Hugh Griffith

Hugh Griffith

Hugh Griffith in costume for the BBC Playhouse production of The Joke, taken in 1974

Last updated: 12 January 2009

Winner of the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as Sheik Ilderim in Ben-Hur alongside Charlton Heston, Hugh Griffith is also fondly remembered by Welsh rugby fans for his role in television film comedy Grand Slam.

Born in Marian Glas, Anglesey in May 1912, he failed to gain entrance to university and so took up a career in banking, moving to London in his quest for acting opportunities.

Griffith won a place at the prestigious RADA but put his acting career on hold as he enlisted following the outbreak of World War Two. He served with the British army in India and Burma.

He began his film career in the late 1940s, breaking into Hollywood films in the early fifties. He starred in London Belongs to Me in 1948 and a year later in A Run For Your Money and Emlyn Williams' The Last Days Of Dolwyn in 1949.

Fifties hits for Griffith included The Beggar's Opera (1953) with Laurence Olivier, The Sleeping Tiger (1954) with Dirk Bogarde, and comedy Lucky Jim in 1957, among a host of various television appearances. The film that powered him to Hollywood stardom was to soon to follow in 1959.

The role of the Sheik in Ben-Hur not only spurned the best actor in a supporting role Academy Award but also the best supporting actor award from the National Board of Review.

The early 1960s saw further success for Griffith. He starred in The Inspector (1962), Mutiny On The Bounty (1962) with Marlon Brando and Richard Harris and the 1963 blockbuster Tom Jones. For his role in the latter as Squire Western he received an Oscar nomination for best actor in a supporting role, a BAFTA nomination for best British actor and a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor, all of which unfortunately eluded him.

The late sixties saw success in comedy How To Steal A Million (1966) alongside Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn, the hugely successful 1968 adaptation of Dickens' novel Oliver! with Oliver Reed and Harry Secombe, for which he was nominated for the Golden Globe for best supporting actor.

Another Golden Globe award nomination followed a year later, again for best supporting actor, for his role in The Fixer with Alan Bates and Dirk Bogarde.

Griffith continued his film career in the early 1970s with Start the Revolution Without Me alongside fellow Welshman Victor Spinetti and Wuthering Heights (both 1970) and a number of horror films including Cry Of The Banshee (1970), Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) and The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1971 and 1972 respectively) with Vincent Price.

He continued working in the later stages of his life, with various television appearances including an episode of BBC2's Playhouse. He starred in the 1978 version of The Hound Of The Baskervilles with Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore, but it was due to his appearance in another film with a distinctly Welsh flavour that same year why many fans still hold Griffith in such high esteem.

Television film Grand Slam, a comedy focusing on a group of Welsh rugby fans that travel to Paris to watch the final match of the season, starred Griffith as undertaker Caradog Lloyd-Evans alongside Windsor Davies and Dewi Morris. It was a huge hit, and remains popular with Welsh rugby fans today.

Griffith also enjoyed acclaim on the stage during his illustrious career notably playing, among others, King Lear, Prospero and Falstaff; he starred as Lear at Swansea's Grand Theatre in 1949.

He died aged 67 of a heart attack in May 1980, two weeks before his 68th birthday.


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