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04 February 2014

Trevor Howard

English film, stage and television actor Trevor Howard (1913-1988) is best known as the doctor in the classic romantic drama Brief Encounter (1945), in which Celia Johnson was his co-star. In the 1940s and 1950s he often played the slightly dry, slightly crusty but capable British military officer, and in the 1960s he became one of England's finest character actors.

Trevor Howard
Dutch postcard. Photo: Eagle Lion.

Trevor Howard
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, no. W. 217. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

A Fabricated Hero


Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith was born in Kent, England, to Arthur John Howard-Smith, a Ceylon representative for Lloyd's of London, and his Canadian wife, Mabel Grey Wallace. Until he was five Trevor lived in Colombo, Ceylon. When the time came for him to be educated he was sent back to England to board at Clifton College.

After school he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, acting on the London stage for several years before World War II. His first paid work was a walk-on part in the play Revolt in a Reformatory (1934), starring Alastair Sim before leaving RADA.

In 1935 he was spotted by a Paramount studio talent scout but turned down the offer of film work in favour of a career in theatre. This decision seemed justified when, in 1936, he was invited to join the Stratford Memorial Theatre and, in London, given the role of one of the students in French without Tears by Terence Rattigan, which ran for two years.

He returned to Stratford in 1939. In 1940, he was drafted into the army. He was invalided out in 1943 having seen no action, despite later publicity which implied distinguished service and a Military Cross. Files held in the Public Records Office reveal he had actually been discharged from the Army for mental instability and having a 'psychopathic personality'.

These stories of war heroism were originally fabricated, without his consent, for publicity purposes although Howard also recounted how he had parachuted into Nazi occupied Norway and fought in the Allied invasion of Sicily.

Howard moved back to the theatre in The Recruiting Officer (1943), where he met the actress Helen Cherry. They married in 1944 and remained together till his death.

Howard had a certain notoriety as a hell raiser, based on his drinking capacity. Under the influence of alcohol he could embark on celebrated exploits, one of which led to his arrest in Vienna, for impersonating an officer. Despite his drinking, however, he always remained reliable and professional, never allowing alcohol to affect his work. He was also unfaithful to Cherry on a serial basis.

Trevor HowardAnonymous postcard, no country nor editor known.

Trevor Howard, Ann Todd
With Ann Todd. Italian postcard by Edizione ELAH 'La casa delle Caramelle', Serie 100 'Artisti di Cinema'. Photo: Warner Bros.

The Roots of British Realism in Cinema


Trevor Howard had a short part in one of the best British war films, The Way Ahead (Carol Reed, 1944), which meant his springboard into cinema.

Another small part in The Way to the Stars (Anthony Asquith, 1945) led to his breakthrough role, the doctor in Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945), in which his co-star was Celia Johnson.

In a café at a railway station, housewife Laura Jesson meets doctor Alec Harvey. Although they are already married, they gradually fall in love with each other. They continue to meet every Thursday in the small café, although they know that their love is impossible. The film won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and considerable critical acclaim for Howard.

Next came two successful thrillers, I See a Dark Stranger (Frank Launder, 1945) and Green for Danger (Sidney Gilliat, 1946), followed by They Made me a Fugitive (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1947), in which the roots of British realism in cinema can be traced.

In 1947 he was invited by Laurence Olivier to play Petruchio in an Old Vic production of The Taming of the Shrew. Despite The Times declaring ‘We can remember no better Petruchio’ the opportunity of working again with David Lean, in The Passionate Friends (David Lean, 1948), drew Howard back to film and, although he had a solid reputation as a theatre actor, his dislike of long runs, and the attractions of travel afforded by film, made him concentrate on cinema from this point.

Howard's film reputation was secured in The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949). He played the character type with which he became most associated, the slightly dry, slightly crusty but capable British military officer.

He also starred in The Key (Carol Reed, 1958), based on a Jan de Hartog novel, for which he received the best actor award from the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and Sons and Lovers (Jack Cardiff, 1960), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Another notable film was The Heart of the Matter (George More O’Ferall, 1953), another Graham Greene story, in which he probably produced his best screen performance.

Trevor Howard
British postcard in the 'People' Series of Show Parade Picture Services, no. P 1118. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Trevor Howard
Dutch postcard, no. AX 289. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Traditional Englishman


After his time as a star ended, Trevor Howard easily shifted to being one of England's finest character actors, many times appearing in war and period pieces.

Howard's later works included such films as Mutiny on the Bounty (Lewis Milestone, 1962), Father Goose (Ralph Nelson, 1964), Morituri (Bernhard Wicki, 1965), Von Ryan's Express (Mark Robson, 1965), Battle of Britain (Guy Hamilton, 1969), Ryan's Daughter (David Lean, 1970), and Superman (Richard Donner, 1978).

On Television, Howard began to find more substantial roles. He played Lovborg in Hedda Gabler (Alex Segal, 1963) with Ingrid Bergman, and won an Emmy award as Disraeli in The Invincible Mr Disraeli (George Schaefer, 1963).

In the 1970s he was acclaimed for his playing of an abbot in Catholics (Jack Gold, 1973) and he received an Emmy nomination for his role as Abbé Faria in a television version of The Count of Monte Cristo (David Greene, 1975).

The decade ended with him reunited with Celia Johnson, giving a moving performance in the nostalgic Staying On (Silvio Narizzano, 1980).

The 1980s saw a resurgence of Howard as a film actor. The exhilarating role of a Cheyenne Indian in Windwalker (Kieth Merrill, 1980) revitalized his acting career. One of his strangest films, and one he took great delight in, was Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (Steve Roberts, 1980) in which he played the title role.

He continued with cameo roles, including Judge Broomfield in Gandhi (Richard Attenborough, 1982).

His final films were White Mischief (Michael Radford, 1988) and The Dawning (Robert Knights, 1988).

Howard did not abandon the theatre altogether in 1947, returning to the stage on occasion, most notably as Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard (1954) and the captain in The Father (1964). His last appearance on the British stage was in Waltz of the Toreadors in 1974.

Trevor Howard made seventy-four films. He embodied the traditional Englishman: his tight-lipped features and quiet, well-bred speaking voice caught the mood of post-war Britain while, in later years, his craggy face and gravelly voice animated the crusty character roles he played. He lacked the looks and physique to be an archetypal male hero, and his tall frame suited military roles. Supporting some of the most notable names in the world of cinema, he often received the highest critical acclaim.

Trevor Howard
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 3591. Retail price: 25 Pfg. Photo: Columbia Film.

Trevor Howard
British postcard by Dixon-Lotus Production, no. L6/8700, 1969. Photo: Spitfire Productions Ltd. Publicity still for Battle of Britain (Guy Hamilton, 1969).


Trailer of Brief Encounter (1945). Source: Criterion Trailers (YouTube).


Trailer of The Passionate Friends (1953). Source: k8nairne (YouTube).

Sources: David Absalom (British Pictures), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

No one was better at playing British army officers