|Intro||English film and stage actor|
|Field||Film, TV, Stage & Radio|
|Birth||20 September 1914, Buckinghamshire, South East England, England, United Kingdom|
|Death||12 July 1982, London, Greater London, London, England (aged 67 years)|
Kenneth Gilbert More, CBE (20 September 1914 – 12 July 1982) was an English film and stage actor.
Raised to stardom by the veteran car based film-comedy Genevieve (1953), he appeared in many roles as a carefree, happy-go-lucky gent. His biggest hits from this period include Raising a Riot (1955), Reach for the Sky (1956), and The Admirable Crichton (1957). He starred in Doctor in the House (1954), the first of the popular Doctor film series.
Although his career declined in the early 1960s, two of his own favourite films date from this time – The Comedy Man (1964) and The Greengage Summer (1961) with Susannah York, "one of the happiest films on which I have ever worked." He also enjoyed a revival in the much-acclaimed TV adaptation of The Forsyte Saga (1967) and the Father Brown series (1974).
Kenneth More was born in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, the only son of Charles Gilbert More, a Royal Naval Air Service pilot, and Edith Winifred Watkins, the daughter of a Cardiff solicitor. He was educated at Victoria College, Jersey, having spent part of his childhood in the Channel Islands, where his father was general manager of the Jersey Eastern Railway. After he left school, he followed the family tradition by training as a civil engineer. He gave up his training and worked for a while in Sainsbury's.
When More was 17 his father died, and he applied to join the RAF, but failed the medical test for equilibrium. He went to Canada, intending to work as a fur trapper, but was sent back for lacking immigration papers.
On his return from Canada, a family friend, Vivian Van Damm, took him on as assistant manager at the Windmill Theatre, where his job included spotting audience members misbehaving or using opera glasses to look at the nude players during its Revudeville variety shows. He was soon promoted to playing straight man in the Revudeville comedy routines, appearing in his first sketch in August 1935. He played there for a year, which then led to regular work in repertory, including Newcastle, performing in plays such as Burke and Hare and Dracula's Daughter. He continued this work until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
Second World War
More received a commission as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and saw active service aboard the cruiser HMS Aurora and the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious.
On demobilisation in 1946 he worked for the Wolverhampton repertory company, then appeared on stage in the West End in And No Birds Sing (1946), then played Badger in a TV adaptation of Toad of Toad Hall. He was seen by Noël Coward playing a small role on stage in Power Without Glory (1947), which led to More being cast in Peace In Our Time (1947).
His earliest bit parts in films date from before the war, but around this time, More began to appear regularly on the big screen. For a small role in Scott of the Antarctic (1948), he was paid ₤500. His parts grew larger and he achieved a notable stage success in The Way Things Go (1950) with Ronald Squire, from whom More later claimed he learned his stage technique. Roland Culver recommended More audition for a part in a new play by Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue Sea (1952); he was successful and achieved tremendous critical acclaim in the role of Freddie.
Director Henry Cornelius approached More during the run of The Deep Blue Sea and offered him £3,500 to play one of the four leads in Genevieve (1953). The resulting film was a success at the British box office, as was Doctor in the House (1954), for which More received a BAFTA Award as best newcomer. The Deep Blue Sea was adapted for television in 1954 and seen by an audience of 11 million. More signed a five-year contract with Sir Alexander Korda at £10,000 a year. '
He was now established as one of Britain's biggest stars and Korda announced plans to feature him in two films based on true stories, one about the Transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown in 1919 also featuring Denholm Elliott, and the other Clifton James, the double for Field Marshal Montgomery. The first film was never made and the second (I Was Monty's Double) with another actor. Korda also wanted More to star in a new version of The Four Feathers, Storm Over the Nile (1956) but he turned it down. However More did accept Korda's offer to appear in a film adaptation of The Deep Blue Sea (1955) gaining the Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his performance.
More starred in Raising a Riot (1955), which was a hit. He then received an offer from David Lean to play the lead role in an adaptation of The Wind Cannot Read by Richard Mason. More was unsure about whether the public would accept him in the part and turned it down, a decision he later regarded as "the greatest mistake I ever made professionally". (Lean dropped the project and was not involved in the eventual 1958 film version which starred Dirk Bogarde).
However, for the moment, More's career continued without any trouble. He played the Royal Air Force fighter ace, Douglas Bader, in Reach for the Sky (1956), which was the most popular British film of the year. By 1956 his asking price was £25,000 a film. He received offers to go to Hollywood but turned them down, unsure his persona would be effective there. However, he started working with American co-stars and directors more often, and negotiated a deal with 20th Century-Fox in association with the Rank Organisation to make three films. In 1957, he stated that:
Hollywood has been hitting two extremes – either a Biblical de Mille spectacular or a Baby Doll. Britain does two other kinds of movie as well as anyone – a certain type of high comedy and a kind of semi-documentary. I believe we (the British film industry) should hit these hard.
He turned down an offer from Roy Ward Baker to play a German POW in The One That Got Away (1957), but agreed to play the lead in the Titanic film for the same director, A Night to Remember (1958). This was the first of a seven-year contract with Rank at a fee of £40,000 a film.
More specialised in likeable, unflappable English heroes ("an air of hectoring confidence ... heroic in a cocky big-brotherly way"), a persona that could in some roles show darker aspects, as with the brash Ambrose Claverhouse in Genevieve and the controlling Crichton in The Admirable Crichton (1957).
Regarding his performance in the latter film, critic David Shipman wrote:
It was not just that he had superb comic timing: one could see absolutely why the family trusted their fates to him. No other British actor had come so close to that dependable, reliable quality of the great Hollywood stars – you would trust him through thick and thin. And he was more humorous than, say, Gary Cooper, more down-to-earth than, say, Cary Grant.
In 1957 More had announced that he would play the lead role of a captain caught up in the Indian Mutiny in Night Runners of Bengal. While the film was never made, More did appear in another Imperial adventure set in India, North West Frontier (1959).
He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1959 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the Odeon Cinema, Shepherd's Bush.
In 1960, Rank's Managing Director John Davis gave permission for More to work outside his contract to appear in The Guns of Navarone (1961). More, however, made the mistake of heckling and swearing at Davis at a BAFTA dinner at the Dorchester, losing both the role (which went to David Niven) and his contract with Rank.
For a number of years More remained a significant star in Britain, enjoying notable success with Sink the Bismarck! (1960). However, box office receipts started to decline for films such as Man In The Moon (1960) and Some People (1962). He tried to change his image with The Comedy Man (1963) which the public did not like, although it became his favourite role.
His film parts got smaller in the 1960s, with some thinking his popularity declined when he left his second wife to live with Angela Douglas.
Film writer Andrew Spicer thought that "More's persona was so strongly associated with traditional middle class values that his stardom could not survive the shift towards working class iconoclasts" during that decade. Another writer, Christopher Sandford, wrote that "as the sixties began and the star of the ironic, postmodernist school rose, More was derided as a ludicrous old fogey with crinkly hair and a tweed jacket."
Director Lewis Gilbert, who worked several times with More, later stated:
I was very fond of Kenny as an actor, although he wasn't particularly versatile. What he could do, he did very well. His strengths were his ability to portray charm; basically he was the officer returning from the war and he was superb in that kind of role. The minute that kind of role went out of existence, he began to go down as a box office star."
More appeared in a 35-minute prologue to The Collector (1965) at the special request of director William Wyler, however, it ended up being removed entirely from the final film. More had a supporting role in the realistic war film Dark of the Sun (1968). He made a number of cameos in such war films as The Longest Day (1962), Battle of Britain and Oh! What a Lovely War (both 1969).
More's popularity recovered in the 1960s through West End stage performances and television roles, especially following his success in The Forsyte Saga (1967), and as the title character in ATV's Father Brown (1974). Critic David Shipman said his personal notices for his performance in The Secretary Bird (1968) "must be among the best accorded any light comedian during this century". He also took the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooge (1970). More was the potential replacement for Bernard Lee as M in the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973) when it was not known if an ailing Lee would be able to appear.
He was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1970 New Year Honours.
More was married three times. His first marriage in 1940 to actress Mary Beryl Johnstone (one daughter, Susan Jane, born 1941) ended in divorce in 1946. He married Mabel Edith "Bill" Barkby in 1952 (one daughter, Sarah, born 1954) but left her in 1968 for Angela Douglas, an actress 26 years his junior, causing considerable estrangement from friends and family. He was married to Douglas (whom he nicknamed "Shrimp") from 17 March 1968 until his death.
More wrote two autobiographies, Happy Go Lucky (1959) and More or Less (1978). In the second book he related how he had had since childhood, a recurrent dream of something akin to a huge wasp descending towards him. During the war he experienced a Nazi Stuka dive-bomber descending in just such a manner. After that he claimed never to have had that dream again. Producer Daniel M. Angel successfully sued More for libel in 1980 over comments made in his second autobiography.
Illness and Death
More and Douglas separated for several years during the 1970s but reunited when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The disease made it increasingly difficult for him to work and his last job was in a US TV adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. In 1980, when he was being sued by producer Danny Angel for comments in his memoirs, he told the court he was retired.
In 1981 he wrote that:
Doctors and friends ask me how I feel. How can you define "bloody awful?" My nerves are stretched like a wire; the simplest outing becomes a huge challenge – I have to have Angela's arm to support me most days... my balance or lack of it is probably my biggest problem. My blessings are my memories and we have a few very loyal friends who help us through the bad days... Financially all's well. Thank goodness my wife, who holds nothing of the past over my head, is constantly at my side. Real love never dies. We share a sense of humour which at times is vital. If I have a philosophy it is that life doesn't put everything your way. It takes a little back. I strive to remember the ups rather than the downs. I have a lot of time with my thoughts these days and sometimes they hurt so much I can hardly bear it. However, my friends always associate me with the song: "When You're Smiling..." lt isn't always easy but I'm trying to live up to it.
More died of the disease on 12 July 1982, aged 67, and was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium.
The Kenneth More Theatre, named in his honour, is in Ilford, Essex.
- Look Up and Laugh (1935) as Bit Part (uncredited)
- Bottle Party (1936) billed as "Ken More"
- Carry On London (1937) as Bit Part (uncredited)
- Windmill Revels (1937) as Bit Part (uncredited)
- The Silence of the Sea (1946) (TV) as The German
- School for Secrets (1946) as Bomb Aimer (uncredited)
- Toad of Toad Hall (1946) (TV) as Mr. Badger
- Scott of the Antarctic (1948) as Lt. E.G.R.(Teddy) Evans R.N.
- Man on the Run (1949) as Corp. Newman the Blackmailer
- Now Barabbas (1949) as Spencer
- Stop Press Girl (1949) as Police Sgt. 'Bonzo'
- Morning Departure (1950) as Lieut. Cmdr. James
- Chance of a Lifetime (1950) as Adam
- The Clouded Yellow (1951) as Willy Shepley
- The Franchise Affair (1951) as Stanley Peters
- The Galloping Major (1951) as Rosedale Film Studio Director
- No Highway in the Sky (1951) Dobson, Co-Pilot (uncredited)
- Appointment with Venus (1951) as Lionel Fallaize
- Brandy for the Parson (1952) as Tony Rackhman
- The Yellow Balloon (1953) as Ted
- Never Let Me Go (1953) as Steve Quillan
- Genevieve (1953) as Ambrose Claverhouse
- Our Girl Friday (1953) as Pat Plunkett
- Doctor in the House (1954) as Richard Grimsdyke
- The Deep Blue Sea (1954) (BBC TV) as Freddie Page
- The Man Who Loved Redheads (1955) as Narrator (voice)
- Raising a Riot (1955) as Tony Kent
- The Deep Blue Sea (1955) as Freddie Page
- Reach for the Sky (1956) as Douglas Bader
- The Admirable Crichton (1957) as Bill Crichton
- A Night to Remember (1958) as Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller
- Next to No Time (1958) as David Webb
- The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958) as Jonathan Tibbs
- The Thirty-Nine Steps (1959) as Richard Hannay
- North West Frontier (1959) as Captain Scott
- Sink the Bismarck! (1960) as Captain Shepard
- Man in the Moon (1960) as William Blood
- The Greengage Summer (1961) as Eliot
- Heart to Heart (1962) (TV) as David Mann
- Some People (1962) as Mr. Smith
- The Longest Day (1962) as Captain Colin Maud
- We Joined the Navy (1962) as Lt. Cmdr. Robert Badger
- The Comedy Man (1964) as Chick Byrd
- The Collector (1965) (uncredited)
- Lord Raingo (1966) (TV) as Sam Raingo
- The Forsyte Saga (1967) (TV) as 'Young Jolyon' Forsyte
- The White Rabbit (1967) (TV) as Wing Cmdr. Yeo-Thomas
- Dark of the Sun, also known as The Mercenaries (1968) as Doctor Wreid
- Fräulein Doktor (1969) as Col. Foreman
- Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) as Kaiser Wilhelm II
- Battle of Britain (1969) as Group Captain Barker
- Scrooge (1970) as Ghost of Christmas Present
- Father Brown (1974) (TV) as Father Brown
- The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976) as Chamberlain
- Where Time Began (1977) as Prof. Otto Linderbrock
- Leopard in the Snow (1978) as Sir Philip James
- An Englishman's Castle (1978) (TV) as Peter Ingram
- The Spaceman and King Arthur (1979) as King Arthur
- A Tale of Two Cities (1980) (TV) as Dr. Jarvis Lorry (final film role)
- adaptation of Nightrunners of Bengal (1957)
- The Angry Silence (1960) - turned down role eventually played by Richard Attenborough
Selected theatre credits
- Windmill Theatre – 1935
- Do You Remember? – Barry O’Brien Touring Company, August–November 1937
- Stage Hands Never Lie by Olive Remple – November 1937
- Stage Distinguished Gathering by James Parish – Wimbledon Theatre, August 1937
- And No Birds Sing by Rev Arthur Platt – Aldwych Theatre, November 1946
- Power Without Glory – February–April 1947
- Peace In Our Time by Noël Coward – Lyric Theatre, July 1948
- The Way Things Go – Phoenix Theatre, May 1950
- The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan – Duchess Theatre, March 1952
- The Angry Deep – Brighton, January 1960 – Brighton – director only
- Out of the Crocodile – Phoenix Theatre, October 1963
- Our Man Crichton – Shaftesbury Theatre, December 1964 – ran six months
- The Secretary Bird – Savoy Theatre, October 1968
- The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan – New Theatre, November 1970 – ran nine months
- Getting On by Alan Bennett – Queen's Theatre, October 1971 – ran nine months
- Signs of the Times by Jeremy Kingston – Vaudeville Theatre, June 1973
- Kenneth More Requests the Pleasure of Your Company – Kenneth More Theatre, April 1977 – an evening of poetry, prose and music
- On Approval – Vaudeville Theatre, June 1977
- Happy Go Lucky (1959)
- Kindly Leave the Stage (1965)
- More or Less (1978)
- 1953 Nominated as Best British Actor (BAFTA) for Genevieve
- 1954 Won Best British Actor (BAFTA) for Doctor in the House
- 1955 Won Best Actor at Venice Film Festival for The Deep Blue Sea
- 1955 Won Most Promising International Star (Variety Club)
- 1955 Nominated Best British Actor (BAFTA) for The Deep Blue Sea
- 1956 Nominated Best British Actor (BAFT) for Reach for the Sky
- 1956 Won Picturegoer Magazine Best Actor Award for Reach for the Sky
- 1970 Awarded the CBE in the New Year's Honours
Box office ranking
British exhibitors regularly voted More one of the most popular stars at the local box office in an annual poll conducted by the Motion Picture Herald:
- 1954 – 5th most popular British star
- 1955 – 5th most popular British star
- 1956 – most popular international star
- 1957 – 2nd most popular international star (NB another source said he was the most popular)
- 1958 – 3rd most popular international star
- 1959 – most popular British star
- 1960 – most popular international star
- 1961 – 3rd most popular international star
- 1962 – 4th most popular international star