Robert Morley

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Robert Morley
Robert Morley Allan Warren.jpg
Robert Morley, 1975
Born Robert Adolph Wilton Morley
(1908-05-26)26 May 1908
Semley, Wiltshire, England
Died 3 June 1992(1992-06-03) (aged 84)
Reading, Berkshire, England
Occupation Actor
Years active 1928–1989
Spouse(s) Joan Buckmaster (m. 1940–92) (three children)

Robert Adolph Wilton Morley, CBE (26 May 1908 – 3 June 1992) was an English actor who, often in supporting roles, was usually cast as a pompous English gentleman representing the Establishment. In Movie Encyclopedia, film critic Leonard Maltin describes Morley as "recognisable by his ungainly bulk, bushy eyebrows, thick lips and double chin, [...] particularly effective when cast as a pompous windbag." More politely, Ephraim Katz in his International Film Encyclopaedia describes Morley as a "a rotund, triple-chinned, delightful character player of the British and American stage and screen." In his autobiography, Substantial Gentleman, Morley said his stage career started with managements valuing his appearance for playing "substantial gentleman" roles — as a doctor, lawyer, accountant or other professional member of society.

Early life[edit]

Morley was born in Semley, Wiltshire, England, the son of Gertrude Emily (née Fass) and Robert Wilton Morley, a Major in the British Army.[1] His mother came from a German family that had emigrated to South Africa. Morley attended Wellington College, Berkshire, which he hated, followed by RADA. As he was a famous "Old Wellingtonian", generations of headmasters tried to contact him, without success, with Morley stating "the only reason for me visiting Wellington would be to burn it down".


Morley made his West End stage debut in 1929 in Treasure Island at the Strand Theatre and his Broadway debut in 1938 in the title role of Oscar Wilde at the Fulton Theatre. Although soon won over to the big screen, Morley remained both a busy West End star and successful author, as well as tirelessly touring.

Still from the trailer for Marie Antoinette (1938)

A versatile actor, especially in his younger years, he played roles as divergent as those of Louis XVI, for which he received an Academy Award Nomination as Best Supporting Actor (Marie Antoinette, 1938). He gave powerful performances in the 1960 film Oscar Wilde and as a missionary in The African Queen (1951), but did not receive Oscar nominations for either.

As a playwright he co-wrote and adapted several plays for the stage, having outstanding success in London and New York with Edward, My Son, a gripping family drama written in 1947 (with Noel Langley) in which he played the central role of Arnold Holt. But the disappointing film version, directed by George Cukor at MGM Elstree in 1949, instead starred the miscast Spencer Tracy, who turned Holt, an unscrupulous English businessman, into a blustering Canadian expatriate. His 1937 play Goodness, How Sad was turned into a 1940 Ealing Studios film Return to Yesterday directed by Robert Stevenson.

Morley also personified the conservative Englishman in many comedy and caper films. He was the face of BOAC (later British Airways) as the merry television commercial spokesman of the 1970s with "We'll take good care of you" for British Airways. Later in his career, he received critical acclaim and numerous accolades for his performance in Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?. Renowned for repartee and for being an eloquent conversationalist, Morley gained the epitheton of being a "wit".

He narrated the Chuck Jones award-winning 1965 cartoon The Dot and the Line, a 10-minute animated short film for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Morley was honoured by being the first King of Moomba appointed by the Melbourne Moomba festival committee and, in typical humility, he accepted the crown in bare feet.[2][3] Morley was in Australia touring his one-man show, The Sound of Morley.

In the 1980s, Morley hosted the CBN cable TV cooking show, Celebrity Chefs.

In his book British Film Character Actors, Terence Pettigrew wrote: "Morley, who has more wobbly chins than a Shanghai drinking club, enjoys poking fun at life's absurdities, among whom he generously includes himself."

Personal life[edit]

He married Joan Buckmaster (1910–2005), a daughter of Dame Gladys Cooper. Their elder son, Sheridan Morley was a well-known writer and critic. They also had a daughter, Annabel, and another son, Wilton.


He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1957. He was also offered a knighthood in 1975 but declined it.[4]


Morley died in Reading, Berkshire from a stroke, aged 84.

Theatre career[edit]




  1. ^ Larger than life: the biography of Robert Morley - Margaret Morley - Google Books. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  2. ^ Moomba – A festival for the people PDF pp 18 & 22 Craig Bellamy, Gordon Chisholm & Hilary Ericksen (2006)
  3. ^ photo of Robert Morley accepting King of Moomba crown Melbourne Herald newspaper
  4. ^ Hope, Christopher (25 January 2012) "JB Priestley, Roald Dahl, Lucian Freud and LS Lowry among 277 people who turned down honours", The Telegraph

External links[edit]