Oscar Actors: Hawthorne, Nigel–Background, Career, Awards

December 15, 2020
Nigel Hawthorne Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: Upper-middle; physician





Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

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TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut:

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Other Noms:

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Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image: character actor

Last Film:

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Sir Nigel Barnard Hawthorne CBE (5 April 1929 – 26 December 2001) was an English actor. He is most known for his stage acting and his portrayed Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Permanent Secretary in the 1980s sitcom Yes Minister and the Cabinet Secretary in its sequel, Yes, Prime Minister. For this role, he won four BAFTA TV Awards for Best Light Entertainment Performance.

He won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for portraying King George III in The Madness of King George (1994). He later won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor, for the 1996 series The Fragile Heart. He was also an Olivier Award and Tony Award winner for his work in theatre.

While he appeared in films later in his life, he was regarded as one of the greatest English actors of the late 20th Century.  He was taken from this world before he could enjoy his fame and success.

Hawthorne was born in Coventry, Warwickshire, England, the second of four children of Agnes Rosemary (née Rice) and Charles Barnard Hawthorne, a physician.

When Nigel was three years old, the family moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where his father had bought a practice. Initially they lived in the Gardens and then moved to a newly built house near Camps Bay.

He was educated at St George’s Grammar School, Cape Town and, when the family moved, the now defunct Christian Brothers College,[3] where he played on the rugby team.[4] He described his time at the latter as not being a particularly happy experience.[2] He enrolled at the University of Cape Town, where he met and sometimes acted in plays with Theo Aronson,[5] later a well-known biographer, but withdrew and returned to the United Kingdom in the 1950s to pursue a career in acting.

Hawthorne made his professional stage debut in 1950, playing Archie Fellows in a Cape Town production of The Shop at Sly Corner. Unhappy in South Africa, he decided to move to London, where he performed in a various small parts before becoming recognized as a great character actor.

Finding success in London, Hawthorne decided to try his luck in New York City and eventually got a part in a 1974 production of As You Like It on Broadway. Throughout this time, he was asked by Ian McKellen and Judi Dench to join the Royal Shakespeare Company. This is where he found his home. From performances ranging from Hamlet to King Lear to Macbeth (opposite Maggie Smith in one production), Hawthorne was adored by his fans, fellow actors, and producers as a very mild mannered, kind, and classy gentlemen who never lost his temper or got upset over a part being cut. He put the craft of acting and the production above his personal wants.

While gaining notoriety on the stage, he decided to supplement his income by appearing in television advertisements , including one witty one for Mackeson Stout.

He returned to the New York stage in 1990 in Shadowlands and won the 1991 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.

Although Hawthorne appeared in small roles in various British television series since the late 1950s, his most famous role was as Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Permanent Secretary of the fictional Department of Administrative Affairs in the television series Yes Minister (and Cabinet Secretary in its sequel, Yes, Prime Minister), for which he won four BAFTA awards during the 1980’s. As the show progressed in popularity, he became a household name throughout the United Kingdom, which finally opened the doors to film roles.

In 1982, Hawthorne appeared in ‘Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (film), alongside a distinguished international cast consisting of Martin Sheen, John Mills, Candice Bergen, John Gielgud, Ian Charleson, and Ben Kingsley as the titular character. The film went on to gross a plethora of awards, including a Best Actor Academy Award for Kingsley.

Other film roles during this time included Demolition Man (film), which he detested as “brainless” and a “cheap picture.” However, it led to his most famous role, that of King George III in Alan Bennett’s stage play The Madness of George III (for which he won a Best Actor Olivier Award) and then film adaptation entitled The Madness of King George, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and won the BAFTA Film Award for Best Actor.

After this success, his friend Ian McKellen asked him to play his doomed brother Clarence in Richard III (1995 film). Steven Spielberg asked him to play lame duck Martin Van Buren in Amistad (film).

He won a sixth BAFTA for the 1996 TV mini-series The Fragile Heart. He also drew praise for his role of Georgie Pillson in the London Weekend Television series “Mapp and Lucia.”

Hawthorne was also a voice actor, and lent his voice to two Disney films: Fflewddur Fflam in The Black Cauldron (1985), Captain Campion in the animated film adaptation of Watership Down (1978) and Professor Porter in Tarzan (1999).

An intensely private person, he was upset at having been involuntarily outed as gay in 1995 in the publicity surrounding the Oscars, but he did attend the ceremony with his long-time partner Trevor Bentham, speaking openly about being gay in interviews and his autobiography, Straight Face, which was published posthumously.

They met in 1968 when Bentham was stage-managing the Royal Court Theatre. From 1979 until Hawthorne’s death in 2001, they lived together in Radwell near Baldock and latterly at Thundridge, both in Hertfordshire, England.

They became fund raisers for the North Hertfordshire hospice and other local charities.

Hawthorne had several operations for pancreatic cancer, although his immediate cause of death was from a heart attack, aged 72.

He was survived by Bentham.

On hearing of Hawthorne’s death, Alan Bennett described him in his diary: “Courteous, grand, a man of the world and superb at what he did, with his technique never so obvious as to become familiar as, say, Olivier’s did or Alec Guinness’s.”[12]

He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1987 New Years Honours List, and was knighted in the 1999 New Years Honours List.[13]


1958 Carve Her Name with Pride Polish Soldier in Park Uncredited
1972 Young Winston Boer Sentry Uncredited
1974 S*P*Y*S Croft film debut
1975 The Hiding Place Pastor De Ruiter
1975 Decisions, Decisions unknown role Short
1977 Spiderweb Lonnrot Short
1978 Sweeney 2 Dilke
1978 Watership Down Captain Campion Voice, credited as Nigel Hawthorn
1978 The Sailor’s Return Mr. Fosse
1981 History of the World: Part I Citizen Official (The French Revolution)
1981 Memoirs of a Survivor Victorian Father
1982 Firefox Pyotr Baranovich
1982 The Plague Dogs Dr. Boycott Voice
1982 Gandhi Kinnoch
1983 Dead on Time Doctor Short
1984 The Chain Mr. Thorn
1985 The Black Cauldron Fflewddur Fflam Voice
1985 Turtle Diary The Publisher
1988 Rarg Storyteller Short film
1989 A Handful of Time Ted Walker
1990 King of the Wind Achmet
1992 Freddie as F.R.O.7. Brigadier G Voice
1993 Demolition Man Dr. Raymond Cocteau
1994 The Madness of King George George III
1995 Richard III Clarence
1996 Twelfth Night or What You Will Malvolio
1997 Murder in Mind Dr. Ellis also Associate Producer
1997 Amistad Martin Van Buren
1998 The Object of My Affection Rodney Fraser
1998 Madeline Lord Covington (segment “Lord Cucuface”)
1998 At Sachem Farm Uncle Cullen also Executive Producer
1999 The Big Brass Ring Kim
1999 The Winslow Boy Arthur Winslow
1999 A Reasonable Man Judge Wendon
1999 Tarzan Professor Porter Voice
1999 The Clandestine Marriage Lord Ogleby also Associate Producer
Year Title Role Notes
1956 Cry Wolf! PC Bray Television Movie
television debut
1956 The Goose Girl unknown role Television Movie
1957 The Royal Astrologers Third Thief Television Movie
1957 Bonehead Bit Part Episode: “Pilot”
1957 Huntingtower Sinister man Episode: “#1.3”
1957 Villette Second Footman Television Miniseries; 2 episodes
1962 The Last Man Out Gestapo Man Episode: “The Way Out”
1963 The Desperate People Cliff Fletcher recurring role; 4 episodes
1963 Man of the World Assistant director Episode: “The Bandit”
1963 Bud Trefor Jones Episode: “#1.5”
1964 Detective Temple Doorkeeper Episode: “Death in Ecstacy”
1964 Emergency-Ward 10 Colin Davies Episode: “#1.769”
1965 Jury Room David Hemming – Jurror Episode: “The Dilke Affair”
1969 Mrs. Wilson’s Diary Roy Jenkins Television Movie
1969 The Gnomes of Dulwich Gnome Episode: “#1.6”
1969 Dad’s Army the Angry Man Episode: “The Armoured Might of Lance Corporal Jones”
1971 The Last of the Baskets Mr. Snodgrass Episode: “For Richer, for Poorer”
1971 Hine Freddy Ambercourt Episode: “Everything I Am I Owe”
1973 Hadleigh Oliver Mason 2 episodes
1974 Occupations Libertini Television Movie
1974 Miss Nightingale Dr. Lewis Television Movie
1976 Couples Mr. Laker recurring role; 3 episodes
1976 Bill Brand Browning Television Miniseries; Episode: “Yarn”
1977 Crown Court Dr. William Ranford Episode: “Beauty and the Beast (Part 1)”
1977 Eleanor Marx Engels 2 episodes
1977 Marie Curie Pierre Curie Television Miniseries; 4 episodes
1977 Just William Mr. Croombe Episode: “The Great Detective”
1978 Warrior Queen Catus Decianus recurring role; 4 episodes
1978 Breakaway Girls Derek Carter Episode: “Sarah Carter”
1978 Going Straight Worm Wellings Episode: “Going Going Gone”
1978 Holocaust Ohldendorf Television Miniseries; Episode: “Part 2”
1978 Edward & Mrs. Simpson Walter Monkton recurring role; 5 episodes
1979 Thomas and Sarah Wilson Episode: “The New Rich”
1979 The Other Side Skellow Episode: “Underdog”
1979 The Knowledge Mr. Burgess Television Movie
1980 Festival: The Misanthrope Philinte Television Movie
1980 The Tempest Stephano Television Movie
1980 Jukes of Piccadilly Brinsley Jukes recurring role; 6 episodes
1980 The Good Companions Reverend Chillingford Television Miniseries; Episode: “Miss Trant Pays the Bill”
1980 A Tale of Two Cities Mr. CJ Stryver Television Movie
1980-1984 Yes Minister Sir Humphrey Appleby series regular; 22 episodes
1981 Tales of the Unexpected Charles Drummond Episode: “The Last Bottle in the World”
1982 The Hunchback of Notre Dame Magistrate at Esmeralda’s Trial Television Movie
1982 A Woman Called Golda King Abdullah Television Movie
1982 The World Cup: A Captain’s Tale John Westwood Television Movie
1982 The Barchester Chronicles Archdeacon Theophilus Grantly Television Miniseries; 7 episodes
1983 Tartuffe, or the Imposter Orgon Television Movie
1984 Pope John Paul II Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski Television Movie
1984 The House General Fagg Television Movie
1985-1986 Mapp & Lucia Georgie Pillson recurring role; 10 episodes
1985 Jenny’s War Colonel recurring role; 4 episodes
1986-1988 Yes, Prime Minister Sir Humphrey Appleby series regular; 16 episodes
1989 The Play on One John Episode: “The Shawl”
1990 Relatively Speaking Philip Carter Television Movie
1994 Late Flowering Lust Cousin John Television Movie
1996 Inside Colonel Television Movie
1996 The Fragile Heart Dr. Edgar Pascoe unknown episode
1996 The Happy Prince Narrator Television Movie
1997 Forbidden Territory: Stanley’s Search for Livingstone David Livingstone Television Movie
1998 Animal Stories Narrator unknown episode
2000 The Last Polar Bears Narrator Television Short
2001 Victoria & Albert Lord William Lamb Television Movie
2001 Call Me Claus Nick Television Movie, (final film role)
Video Games
Year Title Role Notes
1998 Jeff Wayne’s the War of the Worlds The General Voice
2001 Tarzan Professor Porter Voice
Year Title Role Company Venue
1950 The Shop at Sly Corner Archie Hofmeyr Theatre
1951 You Can’t Take It With You Donald Embassy Theatre
1957 His Excellency Captain the Contino Sevastein Jacono de Piero
1957 Talking To You Fancy Dan Duke or York’s Theatre
1967 Mrs Wilson’s Diary Roy Criterion Theatre
1967 The Marie Lloyd Story Sir Oswald Stoll Theatre Royal, Stratford
1968 Early Morning Albert Royal Court Theatre
1970 Curtains Niall Edinburgh Festival
1971 Curtains Niall Open Space
1971 Alma Mater Major
1972 The Trial of St George Judge Soho Poly
1973 A Question of Everything Hugh
1973 The Emergency Channel Graham
1973 The Philanthropist Philip May Fair
1975 A Child of Hope Police Captain
1975 The Floater Morris Shelman
1975 Otherwise Engaged Stephen Queens Theatre
1975 The Doctor’s Dilemma Culter Walpole Mermaid Theatre
1976 Play Things Tenby
1976 Buffet Jack
1976 As You Like It Touchstone Riverside Studios
1977 The Fire That Consumes Abbe de Pradts Mermaid Theatre
1977 Blind Date Brian King’s Head Theatre
1977 Privates on Parade Major Gliles Flack
1978 Destiny Major Lewis Rolfe
1978 The Millionairess Julius Theatre Royal Haymarket
1980 The Enigma Fenton
1980 A Rod of Iron Trevor
1980 Jessie Mr. Edmonds
1981 A Brush with Mr. Porter on the Road to Eldorado Fulton
1981 Protest Vaclav Havel
1982 The Critic Mr. Sneer
1986 Across from the Garden of Allah Douglas Comedy Theatre
1988 The Miser Harpagon
1988 Hapgood Blair Aldwych Theatre
1989 The Spirit of Man Reverend Jonathan Guerdon
1989 Shadowlands C.S. Lewis Queens Theatre
1990 Shadowlands C.S. Lewis Brooks Atkinson Theatre
1991 The Trials of Oz Brian Leary
1992 Flea Bites Kryst
1999 King Lear Lear RSC Barbican
Awards and nominations
Year Title Accolade Category Result
1977 Privates on Parade Laurence Olivier Award Best Actor in a Supporting Role Won
1981 Yes Minister Broadcasting Press Guild Award Best Actor in a Light Entertainment Program Won
1982 Yes Minister British Academy Television Award Best Light Entertainment Performance Won
1983 Yes Minister British Academy Television Award Best Light Entertainment Performance Won
1987 Yes, Prime Minister British Academy Television Award Best Light Entertainment Performance Won
1988 Yes, Prime Minister British Academy Television Award Best Light Entertainment Performance Won
1989 Yes, Prime Minister CableACE Award Actor in a Comedy Series Nominated
1990 Shadowlands Laurence Olivier Award Best Actor Nominated
1991 Shadowlands Tony Award Best Actor in a Play Won
1992 The Madness of King George III Laurence Olivier Award Best Actor Won
1995 The Madness of King George Academy Award Best Actor Nominated
1996 The Madness of King George British Academy Film award Best Actor in a Leading Role Won
1996 The Madness of King George Empire Award Best Actor Won
1996 The Madness of King George London Critics Circle Film Award British Actor of the Year Won
1997 The Fragile Heart British Academy Television Award Best Actor Won
1999 The Object of My Affection London Critics Circle Film Award British Supporting Actor of the Year Won