Esmond Knight

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Esmond Knight
FluellenKnight.jpg
Esmond Knight as Fluellen in Henry V (1944)
Born Esmond Penington Knight
(1906-05-04)4 May 1906
East Sheen, Surrey, England, UK
Died 23 February 1987(1987-02-23) (aged 80)
London, England, UK
Resting place Cremated
Occupation Actor, dialogue coach
Years active 1928-1987
Spouse(s) Nora Swinburne (1946-1987)
Frances Clare (1929-1946)
Website http://www.esmondknight.org.uk/

Esmond Penington Knight (4 May 1906 – 23 February 1987) was an English actor.[1] He had a successful stage and film career before World War II. For much of his later career Knight was half blind. He had been badly injured in 1941 whilst on active service on board HMS Prince of Wales when she fought the Bismarck at the Battle of the Denmark Strait, and remained totally blind for two years, though he later regained some sight in his right eye.[2]

Career[edit]

Early career[edit]

He was an accomplished actor with a career spanning over half a century. He established himself in the 1920s on stage. In John Gielgud's famous 1930 production of Hamlet he played Rosencrantz.[3] He also appeared in films. In Romany Love (1931) he played "a swaggering gypsy who never stopped singing." For The Private Life of Henry VIII Knight and his uncle trained the falcons used in the hunting scenes.[4] In Alfred Hitchcock's Waltzes from Vienna he played the lead role as Johann Strauss.[5] Following this, he landed a number of roles in Hollywood films. In 1937 he travelled to Germany to star in Schwarze Rosen, a film about a Finnish anti-communist.[6] The film was shot in three versions, in English, German and French.[7] Julius Streicher visited the set during filming.[7] Thereafter Knight appeared in various film and theatre productions in Britain.[7]

World War II[edit]

After war was declared, Knight continued to act, appearing in Powell and Pressburger's film Contraband.[8] He sought a naval commission, but after the defeat of Dunkirk he became involved in training Local Defence Volunteers. In late 1940 he was accepted for naval training. In 1941 Knight was asked to play the lead role of fanatical Nazi Lieutenant Hirth in another Powell and Pressburger propaganda film 49th Parallel, but Eric Portman took the role as Knight was required for military training. He did appear in This England, another propaganda film. After training, Knight was appointed as Gunnery Officer, at the rank of Lieutenant on the battleship HMS Prince of Wales. In 1941 the ship received orders to pursue the German battleships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. In the ensuing battle Knight witnessed the sinking of HMS Hood, whereupon the Bismark attacked HMS Prince of Wales. Debris from an exploding shell hit Knight in the face, blinding him. Knight totally lost one eye, and the other was badly damaged.

Though blind, Knight insisted that he would continue his acting career. During this period, he dictated an early autobiography to his secretary, Annabella Cloudsley, Seeking the Bubble (Hutchinson & Co. 1943).[9] Knight continued to act in radio productions. Though still totally blind, he also appeared on film, once more as a Nazi villain, in Powell and Pressburger's The Silver Fleet.[10]

In 1943 Knight received a series of treatments from Dr Vincent Nesfield designed to restore sight to his surviving eye. The treatment was a great success, restoring much of Knight's sight. The partial return of his sight made a major difference to his career. He appeared briefly in another Powell and Pressburger film, playing the roles of the village idiot and the "Seven Sisters Soldier" in A Canterbury Tale (1944), also adding the voice-over reading of Chaucer.[11] His major breakthrough back into the mainstream came when he was cast as Fluellen, the brave but eccentric Welsh officer in Laurence Olivier's version of Henry V (1944).

Post war[edit]

Knight continued to work with Olivier and with Powell and Pressburger, appearing in the former's films of Hamlet and Richard III. For the latter, he appeared in Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes.[11] He also starred in Jean Renoir's The River (1951).[12]

Knight was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1957 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the King's Theatre in Hammersmith, London.[13]

In the 1960 film Sink the Bismarck!, he played John Leach, the captain of the HMS Prince of Wales, the ship he had served on when he was blinded (though the captain is not named in the film).[14] In the same year he played Jack Cade in the BBC Shakespeare series An Age of Kings.

He starred as Professor Ernest Reinhart in the 1961 British science fiction television series, A for Andromeda, alongside Patricia Kneale and Peter Halliday.[15] In Robin and Marian he played a blind old man who defies Richard I of England. For the role Knight removed his glass eye.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Knight was married twice. His first wife was actress Frances Clare, whom he married in 1929. The couple had a daughter, actress Rosalind Knight.[17] During the 1930s he had a long-running affair with Nora Swinburne, of which his wife was aware. She was also an actress who appeared with him in several stage plays. After a short-lived attempt to end the affair, Knight left Frances for Nora. The couple were married in 1946 and remained together for the rest of their lives.[18]

Knight died of a heart attack and was cremated.

Work[edit]

Stage[edit]

Selected filmography[edit]

Television[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]