Blessed in February 2012
9 October 1936 |
Mexborough, Yorkshire, England
|Occupation||Actor, writer, presenter|
Brian Blessed was born on 9 October 1936 at Montagu Hospital in Mexborough, Yorkshire, the son of William Blessed (1906–2005), a socialist coal miner at Hickleton Main Colliery (and himself the son of a coal miner), and Hilda Wall (1909–1997). Blessed's great-great-grandfather, Jabez Blessed, was the father of 13 children and worked as a china and glass dealer in Brigg, Lincolnshire; many of Blessed's relatives hail from Brigg. Blessed went to Bolton on Dearne Secondary Modern School and started drama training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
One of Blessed's earliest roles was that of PC "Fancy" Smith in the BBC television series Z-Cars, between 1962 and 1965. In 1966, he appeared in a production of Incident at Vichy at the Phoenix Theatre in London. In 1967, he played Porthos in a 10-part BBC adaptation of The Three Musketeers. Blessed also had minor roles in cult TV series such as The Avengers (1967, 1969) and the original Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969). He appeared as William Woodcock in the Yorkshire Television series Boy Dominic (1974). He played Caesar Augustus in the BBC Two drama series I, Claudius (1976) and Basileos in The Aphrodite Inheritance (1979). He hosted a docudrama on the life of Johann Sebastian Bach called The Joy of Bach (1978), in which he also played Bach in a number of scenes.
He played Long John Silver in the 10-part serial Return to Treasure Island (1986), King Yrcanos in the Doctor Who serial Mindwarp (1986), General Yevlenko in the mini-series War and Remembrance (1988), and Lord Loxley, the father of Robin Hood, in the Hollywood film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991).
On stage, he starred in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, Cats, as both Old Deuteronomy and Bustopher Jones, for the original 1981 West End theatre production. Blessed has appeared in a number of Shakespearean roles on both stage and screen, including four of the five Shakespeare films directed by Kenneth Branagh: as the Duke of Exeter in Henry V (1989), Antonio in Much Ado About Nothing (1993), the Ghost of Hamlet's Father in Hamlet (1996), and both Duke Frederick and Duke Senior in As You Like It (2006).
Other roles have emphasised Blessed's comedic abilities. In particular, Prince Vultan in the film Flash Gordon (1980), for which he is remembered for the exclamations "Gordon's alive!" and "DIVE!"; the mad, comical figure of Richard IV in the first series of The Black Adder (1983), a role Blessed has claimed to be one of his most cherished; and Spiro in the BBC adaptation of My Family and Other Animals (1987). Blessed has joked that he was due to appear in Blackadder II (1986) as Elizabeth I, but was unavailable for filming. In 1997, Blessed portrayed Squire Western in the BBC adaptation of Henry Fielding's 1749 comic novel Tom Jones. He later recalled accidentally punching Peter Capaldi whilst filming and said of the event, "I thought I'd killed the poor bastard."
In 1999, Blessed provided both the voice and live-action reference for the blustery CGI character Boss Nass in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and also provided the voice of the villainous hunter Clayton in Disney's animated feature film Tarzan, a role he later reprised in the video game based on the film and in the critically acclaimed Kingdom Hearts in 2002. He voiced "Sir Morris" in the 1999 cartoon series The Big Knights. He read the story "The White City" for the album series Late Night Tales, recording it in four parts released over four albums, and was also the voice of Jean Valjean in Focus on the Family Radio Theatre's audio adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Blessed was one of the narrators for Story Teller, a children's magazine partwork series in the 1980s. He has further provided vocal links for the Sony-Award-winning Christian O'Connell Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio, and introduced advertisements for Orange mobile phones.
In 2002, under the direction of Royal Shakespeare Company director Adrian Noble, he originated the role of Baron Bomburst for the stage musical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. From December 2005 to January 2006, Blessed headlined the Christmas pantomime production of Peter Pan, alongside CBBC presenter Kirsten O'Brien, at Ipswich's Regent Theatre. From 2007 to 2008, he appeared in the same play as Captain Hook at the Grove Theatre in Dunstable; he reprised the role for the Christmas 2008 season at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon. For Christmas 2006, he presented a production of Cinderella for Virgin Radio, starring David Tennant, Thandie Newton and others.
Since October 2008, Blessed has presented the English-language dub of the Japanese TV game show Unbeatable Banzuke on Challenge, under the pseudonym "Banzuke Brian". He was the narrator of the Sky 1 series Crash Test Dummies, starring Steve Marsh and Dan Wright. In animation, he has provided the voices of Bob in Kika & Bob (2008) and Grampy Rabbit in Peppa Pig (2004–present).
Following a successful Facebook campaign, satellite navigation manufacturer TomTom recorded Blessed's voice for use in its products; he has been available as a voice command option since October 2010. In September 2010, Blessed recorded the voice of Great Sultan Shahryār for Sheherazade, or The Princess, the Pirate and the Baboon!, an album of children's stories set to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's classical music composition Scheherazade, co-starring Rory Bremner and released as an instalment of Grandma Dingley's Ingeniously Musical Tales in 2011.
Blessed was a keen boxer in his youth and claims to have sparred with the Dalai Lama. He has attempted to climb Mount Everest three times without supplemental oxygen, reaching heights of 28,200 feet (8,600 m) in 1993 and 25,200 feet (7,700 m) in 1996, but without reaching the summit. He holds a 3rd dan in Judo. He has reached the tops of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. He is the oldest man to go to the North Magnetic Pole on foot, and has undertaken an expedition into the jungles of Venezuela, during which he survived a plane crash. Blessed has completed 800 hours of space training at Star City in Russia.
Blessed served as President of the Television and Radio Industries Club (TRIC) from 2007 to 2008 and presented the 2008 TRIC Awards at Grosvenor House, London. He has honorary degrees from the University of Bradford (awarded July 2003) and Sheffield Hallam University (awarded 2004) and has also been awarded the honorary title of "Official Shoutsperson" by the University of York's Douglas Adams Society. In 2011, the student union voted to name a new study area the "Brian Blessed Centre for Quiet Study". The same year, Blessed was nominated for the post of Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, following a campaign by graduates.
In 2004, Blessed appeared on Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes, impersonating the opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. Known for his football knowledge, he appeared as an expert and commentator on the satellite channel UKTV G2 during the 2006 World Cup. Blessed also appeared on A Question of Sport in 2006 and 2011, and was a guest host on the BBC's satirical quiz show Have I Got News for You in May 2008 and April 2013 (also making a surprise appearance in the 2008 Christmas special). In Blessed's first appearance on the programme, his exaggerated comic style resulted in a quick departure from the usual format, leading team captain Paul Merton to quip, "Does anyone remember how this show used to be like?" Other guest appearances include the talk shows Loose Women (2006) and The Paul O'Grady Show (2008).
In 2009, Blessed featured in the song "Army of the Damned" from the album Beneath the Veiled Embrace by British power metal band Pythia, reciting the poem "Suicide in the Trenches" by Siegfried Sassoon. Blessed also appeared on their 2014 album "Shadows of a Broken Past". He had previously contributed to the song "The Joust" by Christian band Eden Burning in 1994. Blessed also speaks in the Living Legend history presentation in Jersey alongside other celebrities such as Samantha Janus, Roger Lloyd Pack, Tony Robinson, and Kevin Whately.
Blessed married American actress Ann Bomann when they were both 20 years old, and they had a daughter named Kathy. Due to work constraints, they drifted apart and eventually separated. They officially divorced in the late 1970s in order to allow Blessed to marry English actress Hildegarde Neil. Blessed's relationship with Kathy had always been difficult; in the early 1990s, following a shared climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, she informed him that she no longer wanted to be part of his life. They have not spoken since, which he says saddens him but he respects it.
Blessed lives in Windlesham, Surrey. He married Neil in 1978. Their daughter, Rosalind, is an actress. Blessed has worked alongside Rosalind on Doctors. He owns several dogs and is a patron of the Hopefield Animal Sanctuary.
On 19 January 2015, Blessed collapsed on stage during a performance of King Lear with the Guildford Shakespeare Company, in which his daughter Rosalind was also acting. He received medical attention from a doctor in the audience and returned to the stage to complete the play 20 minutes later. On 30 January 2015, it was announced that Blessed had been "compelled to withdraw" from the production on the advice of his heart specialist. He has been fitted with a pacemaker.
- The Turquoise Mountain: Brian Blessed on Everest (1991)
- Dynamite Kid (1992)
- Nothing's Impossible (1994)
- To the Top of the World (1995)
- Quest for the Lost World (1999)
- Sooty (2013)
- Absolute Pandemonium (2015)
- The Panther In My Kitchen: My Wild Life With Animals (2017)
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Dickinson: "But as for going back to Everest with Brian: in truth, he's too old now to try again."
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