Anthony Quayle Biography

Sir John Anthony Quayle was an English actor, theatre director, narrator and author. Check out this biography to know more about his childhood, family life and achievements.

Quick Facts

Birthday: September 7, 1913

Nationality: British

Famous: Actors British Men

Died At Age: 76

Sun Sign: Virgo

Also Known As: Sir John Anthony Quayle

Born Country: England

Born in: Ainsdale, Southport,Lancashire, England

Famous as: Actor


Spouse/Ex-: Dorothy Hyson (m. 1947), Hermione Hannen (m. 1934–1941)

father: Arthur Quayle

mother: Esther Kate

children: Christopher Quayle, Jenny Quayle, Rosanna Quayle

Died on: October 20, 1989

place of death: London

Cause of Death: Liver Cancer

Founder/Co-Founder: Compass Theatre Company

More Facts

education: Rugby School, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art

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Sir John Anthony Quayle was an English actor, theatre director, narrator and author who is best known for his Academy Award-nominated role as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the British period-drama 'Anne of the Thousand Days'. Some of his prominent roles in films and on television were in 'The Wrong Man', 'The Battle of the River Plate', 'The Guns of Navarone', 'Lawrence of Arabia', 'The Fall of the Roman Empire', 'Operation Crossbow', 'Strange Report','QB VII', 'The Eagle Has Landed' and 'The Bourne Identity'. As the director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, he sought out some of Britain's finest actors including Richard Burton, Alan Badel, Rachel Roberts, Laurence Harvey and Michael Hordern, which laid down the foundations of the future Royal Shakespeare Company. Always daring, he had enlisted in the army during the early years of his career to participate in World War II and gave up his desk job in Gibraltar to fight behind the German lines. He was knighted four years before his death from liver cancer.

Childhood & Early Life
Military Service
  • As the Second World War broke out, he joined the British Army and served as an area commander of the Auxiliary Units in Northumberland from 1939 to 1945, rising to the rank of major.Serving as a liaison officer for the Special Operations Executive, he was deeply affected while coordinating with the partisans in Albania, which he later fictionalized in his 1945 book 'Eight Hours from England'.
  • On July 4, 1943, when he was serving for the Governor of Gibraltar, a plane carrying General Władysław Sikorski crashed into the sea immediately after takeoff from Gibraltar, killing everyone except the pilot. In 1947, he published his second book, 'On Such a Night', which contained fictional account of his experience of the incident.
  • Anthony Quayle debuted as a theatrical director with a London production of 'Crime and Punishment' in 1946, and went on to work with illustrious stars like Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. He directed at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon from 1948 to 1956, and played a significant role in laying the foundations for the creation of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
  • He also established himself as a prolific Shakespearean actor, acting in 'Much Ado About Nothing', 'Henry VIII' and 'Titus Andronicus', and played Mosca in Ben Jonson's 'Volpone'. While he worked primarily on theatre, he often had to accept "one dreary thing after another" on television and in films, such as the ‘Tarzan's Greatest Adventure’ and 'The Fall of the Roman Empire', for financial stability.
  • Thanks to his combat experience, he asserted a degree of authenticity to authoritative characters unmatched by most other stars. He portrayed roles such as Commodore Harwood in 'Pursuit of the Graf Spee' also known as ‘The Battle of the River Plate’ (1956), an enigmatic Afrikaner captain in 'Ice Cold in Alex' (1958) andby-the-book Colonel Harry Brighton in 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962).
  • His other notable film appearances included 'The Wrong Man' (1956) by Alfred Hitchcock, 'The Guns of Navarone' (1961), and 'H.M.S. Defiant' (1962). One of his best performances was in the role of Cardinal Wolsey in 'Anne of the Thousand Days' (1969), for which he was nominated for an 'Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor'.
  • On television, he appeared in an episode of ITV's' Armchair Theatre' (1959), played the lead in the ITC series 'Strange Report' (1969), and starred as Rubrius Gallius in the miniseries 'Masada' (1981). He played French General Villers in the 1988 telefilm 'The Bourne Identity', and narrated the BBC drama series 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' (1970) and the aviation documentary series 'Reaching for the Skies' (1988).
  • In 1970, 34 years after his Broadway debut, he won a 'Drama Desk Award' for his starring role in Anthony Shaffer's 'Tony Award'-winning Broadway production of 'Sleuth'. In spring 1974, he became an artist-in-residence at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and starred in Henry Denker’s 'The Headhunters', first at the Clarence Brown Theatre and then at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre.
  • He also acted in 'Everyman' in 1974, and throughout the mid-1970s, taught classes in UT, apart from serving as the artistic director of the resident professional theatre company, the Clarence Brown Company. He directed and acted in the eponymous role in 'Macbeth' (1975), played the title character in 'Rip Van Winkle' (1976), and appeared opposite Mary Martin in the opening production of 'Do You Turn Somersaults' (1977).
  • In 1984, 70-year-old Quayle sold his yacht and villa in Malta to found the Compass Theatre Company, and directed a touring production of 'The Clandestine Marriage', in which he appeared as Lord Ogleby. The company also toured with plays such as 'Saint Joan', 'Dandy Dick' and 'King Lear', the last of which saw him in the titular role.
Family & Personal Life
  • Anthony Quayle married his first wife, English actress Hermione Hannen, in 1935, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1941. He later married American actress Dorothy Hyson in 1947, and had three children with her: daughters, Jenny and Rosanna, and son, Christopher.
  • In June 1952, he was appointed a 'Commander of the Order of the British Empire' (CBE) on the occasion of the celebration of Queen Elizabeth's birthday. For services to the theatre, he was knighted during the 1985 New Year Honours.
  • He was diagnosed with liver cancer during the final weeks of his life, but was not admitted to hospital, and died peacefully at his home in Chelsea, London, on October 20, 1989. Just before his death, he had completed his autobiography, 'A Time to Speak', which was published in 1990.
  • Anthony Quayle was playing Macbeth in his own production during his residency at the University of Tennessee in 1975 while the audience threw tomatoes and an onion on stage. At the end of the play, he told the audience how an actor named McCready had had half-a-sheep thrown at him during a nineteenth century production of the play.


Primetime Emmy Awards
1975 Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Special QB VII (1974)

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