Childhood & Early Life
Peter Finch was born on 28 September 1916, at South Kensington in London. His putative father, George Ingle Finch, was a research scientist from Australia and his mother’s name was Alicia Gladys Fisher.
His biological father was an Indian Army officer named Wentworth Edward Dallas "Jock" Campbell, whose illicit relationship with Finch’s mother led to George and Alicia’s divorce; Peter was two-year-old at that time. His mother married Wentworth Edward Dallas "Jock" Campbell in 1922.
George Finch won custody of Peter Finch and took him to France to, where Peter was raised by his paternal grandmother Laura Finch. In 1925 he travelled along with Laura Finch to Madras and spent a short while at a Buddhist monastery.
At the age of ten, Peter was sent to Australia to live with his great uncle. There he went to the local school until 1929, after which he attended the North Sydney Intermediate High School for three years. This was the first platform that allowed him to showcase his dramatic skills.
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After graduating from school he began working as a copy boy for the Australian tabloid newspaper, The Sun, and simultaneously began writing. His works included romantic verses and stories in a military setting.
He was interested in acting and in 1933 he performed in a play, ‘Caprice’, at the Repertory theatre. At the age of 19, he toured Australia with George Sorlie's travelling troupe.
He was granted roles in plays by minor semi-professional companies in Sydney and later worked in association with Doris Fitton and as a sideshow spruiker for the Sydney Royal Easter Show and in Vaudeville with Joe Cody.
In 1937, he began work as a radio actor with the Australian Broadcasting Commission and later joined Macquarie Broadcasting Services Pty Ltd. He was well-known for his appealing voice. He played ‘Chris’ in the Childrens Session and later acted in ‘Jeffery and Elizabeth Blackburn’ along with Neva Carr Glyn among other radio plays.
His first film was a short film adaptation of the fairytale, Cinderella, titled ‘The Magic Shoes’, in 1935. His feature film debut came in 1938 with a minor role in the Australian film ‘Dad and Dave Come to Town’. The following year, he acted in a supporting role for the film ‘Mr. Chedworth Steps Out ‘.
In 1941, he enlisted himself with the Australian Army and served as anti-aircraft gunner during the ‘Bombing of Darwin’ in 1942. Throughout his service with the army, he was allowed to work in the radio and theatre.
In 1944, he acted in ‘The Rats of Tobruk’. The following year, he travelled across bases and directed the Terence Rattigan plays titled ‘French without Tears’ and ‘While the Sun Shines’. He was discharged from the duty in 1945 at the rank of Sergeant.
After his discharge from the army, he worked towards establishing himself as a leading actor in theatre and radio. He was also a producer, writer and compere.
In 1946, he founded the Mercury Theatre Company which produced plays throughout Sydney as well as ran a theatre school.
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In 1948, his performance of ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ grabbed the attention of English actors Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Upon their invitation, he left Australia and travelled to Britain the same year.
Upon his arrival in Britain, he signed a long term contract with Laurence Olivier, who was his mentor. His first theatre performance was James Bridie's play ‘Daphne Laureola’.
His performance in his debut British film, ‘Train of Events’, in 1949, earned him much critical acclaim. The following year he appeared in two movies ‘The Miniver Story’ and ‘The Wooden Horse’.
In 1951, he portrayed the character of Iago in ‘Othello’. The following year he performed at the St. James's Theatre, King Street in London in Samuel Taylor’s comedy ‘The Happy Time’.
His theatre performances declined sharply in the 1950s and he became actively involved in films. In the 1954 mystery comedy film ‘Father Brown’ he played the role of the villain. The same year he acted in the Hollywood movie ‘Elephant Walk’.
In late 1954 his contract with Laurence Olivier came to an end and he subsequently signed a deal with the British entertainment conglomerate, Rank Organisation. He acted in several minor roles in movies during the first two years like ‘The Queen in Australia’ (1954), ‘Make Me an Offer’ (1954), ‘Passage Home’ (1955), ‘Josephine and Men’ (1955), and ‘Simon and Laura’ (1955).
His popularity rose in 1956 with the success of his movies ‘The Battle of the River Plate’ and ‘A Town like Alice’. The following year, he acted in the Australian films ‘Robbery under Arms’ and ‘The Shiralee’.
He preferred to be based in London, however, with the success of his film ‘The Nun's Story’ (1959), he earned much international recognition.
Other notable feature films he was part of include ‘The Trials of Oscar Wilde’ (1960), ‘No Love for Johnnie’ (1961), ‘The Pumpkin Eater’ (1964), ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ (1964), Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), ‘Network’ (1976) and television film ‘Raid on Entebbe’ (1977).
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Awards and Achievements
He was the recipient of the Macquarie awards for the best radio actor in the years 1946 and 1947.
He won the BAFTA Award for Best British Actor in 1956 for his performance in the film ‘A Town like Alice’.
In 1961 he was awarded the BAFTA Award for Best British Actor for his role in the film ‘The Trials of Oscar Wilde’.
The following year he received the BAFTA Award for Best British Actor for the movie ‘No Love for Johnnie’.
The BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role was awarded to him for his performance in ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ in 1971.
His performance in the movie ‘Network’ earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor, BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama in 1976. He received his Oscar Award posthumously.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1943, Peter Finch married ballerina Tamara Tchinarova. The couple worked in several films. They had a daughter named Anita in 1950. They separated ways and divorced in 1959 following his affair with actress Vivian Leigh.
In 1959 he married actress Yolande Turner and the couple had two children Samantha and Charles Peter. During this period he had an extramarital affair with singer Shirley Bassey. Peter Finch and Yolande Turner divorced in 1965.
In 1972, he married Mavis "Eletha" Barrett and they had a daughter named Diana.
He died on 14 January 1977, after suffering a heart attack at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He was 60 years old at the time of his death.
Australian author and journalist George Johnston wrote a series of biography articles on Peter Finch after detailed research about his life and work. The articles were published in Sun- Herald.
In 1980, author, Elaine Dundy, released a biography on Peter Finch titled ‘Finch, Bloody Finch: A Biography of Peter Finch’. The same year his wife also published her account of their life together titled ‘Finchy: My Life with Peter Finch’.