Actor Jonathan Cecil, 72, put the “twit” into Brit

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Jonathan Cecil

Jonathan Cecil

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.

In addi­tion, he was in the voice cast of Cos­grove Hall’s 1989 TV spe­cial A Tale Of Two Toads and Tara Fletcher’s 1984 puppet-animated film The Bur­glar.

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.

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MrClevland has been a cartoon fan since, well, infancy. He has been writing nearly that long. Opinionated, yes, but backed with a wealth of personal knowledge on the subject. You can give r. C a piece of your mind here.

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