Childhood & Early Life
Frank Thornton was born on January 15, 1921, in Dulwich, London, to Rosina Mary (nee Thornton) and William Ernest Ball.
As a child, Frank tried to master playing the organ at ‘St. Stephen’s Church,’ Sydenham Hill, where his father was an organist. However, Frank discontinued, as he found it challenging.
Frank attended ‘Alleyn’s School.’ Though Frank's childhood dream was to be an actor, after graduation, he had begun working in an insurance company as a clerk, to please his parents. However, he enrolled for evening classes at the ‘London School of Dramatic Art,’ a small acting school. After 2 years, he was invited to attend the classes during the day. This new development compelled him to quit his job and seek financial assistance from his father to pursue academics.
Thorton’s introduction to the field of drama happened during the war in 1940. He toured around Ireland as part of multiple theatrical productions. However, his stint was interrupted due to the ongoing war, as he had to sign up with the ‘Royal Air Force.’
Starting as a leading aircraftman, Frank grew through the ranks. On December 1, 1944, he was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation. Six months later, he was confirmed and promoted as a flying officer (war substantive). His stint with the ‘Royal Air Force’ ended with his demobilization in 1947.
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Following his demobilization, Thornton immediately joined a repertory company. He appeared on stage, on TV shows, and in movies. His first credited film role was in the film ‘Radio Cab Murder’ in 1954. In 1959, he acted in two episodes of ‘William Tell.’
By 1950, he appeared more frequently on TV and became a recognizable face. This decade saw him foray into comedy and establish himself as a humorist with great comic timing. He was a regular in the sitcom ‘It’s a Square World,’ portraying various characters in different episodes.
The 1960s saw him in a lot of minor roles in movies, TV series, and stage productions. Toward the mid- and the late 1960s, he acted as ‘First Secretary Henry Pettigrew’ in the ‘BBC’ radio comedy series ‘The Embassy Lark.’ He reprised the role in the spin-offs of ‘The Navy Lark.’ He was part of two more such radio comedies: as ‘Paul Darley’ in the sitcom ‘Brothers in Law’ and as the titular character, ‘Ernest Fontwell,’ in ‘Ernest Fontwell versus the Experts.’
In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, he was part of many projects such as ‘Carry on Screaming!,’ ‘The Early Bird,’ ‘The Big Job,’ ‘The Bed Sitting Room,’ ‘Up the Chastity Belt,’ ‘Some Will, Some Won’t,’ ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ ‘No Sex Please, We’re British,’ and ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.’
The mid-1970s saw him in movies and series such as ‘The Three Musketeers,’ ‘Steptoe and Son,’ and ‘The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones.’
After joining the cast of ‘Are You Being Served?’ in 1972, to play the role of ‘Captain Stephen Peacock,’ Frank’s popularity soared. He reprised this role in the 1976 stage adaptation and the 1977 movie adaptation of the same name. Its sequel (1992–1993), ‘Grace & Favour,’ also saw him in the same character.
Frank earned a nomination for the ‘Laurence Olivier Award’ in 1984, for playing the role of ‘Sir John Treymane’ in the musical ‘Me and My Girl’ and also received positive reviews from critics.
He lent his voice to the character 'Mr. Tibbs' in the animated movie 'The BFG.'
He joined the cast of the sitcom ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ as ‘Truly,’ in 1997.
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Frank was considered one of the most highly trained Shakespearean actors and had been part of many plays, including ‘Macbeth,’ ‘Hamlet,’ ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ ‘Twelfth Night,’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’
Some of his other well-known plays are Sir George Bernard Shaw’s ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma,’ Ronald Harwood’s translation of Anton Chekhov’s ‘Ivanov’, Anthony Marriot and John T. Chapman’s ‘Shut your Eyes and Think of England,’ J.B. Priestley’s ‘When We are Married,’ and Roger MacDougall’s ‘Cash on Delivery.’
He was part of other famous works, including TV series such as ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ ‘Great Expectations,’ ‘The Old Curiosity Shop,’ and ‘All Rise for Julian Clary.’
He had also been part of the movies ‘Gosford Park’ and ' Back in Business.'
His career's last performance was in the film ‘Run for your Wife,’ released in February 2013.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Frank’s father, William, worked in a bank
Frank got married to actor Beryl Evans, on June 5, 1945, in West Wickham. They were together until his death. They had a daughter, Jane, from whom they had three grandchildren.
He was interested in music, photography, and wildlife conservation.
Frank died on March 16, 2013, aged 92.