|Born||Alastair George Bell Sim
9 October 1900
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
|Died||19 August 1976
London, England, United Kingdom
(m. 1932-1976; his death)
Alastair George Bell Sim, CBE (9 October 1900 – 19 August 1976) was a Scottish character actor who appeared in a string of classic British films. He is best remembered in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 film Scrooge, and for his portrayal of Miss Fritton, the headmistress in two St. Trinian's films. He was memorably described by comedian Ronnie Corbett as a "sad-faced actor, with the voice of a fastidious ghoul", in Corbett's autobiography High Hopes.
Alastair Sim was born in Edinburgh in 1900. His mother had been born on the island of Eigg, and when she came to the mainland in her teens she could speak only Gaelic. His father, Alexander Sim, was a prosperous businessman with property in Braemar and Edinburgh. He designed and paid for the construction of the Earl Haig Gardens in Edinburgh for the use of returning servicemen to sit in during the day.
Alastair Sim was educated at the independent George Heriot's School in Edinburgh. He became an elocution and drama lecturer at the University of Edinburgh from 1925 until 1930 where he performed with the Edinburgh University Drama Society, and where he was later rector from 1948 until 1951. He once remarked to an interviewer, "As I passed imperceptibly from a beautiful child to a strong and handsome lad, I wanted more than anything else in the world to be, of all things, a hypnotist. I practised on gentle dogs."
His biography states that as a young man, he was employed for a while as a lumberjack. Colleagues found him lacking enthusiasm for the work, and after a bad experience with whisky he never drank it again.
Preferring the stage, Sim made his London debut in Othello in 1930. He also appeared for a season at the Old Vic. He notably portrayed Captain Hook in six different stage productions of Peter Pan between 1941 and 1968.
He made his film debut in 1935 in The Case of Gabriel Perry, and spent the remainder of the decade playing supporting roles in films, often being credited with "stealing the scene" from the star. As a supporting actor, his most notable success was as Detective Sergeant Bingham, a light comedy role played opposite Gordon Harker, in the popular Inspector Hornleigh film series: Inspector Hornleigh (1939), Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday (1939), and Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It (1941). He outshone Harker to the extent that it was frequently unclear who was actually the star.
As a result, by the 1940s he had progressed to leading roles; and in 1950 he was voted the most popular film actor in Britain in a national cinema poll. His earliest successes as a leading man included the police detective in the thriller Green for Danger (1946); as the headmaster of Nutbourne College, co-starring with Margaret Rutherford, in the comedy The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950); and as a writer of lurid crime fiction in the comedy Laughter in Paradise (1951). He was cast in the lead role of Scrooge (1951), a film adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. He revisited the character, using his vocal talents for an Oscar-winning animated film version, which was released in 1971. Though Scottish, he turned down the lead role in Whisky Galore! saying "I can't bear professional Scotsmen".
He is perhaps best remembered for portraying the headmistress, Miss Fritton, in the St Trinian's film comedies, including The Belles of St Trinian's (1954), in which he also played her shady brother, Clarence Fritton. He later reprised the role (albeit in a cameo part) of Miss Fritton in Blue Murder at St Trinian's (1957). Other film roles included Waterloo Road (1944), Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950), Folly to be Wise (1953), and An Inspector Calls (1954). His performance as Mr Squales in London Belongs to Me (1948) impressed Alec Guinness so much that he based his own performance in The Ladykillers (1955) on it, and is often mistaken for Sim as a consequence.
On stage, he had particular success in the last decade of his life in two plays by Arthur Wing Pinero, playing Mr Posket in The Magistrate and Augustin Jedd in Dandy Dick both at the Chichester Festival Theatre and in the West End of London. In both productions Sim co-starred with Patricia Routledge.
On television, his best remembered performance was playing a Mr. Justice Swallow, in the 1967-1971 comedy series Misleading Cases, written by A. P. Herbert. It co-starred Roy Dotrice as the mischievous, bumbling Mr Albert Haddock, who always ended up in court over some comedic, petty misdemeanour.
In his book British Film Character Actors, (1982) Terence Pettigrew wrote that 'Sim was best known as a fussy eccentric, and every mannerism in his huge workbox of tricks was sharpened to a fine edge. He looked at times like a turkey startled by bright sunlight—with much twitching and croaking and rolling of those big button eyes. But he could also chortle like a schoolboy peering through a crack in the gym-mistress's changing room.'
He was married to Naomi Plaskitt (1913–1999) from 1932 until his death in 1976. They had one child, a daughter named Merlith.
Sim was keen to promote and encourage young acting talent, and, having seen a young talent in the making, the Sims invited George Cole to live with them in 1940, when he was 15 years old. Cole lived with the couple for 12 years. They are credited with mentoring the young actor. Sim appeared with Cole in the films Cottage to Let (1941), The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), Scrooge (1951), Laughter in Paradise (1951), The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954), An Inspector Calls (1954), The Green Man (1956) and Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (1957).
He always remained ambivalent about fame, and never signed autographs. In a rare interview to the magazine Focus on Film he said, "I stand or fall in my profession by the public's judgment of my performances. No amount of publicity can dampen a good one or gloss over a bad one." He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1953, but (emulating his father) he later refused a knighthood.
In 1959, he successfully sued the makers of a televised baked beans commercial (which had a voiceover sounding uncannily like him), claiming he would not "prostitute his art" by advertising anything. In 1955 Hancock's Half Hour used a similar plot for "The Breakfast Cereal" - Tony Hancock sues another actor for using his voice in adverts.
He died in 1976, aged 75, in London, England, from lung cancer. An English Heritage blue plaque was unveiled at his former home at 8 Frognal Gardens, Hampstead, London on 23 July 2008. There is also a plaque commemorating his birth outside the Filmhouse Cinema on Lothian Road in Edinburgh, which states "Born near here - Alastair Sim". The exact location had previously been unknown until a Filmhouse patron scoured the city's records to find not only his birthplace but also the site of his father's tailor shop.
Box Office Ranking
For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted him among the top ten local stars at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.
- 1950 - equal 8th with Margaret Rutherford
- 1951 - 6th
- 1952 - 2nd
- 1953 - 4th
- 1955 - 4th (8th overall)
- Charles Hamblett, "Mr Sim has a secret", 'Picturegoer', December 2, 1950.
- p.34 McArthur, Colin Whiskey Galore! and The Maggie 2003 I. B. Tauris Publishers
- "STAR PROFILE: By George! What a career.". Coventry Evening Telegraph. 2004-02-14. Retrieved 2010-08-10.
- Focus on Film, Summer 1972, p. 10
- "BBC News website". 2008-07-23. Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-23.
- "Filmhouse Cinema". 2009-08-04.
- "Success Of British Films." Times [London, England] 29 Dec. 1950: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
- "Vivien Leigh Actress Of The Year.". Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954) (Qld.: National Library of Australia). 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "COMEDIAN TOPS FILM POLL.". The Sunday Herald (Sydney, NSW : 1949 - 1953) (Sydney, NSW: National Library of Australia). 28 December 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "'The Dam Busters'." Times [London, England] 29 Dec. 1955: 12. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
- Naomi Sim, Dance and Skylark: Fifty years with Alastair Sim, London: Bloomsbury, 1987.
- David Quinlan, Quinlan's Film Comedy Stars, 1992, ISBN 0-7134-6149-7
- Mark Simpson, Alastair Sim: The Star of Scrooge and The Real Belle of St Trinian's. Stroud, Glos: The History Press Ltd, 2008. ISBN 0-7509-4966-X
- Alastair Sim at the Internet Movie Database
- Alastair Sim at the TCM Movie Database
- Alastair Sim at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
- Funny Peculiar - Sight & Sound profile of Alastair Sim by Michael Brooke
Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope
|Rector of the University of Edinburgh