Top 10 Welsh actors: Roger Livesey

Black and white photograph of Roger Livesey with a BBC microphone in 1947

Last updated: 05 March 2010

Roger Livesey (1906-76)

Born in Barry and a member of a formidable family acting dynasty Roger Livesey found lasting fame in the films of that great director/producer and scriptwriting team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Livesey's film career, gaining momentum from the late 1930s after early appearances as a teenager in films such as The Four Feathers (1921) - the silent version of the AEW Mason novel - was to eclipse the screen contributions of his father Sam Livesey. He was a staunch English character actor and lead in several British silents, and Roger's other brothers Jack and Barrie, both born in Wales.

Roger's burly physique, avuncular manner, rolling gait and fruity nasal tones ensured his popularity and effortless command of the screen.

He was never better than as the often blundering but fiercely moral and incorruptible Major Gen. Clive Candy in the Powell/Pressburger The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) - a moving study of a man with entrenched and outmoded military values.

Livesey was just as affective in the hugely ambitious colour and black-and-white fantasy A Matter of Life and Death (1948), from the same Powell/Pressburger creative team. As Reeves, a surgeon of bluff sagacity, Livesey effectively keeps vigil over his community from his regular perch atop an all-seeing camera obscura. Reeves winds up defending - in a celestial court - David Niven's stricken airman, bewildered and unhinged after the plane crash that ought to have killed him. Niven fights for a further lease on life to consummate the love affair he recently began on earth.

Livesey had earned his spurs with Powell/Pressburger when playing a Western Isles guide, in the slightly eerie romance I Know Where I'm Going (1945). The link helped the Welshman clinch the professional respect he hadn't always been accorded despite years of sterling performances.

He worked for producer Alexander Korda, for instance, in Rembrandt (1936) - and The Drum (part-set in Wales, 1938) - and also enjoyed a leading role in a Gracie Fields vehicle Keep Smiling (1938), the 1948 film version of Fred Anstey's repertory stage transfer of identity favourite Vice Versa and in The League of Gentlemen (1960).

He was in especially fine fettle playing Billy Rice in the 1962 screen version of John Osborne's 1960 stage play The Entertainer as a touching old music hall sweat, prone to meandering anecdotes of the past. Livesey's skilful gradations of expression and sentiment in the film enabled the character to retain the dignity denied to his son, the title character Archie (Laurence Olivier), a tatty, crude song-and-dance man with woefully dated patter.


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