James Booth

James Booth (born David Noel Geeves; 19 December 1927 – 11 August 2005) was an English film, stage and television actor and screenwriter. Though considered handsome enough to play leading roles, and versatile enough to play a wide variety of character parts, Booth naturally projected a shifty, wolfish, or unpredictable quality that led inevitably to villainous roles and comedy, usually with a cockney flavour. He is best known for his role as Private Henry Hook in Zulu.

James Booth
Actor James Booth.jpg
David Noel Geeves

(1927-12-19)19 December 1927
Croydon, Surrey, England
Died11 August 2005(2005-08-11) (aged 77)
Other namesDavid Geeves-Booth
Years active1958–2005
Paula Delaney
(m. 1960)

Variety called him "a punchy blend of toughness, potential evil and irresistible charm."[1]

Though many observers expected Booth to become a major star, his acting career stalled and nearly stopped. In interviews, Booth was forthcoming about the reasons for his professional difficulties. These included his appearance in the flop stage musical Twang! in 1965, the flop film The Secret of My Success opposite such popular actresses as Honor Blackman and Shirley Jones, his alcoholism, his unaggressive approach to selling himself, his lack of connections and his own failure to work hard because everything came so easily to him at first. Booth also turned down the lead role of Alfie. By 1974 he was bankrupt, heavily in debt and was forced to return to the stage.

Early life and careerEdit

David Noel Geeves was born in Croydon, Surrey, on 19 December 1927, the son of Salvation Army probation officer Captain Ernest Edward Geeves and Lillian Alice (née Edwards), also a Salvation Army officer. The Geeves family moved often due to their duties, serving mainly in working-class areas, where they were more financially comfortable than their neighbours; these early experiences of interacting with the working classes had a strong influence on Booth.[2] Having been injured during World War I and left with recurring partial paralysis that affected his ability to walk, Ernest Geeves died in 1938 after suffering a stroke; Lillian subsequently married Salvation Army Lieutenant-Colonel Cliff Barnes.[3][4]

He was educated at Southend Grammar School, which he left aged 17 to join the army. Having trained recruits in the use of the bayonet, he rose to the rank of Captain in tank transport. He spent several years working for an international trading company. However, his interest in acting soon took priority.[5][6]

He successfully applied for a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where he studied from 1954 to 1956. Classmates included Albert Finney, Peter O'Toole, Alan Bates and Richard Harris. [1] Early in his career, he was advised to change his name, "Geeves" being reminiscent of P. G. Wodehouse's fictional Jeeves.[7]

Booth made his first professional appearance as a member of the Old Vic company in a production of Timon of Athens (1956) with Ralph Richardson. His first film role was a bit in The Narrowing Circle (1956) and he had small parts in The Girl in the Picture (1957).

Joan LittlewoodEdit

He joined Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in 1958. He appeared on stage in The Hostage (1958). For TV he appeared in The Iron Harp and episodes of William Tell and The Invisible Man.

Booth was in the cast of Sparrers Can't Sing. In 1960 he starred in the stage musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be which became a hit and Booth, who played its most pungent character, looked poised for stardom.[8]

According to one obituary, "Booth seemed to excite the theatre like a fountain of high spirits, with his cockney voice and his mischievous way of expressing himself, sometimes teasing, sometimes truly... Booth's manner with an audience, which he took into his confidence, was so personal...The reason for Booth's success lay simply with his personality. His height also helped. He would loom over the footlights with a commandingly wide grin. And his unpretentious manner added to the ease with which these early performances were accepted."[9]

Warwick FilmsEdit

Producer Irving Allen signed Booth to an exclusive contract with Warwick Films. By this stage he met and married Paula Delaney and he would later say " 'I don't know what kind of mess my life would be in today if it hadn't been for Paula and Irving. I'm a very insecure person. I've always needed someone to give me security. And they both did."[1]

Booth's first sizeable film role was in Jazz Boat (1960), directed by Ken Hughes for Warwick. That movie starred Anthony Newley and Anne Aubrey, who were also in Booth's next film, Let's Get Married (1960).

Hughes cast Booth in two more movies for Warwick, The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) with Peter Finch and In the Nick (1960) with Newley and Aubrey.

The financial failure of these films saw the end of Warwick, but Irving Allen then used Booth in a movie for a new company, The Hellions (1961), shot in South Africa. Booth appeared on TV in The Ruffians (1960) and The Great Gold Bullion Robbery (1960), as well as the Rank comedy In the Doghouse (1961).

In 1962 Booth spent a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He appeared in King Lear alongside Paul Scofield for Peter Brook. He also played in The Caretaker.

Film StardomEdit

Booth's first lead role came in Sparrows Can't Sing (1963) directed by Littlewood. He then made Zulu (1964), the film for which he is best remembered; he was billed above Michael Caine. Joseph E. Levine put him under contract.

Booth did Stray Cats and Empty Bottles (1964) for TV and played the lead in a comedy, French Dressing (1964), the feature debut of Ken Russell. It was a box office disappointment.

Booth was in Herb Gardner's play, A Thousand Clowns in London 1964. He starred in 90 Degrees in the Shade (1964), a thriller, and the comedy, The Secret of My Success (1965). Neither movie was popular. A proposed film with Peter Sellers, Barbu, never eventuated.[10]

Booth starred as Robin Hood in the stage musical Twang! (1965), which was a troubled production (Littlewood resigned as director) and a notorious flop.[11] Booth later claimed the failure of the musical put him out of work for a year.[12]

Booth was a policeman in a heist movie, Robbery (1967), for Levine, alongside his old Zulu co star Stanley Baker. He did a comedy with Shirley MacLaine, The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (1968) then Fräulein Doktor (1969) and The Vessel of Wrath (1970) for TV.

Booth went to Australia to make Adam's Woman (1970) and played Rod Taylor's best friend in The Man Who Had Power Over Women (1970). He worked with Taylor again in Darker Than Amber (1970).[13] In 1970 he did "The Alchemist" at the Chichester Festival and had a support role in Macho Callahan (1970), then the lead in Revenge (1971).

In 1972 he appeared on stage in The Hostage for Joan Littlewood again. Booth returned to leads in the films Rentadick (1972) and Penny Gold (1973) and TV comedy Them (1972).

Booth could be seen in That'll Be the Day (1974), Percy's Progress (1974), The Confederacy of Wives (1975), Brannigan (1975), and I'm Not Feeling Myself Tonight (1976).


Booth appeared on Broadway in 1975 in a production of Travesties. He then relocated to Hollywood and found work as a character actor in films like Airport '77 (1977), Murder in Peyton Place (1977), Wheels (1978), Evening in Byzantium (1978), Jennifer: A Woman's Story (1979), Caboblanco (1980), The Jazz Singer (1980) and Zorro: The Gay Blade (1981).

He also regularly guest starred on shows like Hart to Hart and The Fall Guy along with TV movies like Hotline and The Cowboy and the Ballerina (1984).


When no one would offer Booth an acting job, he tried his hand at screenwriting and found opportunities in Hollywood.[14] His first writing credit was Sunburn (1979).

He was in Pray for Death (1985) which he also wrote; he did double duty on Avenging Force (1986). He wrote the TV movie Stormin' Home (1985).[15]

As an actor only he was in Bad Guys (1986). He played a pornography baron living in enforced exile in Spain in series 2 of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet in 1986[16] and was seen in Moon in Scorpio (1987), Deep Space (1988), The Lady and the Highwayman (1988), and Have a Nice Night (1990).

He wrote American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1988) and American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990); he acted in the latter and was in episodes of Bergerac and Twin Peaks.[17]

Later careerEdit

Later acting appearances included Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992), Inner Sanctum II (1994), The Breed (2001), Red Phone 2, and Keeping Mum (2005).

In later life Booth moved back to Britain. He never retired from performing.

Personal lifeEdit

He married Paula Delaney in 1960 and they had two sons and two daughters and lived in Buckinghamshire, Los Angeles and Hadleigh, Essex,[18] where he died on 11 August 2005 aged 77.[19] His last film – Keeping Mum – was dedicated to his memory.



Year Title Role Notes
1956 The Narrowing Circle Bit Role Uncredited
1957 The Girl in the Picture Office boy Credited as David Greever
1960 Jazz Boat Spider Kelly
Let's Get Married Photographer
The Trials of Oscar Wilde Alfred Wood
In the Nick Spider Kelly
1961 The Hellions Jubal
In the Doghouse Bob Skeffington
1963 Sparrows Can't Sing Charlie Gooding
1964 Zulu Private Henry Hook VC
French Dressing Jim
1965 Ninety Degrees in the Shade Vorell
The Secret of My Success Arthur Tate
1967 Robbery Inspector George Langdon
1968 The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom Ambrose Tuttle
1969 Fräulein Doktor Meyer
1970 Adam's Woman Dyson
Darker than Amber Burk
Macho Callahan Harry Wheeler
The Man Who Had Power Over Women Val Pringle
1971 Revenge Jim Radford
1972 Rentadick Simon Hamilton
1973 That'll Be The Day Mr MacLaine
Penny Gold Matthews
1974 Percy's Progress Jeffcott
1975 Brannigan Charlie the Handle
1976 I'm Not Feeling Myself Tonight S.J. Nutbrown
1977 Airport '77 Ralph Crawford
1978 Evening in Byzantium Jack Conrad
1980 Caboblanco John Baker
The Jazz Singer Paul Rossini
1981 Zorro, The Gay Blade Valasquez
1985 Pray for Death Willie Limehouse
1986 Bad Guys Lord Percy
Avenging Force Admiral Brown (also co-wrote)
1987 The Retaliator Dr Brock aka Programmed to Kill
1988 Deep Space Dr Forsyth
1990 American Ninja 4: The Annihilation Mulgrew
1994 Inner Sanctum II Detective Hooper
2001 The Breed Fleming
2004 The Pool Patrick
2005 Keeping Mum Mr Brown (final film role)


Year Title Role Notes
1958-59 The Adventures of William Tell Various 3 episodes
1962 Gunsmoke Townsman (uncredited) Episode: False Front (S8E15)
1964 First Night Newton Episode: Stray Cats and Empty Bottles
1971 Shirley's World Edmund Remberg Episode: A Mother's Touch
1972 Bonanza Reverend Episode: "Second Sight"
1975 The Sweeney Vic Labbett Episode: Poppy
1978 Wheels Sir Phillip Sturdevant Miniseries
1982 The Fall Guy Ian Graham Episode: Child's Play
1985-93 Minder Godfrey and Toby 'Jug' Johnson 2 episodes: Give Us This Daley's Bread and Gone with the Winchester
1986 Auf Wiedersehen, Pet Kenny Ames 8 episodes
1990-91 Twin Peaks Ernie Niles 5 episodes
1991 Lovejoy Mordechai Frobel 1 episode
2000 The Bill Freddy Walker Episode: Crime and Punishment


Year Title Role Notes
1956-57 Richard III Old Vic, London
1958 The Hostage IRA officer Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop
A Christmas Carol Bob Cratchit For the Theatre Workshop
1959 Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be Tosher Theatre Royal, Stratford
The Hostage IRA officer Wyndham's Theatre
1961-62 The Fire Raisers Royal Court Theatre
1962 The Caretaker Mick
The Comedy of Errors RSC, Stratford-on-Avon
King Lear Edmund RSC, Stratford-on-Avon
1965 Twang! Robin Hood Shaftesbury
1973 The Entertainer Archie Rice [20]
1975-76 Travesties James Joyce RSC & Noel Coward Theatre, London & Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York
1987-88 Peter Pan Mr Darling/Captain James Hook Tyne Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne and Opera House[21]

Further readingEdit

  • Hall, Sheldon. Zulu: With Some Guts Behind It. Tomahawk Press, 2005.
  • Noble, Peter. British Film and Television Yearbook: 1960/61. British and American Film Press, 1961.
  • Walker, John. The Once and Future Film: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties. London: Methuen, 1985.


  1. ^ a b c Obituary: JAMES BOOTH ; Leading actor of the 1960s who specialised in playing cheerful cockneys: [First Edition] Vallance, Tom. The Independent; London (UK) [London (UK)]13 Aug 2005: 38.
  2. ^ Bio, Diana Blackwell, 2005 URL= jamesbooth.org/bio.htm
  3. ^ The Salvationist, 25th May 1991, The Salvation Army, p. 12
  4. ^ Who's Who in the Theatre, A Biographical Record of the Contemporary Stage, Vol. 1, ed. Ian Herbert, Gale Research Company, 1981, p. 76
  5. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/news/2005/aug/16/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries
  6. ^ Bio, Diana Blackwell, 2005 URL= jamesbooth.org/bio.htm
  7. ^ Bio, Diana Blackwell, 2005 URL= jamesbooth.org/bio.htm
  8. ^ "James Booth | Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos".
  9. ^ Obituary: James Booth: Leading actor of the 1960s best known for his cheerful cockneys Shorter, Eric. The Guardian 16 Aug 2005: 21.
  10. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: O'Neal Signs for Top Role Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 12 Aug 1965: D8.
  11. ^ 'Twang!!' --an exit by Miss Joan Shearer, Ann. The Guardian (1959-2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]05 Nov 1965: 1.
  12. ^ James Booth: [Final 1 Edition] The Times 17 Aug 2005: 48.
  13. ^ Martin, Betty (13 November 1968). "MOVIE CALL SHEET: Miss King Plans Comeback". Los Angeles Times. p. g18.
  14. ^ "Stormin' Home (1985)".
  15. ^ Obituary of James Booth Actor who was at one with the spirit of the Sixties and could make the least likeable stage villain attractive The Daily Telegraph; 16 Aug 2005: 023.
  16. ^ "No Sex Please We're Brickies (1986)".
  17. ^ Twin Peaks revived career: British actor came to prominence at height of post-war innovation: [Final Edition] The Gazette; Montreal, Que. [Montreal, Que]20 Aug 2005: B13.
  18. ^ The Hadleigh and Thundersley Community Archive Retrieved 2016-10-21.
  19. ^ Shorter, Eric (16 August 2005). "(Obituary) James Booth". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  20. ^ Hall, 2005, p. 155
  21. ^ Hall, 2005, p. 155

External linksEdit