Sir Robert Graham Stephens (14 July 1931 – 12 November 1995) was a leading English actor in the early years of Britain's Royal National Theatre. He was one of the most respected actors of his generation and was at one time regarded as the natural successor to Laurence Olivier.
Robert Graham Stephens
14 July 1931
|Died||12 November 1995 64) (aged|
Nora Ann Simmonds
(m. 1951; div. 1952)
(m. 1956; div. 1967)
(m. 1967; div. 1974)
Patricia Quinn (m. 1995)
|Children||4, including Toby Stephens and Chris Larkin|
Early life and career
Stephens was born in Shirehampton, Bristol, in 1931. When aged 18, he won a scholarship to Esme Church's Bradford Civic Theatre School in Yorkshire, where he met his first wife Nora, a fellow student. His first professional engagement was with the Caryl Jenner Mobile Theatre, which he followed in 1951 by a year of more challenging parts in repertory at the Royalty Theatre, Morecambe, followed by seasons of touring and at the Hippodrome, Preston. The London director Tony Richardson saw a performance at the Royalty and this led to an offer of a place in the "momentous" first season of English Stage Company at the Royal Court in 1956. His success was assured.
He appeared in two versions of Epitaph for George Dillon on Broadway during the 1958-59 season for which he received a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.
His early films included A Taste of Honey (1961), Cleopatra (1963) and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) with his then wife Maggie Smith. There was also a minor role as Prince Escalus in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968), as well as a starring role in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and the science fiction film The Asphyx (1973).
Stephens played Atahuallpa in the original 1964 National Theatre production of The Royal Hunt of the Sun. He and Smith appeared together on stage and in film, notably in The Recruiting Officer at the Old Vic and the film version of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in 1969. However, following his departure from the National Theatre in 1970 and the break-up of their marriage in 1973, he suffered a career slump, not helped by heavy drinking and a breakdown.
Although he continued to work on stage (notably in the National Theatre's The Mysteries in 1986), film (The Fruit Machine in 1988—titled Wonderland in the US—and Kenneth Branagh's Henry V), and television (notably in the role of Abner Brown in the 1984 BBC TV dramatisation of the children's classic The Box of Delights and as the Master of an Oxford college in an episode of Inspector Morse), it was not until the 1990s that he re-established himself at the forefront of his profession, when the Royal Shakespeare Company invited him to play Falstaff in Henry IV for director Adrian Noble (opening April 1991), the title roles in Julius Caesar (director Stephen Pimlott) later in the year and then King Lear, again for Noble, in May 1993. He was awarded the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award in 1993 for Best Actor, for his performance as Falstaff.
Stephens provided the voice of Aragorn in the 1981 BBC Radio serialisation of The Lord of the Rings. In 1985, he directed the British premiere production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley at the Gate Theatre, London.
Stephens was knighted in 1995.
Stephens was married four times:
- 1951: to Nora Ann Simmons; they had one child, Michael Stephens, and divorced in 1952.
- 1956: to Tarn Bassett; they had a daughter, Lucy, and divorced in 1967
- 1967: to Maggie Smith; they had two sons, the actors Toby Stephens and Chris Larkin, and divorced in 1974.
- 1995: to Belfast-born Patricia Quinn (Lady Stephens; born 28 May 1944).
Following years of ill health, he died on 12 November 1995 at the age of 64 due to complications during surgery, eleven months after having been knighted.
|1956||War and Peace||Officer Talking with Natasha||Uncredited|
|1960||A Circle of Deception||Captain Stein|
|1961||A Taste of Honey||Peter Smith|
|Pirates of Tortuga||Henry Morgan|
|The Queen's Guards||Henry Wynne-Walton|
|Lunch Hour||The Man|
|1962||The Inspector||Dickens||Released as Lisa in USA|
|1963||The Small World of Sammy Lee||Gerry Sullivan|
|1966||Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment||Charles Napier|
|1968||Romeo and Juliet||The Prince of Verona|
|1969||The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie||Teddy Lloyd|
|1970||The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes||Sherlock Holmes|
|1972||The Asphyx||Sir Hugo Cunningham|
|Travels with My Aunt||Ercole Visconti|
|1974||Luther||Johan Von Eck|
|1977||The Duellists||General Treillard|
|At Night All Cats Are Crazy||Charles Watson|
|1978||The Shout||Chief Medical Officer|
|1981||The Games of Countess Dolingen||The Professor|
|1983||Ill Fares the Land|
|Empire of the Sun||Mr Lockwood|
|The Fruit Machine||Vincent|
|Ada in the Jungle||Lord Gordon|
|1989||Henry V||Auncient Pistol|
|1990||Wings of Fame||Merrick|
|The Bonfire of the Vanities||Sir Gerald Moore|
|The Children||Azariah Dobree|
|1991||The Pope Must Die||The Camarlengo|
|Ferdydurke||Prof. Pimco||Alternative title: 30 Door Key|
|Afraid of the Dark||Dan Burns|
|1992||Chaplin||Ted the Drunk|
|1993||Searching for Bobby Fischer||Poe's teacher|
|The Secret Rapture||Max Lopert|
|1995||England, My England||John Dryden||(final film role)|
|1956||Nom-de-Plume||John||Episode: The Counting House Clerk|
|1964||Channing||Paddy Riordan||Episode: A Bang and a Whimper|
|First Night||Arnold Claybill||Episode: The Improbable Mr Claybill|
|1971||The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes||Max Carrados||Episode: The Missing Witness Sensation|
|1974||QB VII||Robert Highsmith||TV miniseries, 3 episodes|
|1978||Holocaust||Uncle Kurt Dorf||TV miniseries, 4 episodes|
|1982||Anyone for Denis?||Schubert||TV Movie|
|1984||The Box of Delights||Abner Brown||6 episodes, recurring role|
|Fortunes of War||Bill Castlebar||3 episodes|
|1985||By the Sword Divided||Sir Ralph Winter|
|1986||Hell's Bells||Bishop Godfrey Hethercote||6 episodes|
|1987||Inspector Morse||Sir Wilfred Mulryne||Episode: The Settling of the Sun|
|1988-1989||War and Remembrance||SS Maj. Karl Rahn||TV mini series, 3 episode|
|1989||South Bank Show||Raymond Chandler||TV arts series, 1 episode, dramatised readings|
|1990||The Storyteller: Greek Myths||Minos||1 episode|
|1994-1995||99-1||Commander Oakwood||7 episode|
- Benedick, Adam (14 November 1995). "Obituary: Sir Robert Stephens". The Independent. p. 18. Retrieved 14 June 2012.
- Stephens, Robert; Coveney, Michael (1995). Knight Errant. London: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 11–15. ISBN 978-0-340-64970-1.
- "Epitaph for George Dillon – Broadway Play – Original - IBDB". www.ibdb.com. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
- Coveney, Michael (2004). "Stephens, Sir Robert Graham (1931–1995)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/60387.
- Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 269. ISBN 978-1-84854-195-5.
- Piers Torday (30 November 2017). "Long before Harry Potter, The Box of Delights remade children's fantasy". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
- "RSC performance database". The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Archive Catalogue. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Archived from the original on 1 September 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
- Benedict Nightingalenov (14 November 1995). "Sir Robert Stephens, British Actor, Dies at 64". The New York Times.
- Champlin, Charles (16 November 1989). "TV REVIEW : Clues to Chandler's Troubled Life". Los Angeles Times.
- Stephens, Robert; Coveney, Michael. (1995). Knight Errant. Hodder and Stoughton
- Stevens, Christopher. (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life of Kenneth Williams. John Murray
- McFarlane, Brian. (2005). The Encyclopaedia of British Film. Methuen, 2nd edition