Thursday, 31 July 2014

The All-Time Greats

'What do you mean, 'I'm not in it?' 
The top ten greatest British character actors of all time?

A purely personal choice.

I've chosen to leave out some of my all-time favourite actors from this list on the basis that they are bona fide 'film stars'. Otherwise I would definitely have had to find room for 'top billing' names like Alastair Sim, Terry-Thomas, Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers, Sid James and others of the golden era. 

I've also excluded living actors who are already saluted elsewhere in this 'Familiar Unknown' blog, which cuts out the likes of Dudley Sutton and Aubrey Morris.

So here are ten actors who brighten any film when they unexpectedly appear in supporting roles, rather like bumping into an old friend in a strange town, or finding a tenner in your coat pocket.   

1. James Robertson Justice
2. Richard Wattis

3. Athene Seyler

4. Hattie Jacques

5. Sam Kydd
6. Wilfrid Hyde White
7. Eric Barker
8. Arthur Lowe

9. Esma Cannon

10. Michael Ripper

On another day I might have picked a different ten. Where are Irene Handl, Thorley Walters, George Cole, Herbert Lom and Harry H Corbett? What about Roy Kinnear, Denholm Elliot and Ronald Lacey? Perhaps a top 100 is called for.

Whom would you have chosen?
Feel free to submit your own top ten in the comments box below.


  1. Excellent list. I'm going to go away and think about my own top ten probably. Mervyn Johns and Philip Madoc occur to me as a good candidates, and I'm sure the usual rota of ITC guest stars (eg Mike Pratt) will throw up a name or two.
    On a totally unconnected note, I've just bought Dear Mother...Love Albert on DVD, I've never seen it bit I'm sure you must have any opinions?
    Continuing my ramble, good call with Ronald Lacey, also Terrys brother in law in "whatever happened to?" and married (fictionally) to the lovely Sheila Fearn (I always thought she was too good for him)
    Time for bed I think.

  2. Oops spelling mistakes again! No excuses!

  3. I'd have to go for Ben Aris, James Cossins, Ron Pember, Talfryn Thomas, Jack Woolgar, Miriam Karlin and John Woodvine.

  4. Fred Piper would be on my list (basically he played all those barmen roles later taken by Sam Kydd). Megs Jenkins would be another. Miles Malleson was ubiquitous in the 1950s - he stole the show in 'Brothers in Law' despite little screen time.

  5. A big thumbs up for those three, particularly Miles Malleson. Seriously thinking about a Top 100 now, so all suggestions welcome.

  6. Just one small point. Esma Cannon was actually Australian. She moved to England in the early 1930s.

  7. Quite right, never knew that. I guess that makes room for Miles Malleson.