About Felix Edward Aylmer-Jones
<Daily Telegraph, September 4, 1979>
<Sir Felix Aylmer, distinguished actor>
<By W.A. Darlington>
SIR FELIX AYLMER (Sir Felix Edward Aylmer-Jones), who has died aged 90, in private life looked very little like an eminent actor. Eminent certainly; he had a great air of distinction. But an eminent statesman, lawyer, doctor, diplomat or don. Not an actor.
The more I saw of him the deeper grew this feeling. He not only did not look like an actor; he did not behave, or apparently feel like any of the other actors I knew. Most actors of standing are dedicated men; you can't imagine them in any other profession. Visibly, they live on their nerves and their emotions - Aylmer had his nerves and emotions under complete control. His judgements were cool, detached and gently amused.
He was an admirable man on a committee, speaking seldom, but always to the point. As chairman he was specially excellent, always in effortless command of himself and the gathering. He was a notably effective president of Equity, holding the post for 19 years and resigning only because, at 80, he felt he had had enough.
In addition to his quick grasp of practical affairs, Aylmer's mind had a studious bent, as I once had an extended opportunity to find out. This was in 1945 when he was acting the dying millionaire in Bridie's "Daphne Laureola" at Wyndham's. This character, which he played with exquisite delicacy, appeared only in the second act. This enabled Aylmer to have a regular, though early evening meal at the Club round the corner: and there, on first-night occasions, I would join him in the otherwise deserted dining room. I always found him reading; and when he laid his book aside to greet me I was increasingly amused, and gently awed, by his choice of light supper-time reading.
It was at one of these sessions that he told me something about his attitude to the stage which I found strongly illuminating. In constant demand He was in constant demand for work on films, and we were discussing the difference between the two kinds of acting. I must have taken it for granted that Aylmer, like most other actors I knew, preferred the theatre to the cinema because of the artistic satisfaction which the emotional give and take between themselves and a live audience gave them. He answered that this was a feeling he had never experienced. To him a live audience was more of a nuisance than a help, and he claimed that the work that a film-actor had to do in a close-up under the camera's pitiless eye called for greater skill than anything required of him on stage. This admission - or rather, assertion - of Aylmer's that he lacked emotionmal response to a living audience lodged in my mind from the time he made it, and provided a complete explanation, for my reaction to his work.
Although I had always thought him an excellent actor in either medium, I had been increasingly conscious that I found him more telling on the film than in the flesh. Now I know why. The feeling persists.
Out of all the multitude of performances that I have seen him give the one that lives most vividly in my memory is his Polonius in Laurence Oliverier's film version of "Hamlet." On the stage, it was nearly always Aylmer's fate to be type-cast. His craftsmanship was well nigh perfect, but his permitted range was narrow, and to look back over the record of the parts he played is to remember the actor more clearly than the characters. This does not mean that he was a monotonous actor - far from it - but that the characters he was invited to play all had in common certain important traits which they shared with him. They were all upper-class, well educated dignitaries, as often as not with titles, and he played them with consummate ease because, if he had not been chosen to impersonate them, he could with ease have been one of them - but in fact, not fiction.
Not stage struck
He never really wanted to be an actor, in the sense of being stage-struck, or having a sense of vocation.
When he was at Magdalen College School in Oxford, his father, Lt-Col T. Aylmer-Jones, of the Royal Engineers, suggested a choice of two professions, the law or diplomacy. The young Felix thought the law sounded dull but accepted diplomacy, and went on to Oxford University to begin his training. It was a promising project, but he did not carry it through. He looked about him for a profession that would offer more variety and, to his parents' displeasure, chose the stage. Once his mind was made up he moved swiftly. First came a course of stage training under the famous teacher Rosina Filippi, followed by a first appearance as a two-line Italian stooge with Seymour Hicks at the Coliseum in 1911, just after his 22nd birthday.
His physical assets were a good appearance and a fine voice, and he was taken on for small parts by Fred Terry, Tree and Granville-Barker before joining Barry Jackson's company at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre early in 1913. Here he quickly established himself, playing a multitude of parts of steady growing importance.
During the 1914-18 war he served in the RNVR and in 1919 returned to the stage to continue that distinguished career that was to earn him an OBE in 1950 and a Knighthood in 1965. His career lasted until the mid-1970s, and he appeared as Father Anslem in the popular television comedy series "Oh, Brother", with Derek Nimmo. He married the actress Cecily Byrne, who died in 1975 and is survived by a daughter.