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Sir Nigel Barnard Hawthorne CBE (5 April 1929 – 26 December 2001) was an English actor. He portrayed Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Permanent Secretary in the 1980s sitcom Yes Minister and the Cabinet Secretary in its sequel, Yes, Prime Minister. For this role, he won four BAFTA TV Awards for Best Light Entertainment Performance. He won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for portraying King George III in The Madness of King George (1994). He later won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor, for the 1996 series The Fragile Heart. He was also an Olivier Award and Tony Award winner for his work in the theatre.

Nigel Hawthorne
Nigel Hawthorne photo.jpg
Hawthorne as the Duke of
in the 1995 film Richard III
Born Nigel Barnard Hawthorne
(1929-04-05)5 April 1929
Coventry, Warwickshire, England
Died 26 December 2001(2001-12-26) (aged 72)
Radwell, Hertfordshire, England
Occupation Actor
Years active 1950–2001
Partner(s) Trevor Bentham (1979–2001)


Early lifeEdit

Hawthorne was born in Coventry, Warwickshire, England, the son of Agnes Rosemary (née Rice) and Charles Barnard Hawthorne, a physician.[1] When Nigel was three years old, the family moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where his father had bought a practice. Initially they lived in the Gardens and then moved to a newly built house near Camps Bay.[2] He was educated at St George's Grammar School, Cape Town and, when the family moved, the now defunct Christian Brothers College,[3] where he played on the rugby team.[4] He described his time at the latter as not being a particularly happy experience.[2] He enrolled at the University of Cape Town, where he met and sometimes acted in plays with Theo Aronson,[5] later a well-known biographer, but withdrew and returned to the United Kingdom in the 1950s to pursue a career in acting.


Hawthorne made his professional stage debut in 1950, playing Archie Fellows in a Cape Town production of The Shop at Sly Corner.[3] He made his Broadway debut in 1974 in As You Like It. He returned to the New York stage in 1990 in Shadowlands and won the 1991 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.[6]

In a long and varied career in film, which began with an advert for Mackeson Stout and smaller roles in various British television series since the late 1950s, his most famous roles were as Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Permanent Secretary of the fictional Department of Administrative Affairs in the television series Yes Minister (and Cabinet Secretary in its sequel, Yes, Prime Minister), for which he won four BAFTA awards during the 1980s, and as King George III in Alan Bennett's stage play The Madness of George III (for which he won a Best Actor Olivier Award) and the film version entitled The Madness of King George, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and won the BAFTA Film Award for Best Actor. He won a sixth BAFTA for the 1996 TV mini-series The Fragile Heart.

Hawthorne was also a voice actor, and lent his voice to two Disney films: in 1985, Fflewddur Fflam in The Black Cauldron; and in 1999, Professor Porter in Tarzan.

Personal lifeEdit

An intensely private person, he was upset at having been involuntarily "outed" as gay in 1995 in the publicity surrounding the Academy Awards, but he did attend the ceremony with his long-time partner Trevor Bentham, speaking openly about being gay in interviews and his autobiography, Straight Face,[7] which was published posthumously.[8]

They met in 1968 when Bentham was stage-managing the Royal Court Theatre. From 1979 until Hawthorne's death in 2001, they lived together in Radwell near Baldock and latterly at Thundridge, both in Hertfordshire, England. The two of them became fund raisers for the North Hertfordshire hospice and other local charities.[9]


Hawthorne had several operations for pancreatic cancer, although his immediate cause of death was from a heart attack, aged 72. He was survived by Bentham, and his funeral service was held at St Mary's, the Parish Church of Thundridge near Ware, Hertfordshire, following which he was cremated at Stevenage Crematorium.[10] His funeral was attended by Derek Fowlds, Maureen Lipman, Charles Dance, Loretta Swit and Frederick Forsyth along with friends and local people. The service was led by the Right Reverend Christopher Herbert, the Bishop of St Albans. The coffin had a wreath of white lilies and orchids and Bentham was one of the pallbearers.[11]

On hearing of Hawthorne's death, Alan Bennett described him in his diary, "Courteous, grand, a man of the world and superb at what he did, with his technique never so obvious as to become familiar as, say, Olivier's did or Alec Guinness's."[12]


He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1987 New Year Honours, and was knighted in the 1999 New Year Honours.[13]





  1. ^ "Nigel Hawthorne Biography (1929–2001)" (Retrieved: 18 August 2009)
  2. ^ a b Kathleen Riley (2004) Nigel Hawthorne on Stage, Univ. of Hertfordshire Press, Hatfield ISBN 978-1-90280-629-7
  3. ^ a b "Biography for Nigel Hawthorne" (Retrieved: 18 August 2009)
  4. ^ Michael Green (2004) Around and About: Memoires of a South African Newspaperman, David Philip Publishers, Cape Town ISBN 0-86486-660-7
  5. ^ [Aronson, Theo, Royal Subjects (2001), p.152]
  6. ^ Staff (2001-12-26). "Actor Sir Nigel Hawthorne dies". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-10-17. 
  7. ^ Nigel Hawthorne (2002) Straight Face, Hodder & Stoughton, London ISBN 978-0-34076-942-3
  8. ^ Hubbard, Michael; "Straight Face by Nigel Hawthorne" (Retrieved: 18 August 2009)
  9. ^ Payne, Stewart (27 December 2001). "Sir Nigel Hawthorne dies of heart attack aged 72". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 24 November 2012. 
  10. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 20441-20442). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  11. ^ 'Friends pay tribute to Nigel Hawthorne' - The Guardian 10 January 2002
  12. ^ Alan Bennett, Untold Stories (Faber & Faber, London, 2005), at page 302.
  13. ^ Barker, Dennis; "Sir Nigel Hawthorne", 27 December 2001 (Retrieved: 18 August 2009)

External linksEdit