Anthony Quayle was born in Ainsdale in September 1913, the son of a Lancashire lawyer. He completed his education at Rugby School and had a brief spell at RADA, before treading the boards for the first time as the straight man in a music hall comedy act in 1931. Tall, burly, round-faced and possessed of a powerful and resonant voice, he was mentored early on in his career by the well-known stage director Tyrone Guthrie. Letters of introduction led to steady employment with the Old Vic Company by September 1932, and a succession of small roles in classical parts. Quayle’s reputation as an actor grew steadily, and, in 1936, he appeared on Broadway opposite Ruth Gordon in ‘The Country Wife’. For the next few years, he consolidated his position as a Shakespearean actor. When the Second World War began, he was among the first in his profession to enlist, serving with the Royal Artillery and rising to the rank of major. Some of his wartime experiences, such as co-ordinating operations with Albanian partisans as part of the secret Special Operations Executive, were destined to be paralleled by his fictional post-war screen exploits as incisive army officers or spies. With the war still fresh in his mind, he subsequently published two novels (respectively in 1945, and in 1947), ‘Eight Hours from England’ and ‘On Such a Night’.
In 1946, Quayle also made his debut as a theatrical director with a London production of ‘Crime and Punishment’. Between 1948 and 1956, he had a distinguished tenure as director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, bringing into the company some of the biggest stars of the stage, including Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. Though acting in films from 1938, the theatre remained his favourite medium. He played diverse roles with great intensity and professionalism, achieving critical acclaim as Petruchio and Falstaff, Tamburlaine and Galileo (on Broadway) and the original role of Andrew Wyke in Anthony Shaffer’s play ‘Sleuth’ (played in the first screen version by Olivier). In motion pictures Quayle tended to portray tough, dependable authority figures. He was good value for money as Commodore Harwood in Pursuit of the Graf Spee (1956), as the enigmatic Afrikaner captain in Ice Cold in Alex (1958) and as the stuffy, by-the-book Colonel Harry Brighton, who nonetheless appears to have a degree of admiration for Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Due to his classical training, Quayle was often used in historical epics, giving one of his best performances as Cardinal Wolsey in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), earning him an Academy Award nomination. His voice was heard as narrator of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) and on radio in anything from ‘The Ballad of Robin Hood’ to Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Purloined Letter’.
The year prior to receiving his knighthood, Quayle founded the touring Compass Theatre Company, and served as its director until a few months before his death from cancer in October 1989.
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