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Alastair Sim

Alastair Sim, CBE (9 October 1900 – 19 August 1976) was a Scottish character actor, who appeared in a string of classic British films. He is best remembered in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 film Scrooge, and for his portrayal of Miss Fritton, the headmistress in two of the much-loved St. Trinian's films. He was famously described by comedian Ronnie Corbett as a "sad-faced actor, with the voice of a fastidious ghoul", in Corbett's autobiography High Hopes.

Early life

Alastair Sim was born in Edinburgh in 1900. His father, Alexander Sim, was a prosperous businessman with property in Braemar and Edinburgh. He designed and paid for the construction of the Earl Haig Gardens in Edinburgh, for the use of returning servicemen to sit in during the day. Alexander Sim was offered, but refused, a knighthood.

Alastair Sim was educated at George Heriot's School. He became an elocution and drama lecturer at Edinburgh University from 1925 until 1930, where he was later rector from 1948 until 1951. He remarked to an interviewer in a witty comment "As I passed imperceptibly from a beautiful child to a strong and handsome lad, I wanted more than anything else in the world to be, of all things, a hypnotist. I practiced on gentle dogs."

Acting career

Preferring the stage, Sim made his London debut in Othello in 1930. He also appeared for a season at the Old Vic. He notably portrayed Captain Hook in six different stage productions of Peter Pan between 1941 and 1968.

He made his film debut in 1935 in The Case of Gabriel Perry, and spent the remainder of the decade playing supporting roles in films, often being credited with "stealing the scene" from the star. As a secondary actor, his most notable success was as Detective Sergeant Bingham, a light comedy role played opposite Gordon Harker, in the popular Inspector Hornleigh film series: Inspector Hornleigh (1939), Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday (1939), and Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It (1941). He outshone Harker to the extent that it was frequently unclear who the star was.

As a result, by the 1940s, he had progressed to leading roles, and in 1950 was voted the most popular film actor in Britain in a national cinema poll. His earliest successes as a leading man included the police detective in the thriller Green for Danger (1946); the headmaster of Nutbourne College, co-starring with Dame Margaret Rutherford in the comedy The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950); and the romantic novelist in the comedy Laughter in Paradise (1951).

Also in 1951, he gave his most celebrated performance: playing the title role in Scrooge, a film adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In 1971, he revisited the character, voicing an Academy Award-winning animated version of Dickens's story.

He is also remembered for portraying the headmistress, Miss Fritton, in the St. Trinian's film comedies, principally in The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954), in which he also played her shady brother Clarence. He later reprised the role of Miss Fritton in Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (1957).

Other notable film roles include Waterloo Road (1944), Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950), Folly to be Wise (1953), and An Inspector Calls (1954). His performance as Mr Squales in London Belongs to Me (1948) impressed Sir Alec Guinness so much that he based his own performance in The Ladykillers (1955) on it.

On television, his best remembered performance was playing a stipendiary magistrate, Mr. Justice Swallow, in the 1967 - 1971 comedy legal series Misleading Cases, written by A. P. Herbert and co-starring Roy Dotrice as the mischievous, bumbling Mr. Albert Haddock, who always ended up in court before Magistrate Swallow over some comedic, petty misdemeanour.

Private life

He was married to Naomi Plaskitt (1913-1999) from 1932 until his death in 1976.

They are credited with mentoring actor George Cole, who 'adopted' the couple in 1940. Sim appeared with Cole in the films Cottage to Let (1941), The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954), The Green Man (1956), and Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (1957).

He always remained ambivalent about fame, and rarely signed autographs. In a rare interview to the magazine Focus on Film he said, "I stand or fall in my profession by the public's judgment of my performances. No amount of publicity can dampen a good one or gloss over a bad one." He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1953, but (emulating his father) he later refused a knighthood.

In 1959, he successfully sued the makers of a televised baked beans commercial (which had a voiceover sounding uncannily like him), claiming he would not "prostitute his art" by advertising anything.

He died in 1976, aged 75, in London, England, from cancer. An English Heritage blue plaque was unveiled at his former home at 8 Frognal Gardens, Hampstead, London on 23 July 2008.

Filmography

References

Notes

Bibliography

  • Naomi Sim, Dance and Skylark: Fifty years with Alastair Sim, London: Bloomsbury, 1987.
  • David Quinlan, Quinlan's Film Comedy Stars, 1992, ISBN 0-7134-6149-7
  • Mark Simpson, Alastair Sim: The Star of Scrooge and The Real Belle of St Trinian's. Stroud, Glos: The History Press Ltd, 2008. ISBN 0-7509-496-6X

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