Lionel Jeffries

Lionel Charles Jeffries (10 June 1926 – 19 February 2010) was an English actor, director and screenwriter.[1][2][3][4][5] He appeared primarily in films and received a Golden Globe Award nomination during his acting career.

Lionel Jeffries
Lionel Charles Jeffries

(1926-06-10)10 June 1926
Died19 February 2010(2010-02-19) (aged 83)
Poole, Dorset, England
EducationRoyal Academy of Dramatic Art
Years active1950–2001
Eileen Mary Walsh
(m. 1951; died 2010)
Children3, including Ty

Early life

Jeffries was born in Forest Hill, south London. Both his parents were social workers with the Salvation Army.[6] As a boy he attended the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wimborne Minster in Dorset.[6]

In 1945, he received a commission in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry[6] and served in Burma at the Rangoon radio station during the Second World War,[7] being awarded the Burma Star. (He blamed the humidity there for his hair loss[7] at the age of 19.[6]) He also served as a captain in the Royal West African Frontier Force.[6]


He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.[7] He entered repertory at the David Garrick Theatre, Lichfield, Staffordshire for two years and appeared in early British television plays. Jeffries built a successful career in British films mainly in comic character roles and as he was prematurely bald he often played characters older than himself, such as the role of father to Caractacus Potts (played by Dick Van Dyke) in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), although Jeffries was actually six months younger than Van Dyke. His acting career reached a peak in the 1960s with leading roles in other films like Two-Way Stretch (1960), The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960), Murder Ahoy! (opposite Margaret Rutherford), First Men in the Moon (1964) and Camelot (1967).

Jeffries turned to writing and directing children's films, including a well regarded version of The Railway Children (1970) and The Amazing Mr Blunden (1972). He was a member of the British Catholic Stage Guild.[3]

Jeffries had a dislike of television and its production values and shunned the medium for many years. He reluctantly appeared on television in an acting role in the 1980 London Weekend Television Dennis Potter drama Cream in My Coffee and realised that television production values were little different from those in the film industry; as a result he developed a belated career in television. He appeared in an episode of the Thames Television/ITV comedy-drama Minder in 1983 as Cecil Caine an eccentric widower, and in an episode of Inspector Morse in 1990 (Central Television/Zenith/ITV). He starred as Tom (Thomas Maddisson) in the Thames/ITV situation comedy Tom, Dick and Harriet; during location filming for a 1983 episode, Jeffries and his co-stars Ian Ogilvy and Bridget Forsyth had to be rescued when a stunt involving a car went wrong.

Retirement and death

Jeffries retired from acting in 2001 and his health declined in the following years. He died on 19 February 2010 in a nursing home in Poole, Dorset. He had suffered from vascular dementia for the last twelve years of his life.[8]

He was married to Eileen Mary Walsh from 1951 until his death. They had a son and two daughters.[6] His son Ty Jeffries is a composer, lyricist and cabaret artist. Lionel Jeffries' granddaughter is the novelist and playwright Amy Mason.

His name is mentioned before the ending titles in the film The First Men in the Moon, released in 2010: "For Lionel Jeffries 1926-2010".

Complete filmography

As actor

As writer or director


  1. "Actor and director Lionel Jeffries dies, aged 83". BBC. 19 February 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
  2. Gray, Sadie (20 February 2010). "Obituary The Times". London. Retrieved 20 February 2010.
  3. Barker, Dennis (20 February 2010). "Obituary The Guardian". London. Retrieved 20 February 2010.
  4. Hayward, Anthony (20 February 2010). "Obituary The Independent". London. Retrieved 20 February 2010.
  5. Obituary New York Times, 20 February 2010.
  6. "Lionel Jeffries - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. London. 19 February 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
  7. "Actor and director Lionel Jeffries dies, aged 83". BBC News. 19 February 2010. Retrieved 20 February 2010.
  8. Paton, Maureen (28 January 2012). "Dad was too much to compete with". The Guardian.
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