Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1914, was born Alec Guinness.

Guinness was an actor famous for the variety of his characterisations, ranging from eight separate characters in Kind Hearts and Coronets and Colonel Nicholson in Bridge On the River Kwai, to Obi-wan Kenobi in Star Wars.

Alec Guinness de Cuffe was born on 2nd April 1914, at London, the son of Agnes Cuffe. Although the name ‘Guinness’ is mentioned on his birth certificate, Agnes did not marry Mr Guinness Senior until 1922. At the age of 7, he was struck with a virus and, to beguile the time while recuperating, wrote amusing stories, which he would later act out, for the amusement of his school chums.

After leaving school, Guinness worked as an advertising clerk, while studying acting in his spare time. In 1934, he made his stage debut as an extra at the King's Theatre, Hammersmith, and in 1937, he joined the acting company of John Gielgud, appearing in Richard II, School for Scandal and The Merchant of Venice. In 1938, he married actress, Merula Salaman, and they had a son, Matthew Guinness, who later became an actor.

During the Second World War, Guinness served in the Royal Navy and commanded a landing craft, taking part in the invasion of Sicily. While on leave, he made his New York stage debut in Flare Path, a play by Terrence Rattigan.

After the war, he was offered a screen role in Great Expectations which was closely followed by a part in Oliver Twist. He took part in a series of Ealing studio comedies, which included Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which he played each of the eight heirs to a dukedom. In The Lavender Hill Mob, he took the part of a timid clerk turned bank robber. The part which made him famous was the uncompromising army officer in The Bridge On The River Kwai, for which he won the Academy Award for best actor.

In 1953, he spent a brief period in Stratford, Ontario, a city noted, as its name suggests, for Shakespearian productions. In 1954, while playing in the film Father Brown, he and his wife converted to Catholicism. A story relates that while he was dressed for the part in his cassock, a small boy, believing him to be a real priest, showed him such awe, that he was inspired to investigate the depths of the catholic religion. He took several character roles in his later films, including A Passage to India, as the mystic Professor Godbole, and the title role in Hitler: The Last Ten Days.

One of his last appearances was his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, which brought him worldwide recognition. He was never happy with that particular part, and requested the screen death of his character, in order to minimise his association with the science fiction genre. He is quoted as saying that he ‘shrivelled up’ whenever Star Wars was mentioned.

Guinness was appointed CBE in 1955, and was knighted in 1959. He became a Companion of Honour in 1994, at the age of 80. He died on 5th August 2000, at the age of 86, at Midhurst, West Sussex, and his wife, Merula, died two months later. They are buried in Petersfield. [Petersfield Cemetery, Ramshill, Petersfield, Hampshire, GU31 4AP]

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