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About Jonathan Cecil
Jonathan Hugh Gascoyne-Cecil (22 February 1939 – 22 September 2011), more commonly known as Jonathan Cecil, was an English theatre, film and television actor.
Cecil was born in London, England, the son of Lord David Cecil and the grandson of James Gascoyne-Cecil, 4th Marquess of Salisbury. His other grandfather was the literary critic Desmond MacCarthy. Brought up at Oxford, where his father was Goldsmith Professor of English, he was educated at Eton, where he played small parts in school plays and at New College, Oxford, where he read Modern languages, specialising in French and continued with amateur dramatics.
At Oxford, his friends included Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett. In a production of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, he played a lunatic called Troubadour and a woman who sells pigs. Of his early acting at Oxford, Cecil said:
I was still stiff and awkward, but this was rather effective for comedy parts, playing sort of comic servants in plays, and in the cabaret nights we had.
After Oxford, he spent two years training for an acting career at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, where he was taught by (among others) Michael MacOwan and Vivian Matalon and where his contemporaries included Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi.
Cecil's first television appearance was in playing a leading role opposite Vanessa Redgrave in "Maggie", an episode of the BBC television series First Night transmitted in February 1964, which he later called "a baptism by fire because I was being seen by half the nation". After that he spent eighteen months in repertory at Salisbury, of which he later commented, "You learnt how to make an entrance and make an exit." His parts at Salisbury included the Dauphin in Saint Joan, Disraeli in Portrait of a Queen, Trinculo in The Tempest, and "all the Shakespeare".
His first West End part came in May 1965 in Julian Mitchell's dramatization of A Heritage and Its History at the Phoenix, in which he got good notices, and his next was in a Beaumont production of Peter Ustinov's Half-Way up the Tree, directed by Sir John Gielgud.
In film and television, Cecil almost always played upper-class English characters. His screen work included the roles of Cummings in The Diary of a Nobody (1964), Bertie Wooster in Thank You, P. G. Wodehouse (1981), Ricotin in Federico Fellini's And the Ship Sails On (1983), and Captain Hastings (to Peter Ustinov's Hercule Poirot) in Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Dead Man's Folly and Murder in Three Acts (both 1986). He has been called "one of the finest upper-class-twits of his era". In 2009 he appeared in an episode of Midsomer Murders.
He also worked in radio, where his credits included The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Brightonomicon. He also appeared in The Next Programme Follows Almost Immediately, playing characters with very bad foreign accents. Additionally, he stood in for Derek Nimmo in the role of the Bishop's Chaplain, The Reverend Mervyn Noote, in the second series of the radio episodes of the ecclesiastical sitcom All Gas and Gaiters, which ran for twenty episodes.
He narrated audio books of many of P. G. Wodehouse's books, performing wonderful voice characterizations for each character.
Cecil wrote occasionally for The Spectator and The Times Literary Supplement. In one piece he noted:
Handsome young male actors of the older school have tended, in my experience, to be somewhat vapid and vain. I write this in no spirit of envy — comic and character actors, like proverbial blondes, usually have more fun.
He also admitted that "... most of my experience has been in comedy, that’s the way life has taken me ... if I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t do parts with more depth".
Cecil died from pneumonia on 22 September 2011 at Charing Cross Hospital in London, aged 72. He had suffered from emphysema.