British actor Jonathan Cecil, once called “one of the finest upper-class twits of his era” for his frequent portrayals of wealthy Englishmen, died peacefully Thursday at London’s Charing Cross Hospital. He was 72.
Besides portraying Peter Ustinov’s sidekick Hastings in three Hercule Poirot films, Cecil recorded over 25 books by PG Wodehouse’s works for Chivers Audio Books, as well as recordings of other books.
He was in the voice cast of Cosgrove Hall Films’ 1983 feature film The Wind In The Willows, as well as The Further Adventures of Toad, a 1984 episode of a TV series bearing the same name as the movie.
He was born Jonathan Hugh Gascoyne-Cecil in London on February 22, 1939. His father, Lord David Cecil, was Goldsmith Professor of English at Oxford. Among his Oxford friends were Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett.
A veteran of over 60 films, he was nominated for a Best Actor Award at the LA Reel Film Festival for his role as Dickie in the 2009 short The Shaftesbury Players.
Cecil’s many recordings of the works of Wodehouse made him one of the best-loved voices in audiobooks.
A vastly experienced actor, he appeared in adaptations of Wodehouse’s works, including the BBC’s Centenary Tribute Thank You PG Wodehouse as Bertie Wooster, two Comedy Playhouses and the radio series What Ho! Jeeves.
After graduating from Oxford, Jonathan trained at LAMDA. Following extensive repertory experience, he became British TV’s favorite “toff,” co-starring in numerous comedy series. He was seen in Murder Most Horrid, as Gulliver in Lilliput, and in The Taming of the Shrew.
He was a well-known stage actor. He successes in the West End, London’s theatrical district, ranged from Halfway up the Tree to Uncle Vanya. He also wrote regularly for the Evening Standard and the Spectator.
Once asked his favorite of his many film roles, he replied: “Ricotin in Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On — a small but telling part as a white-faced crypto-homosexual film clown. It was wonderful to work for a genius!”
Cecil also worked in movies for Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick and Mel Brooks.
On television, his favorite role was “Hastings to Peter Ustinov’s Poirot in three Agatha Christie TV-movies. It was great to work with Peter; he was delightful company, and we made up our own dialogue!”
Cecil’s favorite stage role was Sir Andrew in Twelfth Night, which he played four times — “A record? Comedy, pathos, style — everything in one role.”
The actor he most enjoyed working with is “My wife — award-winning actress — singer Anna Sharkey. We met in Cowardy Custard (1972). She has played Maria to my Sir Andrew and Miss Prism to my Canon Chasuble in The Importance of Being Earnest. We do a show together, Plum Sauce. We help and understand each other.”
He undertook extensive preparation and casting before recording audiobooks, which he enjoyed. “I always take care in choosing voices, sometimes those of other actors. I enter the studio and go into another world — the book takes over. I’ve always had fun with the producers, and it is only afterwards that I realize what hard work it has been.”
Cecil enjoyed reading the Jeeves and Wooster books because “I identify with Bertie, the narrator, completely. If this means I’m a twit — who cares?”
Had Cecil been able to record any novel of his choice, it would be Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time sequence: “That would almost see me out! — and they’re marvelous novels.”
His favorite authors included Chekhov, Turgenev, Jane Austen and Max Beerbohm. He appeared in Chekov’s The Sneeze, “a series of brilliant one-act plays” in which he toured. He recently played Sir Bounteous in A Mad World My Masters at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre: “another wonderful part — a silly foppish old dupe.”
Besides his wife, Jonathan Cecil is survived by brother Hugh and sister Laura.
A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. October 10 at St Nicholas Church Chiswick.