Sinden.
He memorably portrayed Major Clipton, the doctor who expresses grave doubts about the sanity of Col. Nicholson's (Alec Guinness) efforts to build the bridge in order to show up his Japanese captors, in the classic war film The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). He had the honour of speaking the film's iconic final words: "Madness!, Madness!" He also played another memorable military character, Group Captain Ramsey, the Senior British Officer in The Great Escape (1963), as well as roles in other notable films both in Britain and the United States, including The Vikings (1958), King Rat (1965), Cast a Giant Shadow (1966) and Quatermass and the Pit (1967).
Donald starred in a 1960 television adaptation of A. J. Cronin's The Citadel and appeared regularly in many other television dramas in the UK and US, as well as on stage. In 1961, he played Prince Albert opposite Julie Harris's Queen Victoria, in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Laurence Housman's play Victoria Regina, for which he received an Emmy nomination.

Second World War service

Donald enlisted in the British Army at the start of the Second World War and was assigned to British Army Intelligence where he decoded messages for the Intelligence Corps.


Donald retired from acting in part because of a lifelong asthmatic condition. He died of stomach cancer on 3 August 1993 in West Tytherley, Hampshire. He was survived by his wife, Ann and a stepson.


  • The Missing Million (1942)
  • One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942) (uncredited)
  • Alibi (1942) as Barman (uncredited)
  • In Which We Serve (1942) as Doc
  • Went the Day Well? (1942) as German Corporal (uncredited)
  • San Demetrio London (1943) as Gunnery Control Officer
  • The Way Ahead (1944) as Pvt. Evan Lloyd
  • Broken Journey (1948) as Bill Haverton
  • The Small Voice (1948) as Murray Byrne
  • Edward, My Son (1949) as Bronton
  • Trottie True (1949) as Lord Digby Landon
  • Cage of Gold (1950) as Alan
  • White Corridors (1951) as Neil Marriner
  • Brandy for the Parson (1952) as Bill Harper
  • Gift Horse (1952) as Lt. Richard Jennings, No. 1
  • The Pickwick Papers (1952) as Nathaniel Winkle
  • The Net (1953) as Prof. Michael Heathley
  • Beau Brummell (1954) as Lord Edwin Mercer
  • Lust for Life (1956) as Theo Van Gogh
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) as Major Clipton
  • The Vikings (1958) as Egbert
  • Third Man on the Mountain (1959) as Franz Lerner
  • Victoria Regina (1961) as Benjamin Disraeli
  • The Great Escape (1963) as Gp. Capt. Ramsey "The SBO"
  • King Rat (1965) as Dr. Kennedy
  • Cast a Giant Shadow (1966) as Maj. Safir
  • The Jokers (1967) as Col. Gurney-Simms
  • Quatermass and the Pit (1967) (Released as Five Million Years to Earth in the US) as Dr. Mathew Roney
  • Hannibal Brooks (1969) as Padre
  • The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969) as King Carlos
  • David Copperfield (1970) (TV) as Mr. Murdstone
  • Conduct Unbecoming (1975) as The Doctor
  • The Big Sleep (1978) as Inspector Gregory (final film role)

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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