Roger Livesey

Roger Livesey

Roger Livesey (Wikipedia)

Roger Livesey was a Welsh stage and film actor. He is most often remembered for the three Powell & Pressburger films in which he starred: The Life and Death of Colonel BlimpI Know Where I’m Going! and A Matter of Life and Death. Tall and broad with a mop of dark blond hair, Livesey used his highly distinctive husky voice, gentle manner and athletic physique to create many notable roles in his theatre and film work.

Livesey was born in Barry, Wales. Although most articles about him indicated that his parents were Samuel Livesey and Mary Catherine (née Edwards), later research has shown that his father was actually Joseph Livesey. The confusion may have arisen because his mother Mary married Samuel (Joseph’s brother) after Joseph’s death and the death of Samuel’s wife, Mary’s sister. Samuel and Mary had a child of their own, Stella, who was both Roger’s half sister and first cousin. Roger Livesey was educated at Westminster City SchoolLondon.  His two step-brothers (who were also his first cousins) were also actors.

Livesey studied under Italia Conti.  His first stage role was as the office boy in Loyaltyat St. James’s Theatre in 1917. He then appeared in a wide range of productions from Shakespeare to modern comedies. He played various roles in the West End from 1920 to 1926, toured the West Indies and South Africa, and then returned to join the Old Vic/Sadler’s Wells company from September 1932 until May 1934. In 1936 he appeared in New York City in Wycherley‘s comedy The Country Wife. While in New York he married actress Ursula Jeans, whom he had known previously in England[3] (Livesey’s sister Maggie was already married to Ursula Jeans’ brother Desmond).

At the outbreak of the Second World War Livesey and Jeans were among the first volunteers to entertain the troops. He then applied for flying duties in the Royal Air Force but due to his age was rejected. Instead he worked in an aircraft factory at Desford aerodromenear Leicester to “do his bit for the war effort”. He was chosen by Michael Powell to play the lead in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) after Powell was denied his original choice, Laurence Olivier(Winston Churchill had objected to the movie and the Fleet Air Arm refused to release Olivier, who had been a Hollywood movie star before returning to England to take a Navy commission). The movie was shown in New York and established Livesey’s international reputation as a talented character actor. In 1945, he was the first choice for the male lead role in Brief Encounter, which in the end went to Trevor Howard.

He toured Australia from 1956 to 1958 playing Jimmy Broadbent in The Reluctant Debutante and continued playing many theatrical roles during his film career until 1969. One of his last roles was as the Duke of St Bungay in The Pallisers television series. His final television appearance was in the series Benjamin Franklin in 1975.

Livesey died in Watford from colorectal cancer at the age of 69 on 4 February 1976. He shares a memorial plaque with his wife Ursula Jeans in the actors’ church St Paul’s in Covent Garden.

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