31 May 1889|
Hackney, London, England
|Died||12 September 1990
Hammersmith, London, England
|Spouse(s)||James Bury Sterndale Bennett, Nicholas Hannen|
Athene Seyler, CBE (31 May 1889 – 12 September 1990) was an English actress.
Athene Seyler was educated at Coombe Hill School in Surrey, a progressive co-educational school which disliked petitionary prayer and whose advanced biology classes studied Darwin's On The Origin of Species. Seyler took part in an anti-blood sports demonstration, during which pupils captured the fox from the local hunt.
She was also active in the South Place Ethical Society during the 1920s, where her father Clarence H. Seyler took his family for many years to hear Moncure Conway lecture as an alternative to attending a religious Sunday service. Clarence ran a class for the study of Herbert Spencer, contributed to the South Place magazine on rationalist matters and wrote a treatise on birth control which he circulated privately among his family.
Although better known as a stage actress, she first appeared on the stage in 1909 and made her film debut in 1921, she became known for playing slightly dotty old ladies in many British films from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Her most memorable stage credits included Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals, Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest and a double-act, with her good friend Dame Sybil Thorndike, as the murderous spinster sisters in Arsenic and Old Lace.
Her film and television career lasted into the 1960s, and included roles in The Citadel (1938), Night of the Demon (1957) and The Avengers (1964, 1965). She was also a regular cast member in screen adaptations of Charles Dickens novels. Although her silent film appearance in Pickwick (1921) is missing, she played the elderly fiancée in The Pickwick Papers (1952).
She virtually retired from acting after 1970 but continued making public appearances until well into the 1980s, memorably as a guest of Terry Wogan on his eponymous BBC chat show. In 1988, at the age of 99, she was castaway on radio's Desert Island Discs. In 1990, at the age of 101, she appeared at the National Theatre, talking about her long life and career.
She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1959.
Marriages and relationships
She married James Bury Sterndale-Bennett (1889–1941), a grandson of the composer Sir William Sterndale Bennett and had a daughter Joan Anne with him.
From 1922 she met and started living with fellow actor Nicholas "Beau" Hannen (son of Sir Nicholas Hannen). Hannen was married and his wife refused a divorce. In 1928, Seyler formally changed her name to Athene Hannen. She continued to use Seyler professionally. In 1960, she and Hannen were married after his wife died.
The British National Portrait Gallery has numerous photos of Seyler.
The Australian National Portrait Gallery website has a portrait of Hannen and Seyler together.
Selected stage performances
- Watch on the Rhine
- Lady Windermere's Fan
- The Rivals
- Romeo and Juliet
- The Cherry Orchard
- Arsenic and Old Lace
- The Adventures of Mr. Pickwick (1921)
- This Freedom (1923)
- Early to Bed (1933)
- The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)
- The Rocks of Valpre (1935)
- Drake of England (1935)
- Moscow Nights (1935)
- Scrooge (1935)
- Irish for Luck (1936)
- It's Love Again (1936)
- Sensation (1936)
- The Lilac Domino (1937)
- The Mill on the Floss (1937)
- Non-Stop New York (1937)
- Jane Steps Out (1938)
- The Ware Case (1938)
- The Saint in London (1939)
- Young Man's Fancy (1939)
- The House of the Arrow (1940)
- Tilly of Bloomsbury (1940)
- Quiet Wedding (1941)
- Dear Octopus (1943)
- The First Gentleman (1948)
- The Franchise Affair (1951)
- Young Wives' Tale (1951)
- The Secret People (1952)
- Treasure Hunt (1952)
- The Pickwick Papers (1952)
- The Beggar's Opera (1953)
- The Weak and the Wicked (1954)
- For Better, for Worse (1954)
- As Long as They're Happy (1955)
- Yield to the Night (1956)
- Doctor at Large (1957)
- Campbell's Kingdom (1957)
- Night of the Demon (1957)
- How to Murder a Rich Uncle (1957)
- A Tale of Two Cities (1958)
- Happy is the Bride (1958)
- The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)
- Make Mine Mink (1960)
- The Girl on the Boat (1961)
- Francis of Assisi (1961)
- Two and Two Make Six (1962)
- I Thank a Fool (1962)
- Nurse on Wheels (1963)
Selected television and radio performances
- The Iron Duchess by William Douglas-Home, BBC radio, broadcast 1966
- The Reluctant Peer by William Douglas-Home, BBC radio, broadcast 1967
- "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
- MacKillop, I. D. (1986) The British Ethical Societies, Cambridge University Press, [online] Available from: http://books.google.com/books?id=mqgsFS_MN9UC&pgis=1 (Accessed 13 May 2014).
- Sydney Morning Herald, 6 May 1933, p8
- Athene Seyler at the Internet Movie Database
- Stage performances listed in the Theatre Archive University of Bristol