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Frank Finlay

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Frank Finlay
Francis Finlay

(1926-08-06)6 August 1926
Died30 January 2016(2016-01-30) (aged 89)
Weybridge, Surrey, England
Years active1958–2009
Doreen Shepherd
(m. 1954; died 2005)
WebsiteOfficial website

Francis Finlay, CBE (6 August 1926 – 30 January 2016) was an English actor. He earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Iago in Othello (1965).[1] In 1983, he was directed by Italian filmmaker Tinto Brass in the erotic classic The Key, with Stefania Sandrelli. His first leading television role came in 1971 in Casanova.[1] This led to appearances[2] on The Morecambe and Wise Show.[3] He also appeared in the drama Bouquet of Barbed Wire.[4]

Early life[edit]

Finlay was born in Farnworth, Lancashire, the son of Josiah Finlay,[5] and Margaret Finlay. He was educated at St Gregory the Great School, but left at 14 to train as a butcher at Toppings,[6] gaining a City and Guilds Diploma in the trade.

Stage career[edit]

Finlay made his first stage appearances at the local Farnworth Little Theatre, in plays that included Peter Blackmore's Miranda in 1951.[1][6] The current Little Theatre president, also in the cast of that Miranda production, remembers him as a perfectionist in his craft. He also played in repertory, initially in Scotland, before winning a scholarship to RADA in London.[6][1]

There followed several parts in productions at the Royal Court Theatre, such as the Arnold Wesker trilogy. He became particularly associated with the National Theatre, especially during the years when Laurence Olivier was director. Playing Iago opposite Olivier's title character in John Dexter's 1965 production of Othello,[7] and the film adaptation of that production (also 1965),[1][6] Finlay's performance left theatre critics unmoved, but he later received high praise for the film version and gained an Academy Award nomination.[8] The critic John Simon wrote that the close-ups in the film allowed Finlay to give a more subtle and effective performance than he had done on stage.

At the Chichester Festival Theatre, Finlay played roles ranging from the First Gravedigger in Hamlet to Josef Frank in Weapons of Happiness. He also appeared in The Party, Plunder, Saint Joan, Hobson's Choice, Amadeus (as Salieri),[9] Much Ado About Nothing (as Dogberry), The Dutch Courtesan, The Crucible, Mother Courage, and Juno and the Paycock.

Finlay made appearances on Broadway, in Epitaph for George Dillon (1958–1959), and in the National Theatre and Broadway productions of Filumena opposite Joan Plowright in 1980.[10] Between November 1988 and April 1989, Finlay toured Australia, performing in Jeffrey Archer's Beyond Reasonable Doubt at theatres in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.[11]


One of his earliest television roles was in the family space adventure serial Target Luna (1960), as journalist Conway Henderson. Finlay's first major television success was as Jean Valjean in the BBC's 1967 ten-part adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. He played the title role of Dennis Potter's BBC 2 series Casanova (1971).[1] Following this, he portrayed Adolf Hitler in The Death of Adolf Hitler (1972) for London Weekend Television.

Finlay portrayed Richard Roundtree's nemesis, Amafi, in the film Shaft in Africa (1973), before playing Porthos for director Richard Lester in The Three Musketeers (also 1973),[1] The Four Musketeers (1975) and The Return of the Musketeers (1989).[1] He appeared in several additional films, including The Wild Geese (1978)[1] and The Key by Tinto Brass.

Finlay starred as the father in the once-controversial Bouquet of Barbed Wire (1976), and its sequel Another Bouquet (1977), and he was reunited with his Bouquet of Barbed Wire co-star, Susan Penhaligon, when he played Professor Van Helsing in the BBC's Count Dracula (also 1977), with Louis Jourdan. He appeared in two Sherlock Holmes films as Lestrade, solving the Jack the Ripper murders (A Study in Terror, 1965, and Murder by Decree, 1979). He also played a role as the primary antagonist in an adaptation of "The Golden Pince-Nez" of the Granada Television series of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett, in which his son Daniel played a minor role as well. Finlay appeared on American television in A Christmas Carol (1984) playing Marley's Ghost opposite George C. Scott's Ebenezer Scrooge. He also guest-starred as a farcical witch-smeller in an episode of The Black Adder ("Witchsmeller Pursuivant", 1983), opposite Rowan Atkinson.[1]

In 1994 he played Howard Franklin in fourth-series Heartbeat episode "Lost and Found".

Finlay played Sancho Panza opposite Rex Harrison's Don Quixote in the 1973 British made-for-television film The Adventures of Don Quixote,[12] for which he won a BAFTA award.[13] He won another BAFTA award that year for his performance as Voltaire in the BBC TV production of Candide.[9]

Finlay played the role of Justice Peter Mahon in the award-winning New Zealand television serial Erebus: The Aftermath (1988). In the Roman Polanski film The Pianist (2002),[1][6] he took on the part of Adrien Brody's father. He starred alongside Pete Postlethwaite and Geraldine James in the BBC drama series The Sins in 2000, playing the funeral director "Uncle" Irwin Green. He appeared in the TV series Life Begins (2004–2006)[1] and as Jane Tennison's father in the last two stories of Prime Suspect (2006 and 2007). In 2007, he guest-starred in the Doctor Who audio adventure 100. Finlay appeared in November 2008 in the eleventh episode of the BBC drama series Merlin, as "Anhora, Keeper of the Unicorns".[1]

Private life and honours[edit]

Finlay met his future wife Doreen Shepherd when both belonged to Farnworth Little Theatre. They had three children, Stephen, Cathy, and Daniel,[6] lived in Shepperton, Middlesex. She died in 2005 aged 79.[6] As a Roman Catholic,[14] Finlay became a member of the British Catholic Stage Guild (now the Catholic Association of Performing Arts).

Finlay was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year's Honours of 1984[1][15] and an honorary doctor of the University of Bolton in 2009.[6]


Finlay died on 30 January 2016 at his home in Weybridge, Surrey, England, aged 89, from heart failure.[1][16][17][18][9]



Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1962 Life for Ruth Henry – Teddy's father
The Longest Day Private Coke Uncredited
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner Booking Office clerk Uncredited [9]
Private Potter Captain Patterson
1963 Doctor in Distress Corsetiere [9]
The Informers Leon Sale
1964 Hot Enough for June British Embassy porter Uncredited
The Comedy Man Prout
1965 A Study in Terror Inspector Lestrade Reprised the role fourteen years later in Murder by Decree [9]
The Wild Affair Drunk
Othello Iago San Sebastián International Film Festival Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1966 The Sandwich Man Second fish porter
The Deadly Bees H.W. Manfred
1967 The Jokers Harassed man
Robbery Robinson
I'll Never Forget What's'isname Chaplain
The Spare Tyres Council foreman Short
1968 Inspector Clouseau Superintendent Weaver
The Shoes of the Fisherman Igor Bounin
Twisted Nerve Henry Durnley
1970 The Molly Maguires Davies
Cromwell John Carter
1971 Assault Det. Chief Supt. Velyan
Gumshoe William Ginley
1972 Sitting Target Marty Gold
Danny Jones Mr. Jones
Neither the Sea Nor the Sand George Dabernon
1973 Shaft in Africa Amafi
The Three Musketeers Porthos / O'Reilly [1][9][17]
1974 The Four Musketeers Porthos Sequel to The Three Musketeers [1][9][17]
1978 The Wild Geese Father Geoghagen [1]
1979 Murder by Decree Inspector Lestrade
Ring of Darkness [it] Paul aka Satan's Wife
1982 The Return of the Soldier William Grey Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Enigma Canarsky
1983 The Ploughman's Lunch Matthew Fox
The Key Nino Rolfe
1985 1919 Sigmund Freud Voice
Lifeforce Dr. Hans Fallada
1989 The Return of the Musketeers Porthos Final film in the Musketeers trilogy [1][9]
1990 King of the Wind Edward Coke
1992 Cthulhu Mansion Chandu
Stalin Sergei Alliluyev TV movie
1993 Sparrow Father Nunzio
1995 Gospa Monsignor
1996 Tiré à part John Rathbone
1997 For My Baby Rudi Wittfogel
So This Is Romance? Mike's dad
The Road to Glory Yudah Lieb Gold
Put K Slave
1998 Stiff Upper Lips Hudson Junior
1999 Dreaming of Joseph Lees Father
2000 Ghosthunter Charlie Fielding Short
2001 The Martins Mr. Heath
2002 The Pianist Samuel Szpilman [1][6][9]
Silent Cry Dr. Robert Barrum
2003 The Statement Commissaire Vionnet
2004 Lighthouse Hill Alfred
2007 The Waiting Room Roger


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1973 ITV Sunday Night Theatre Adolf Hitler Episode: "The Death of Adolf Hitler" [9]
1976 Bouquet of Barbed Wire Peter Manson TV mini-series [4][9][17]
1977 Count Dracula Abraham Van Helsing TV movie [9]
1983 The Black Adder The Witchsmeller Pursuivant Episode: "Witchsmeller Pursuivant" [1][9]
1984 Sakharov Kravtsov TV movie
A Christmas Carol Jacob Marley's Ghost TV movie [9]
1987 Casanova Razetta TV movie [17]
1988 Erebus: The Aftermath Justice Peter Mahon TV Mini-Series
1998–1999 How Do You Want Me? Astley Yardley 10 episodes
2000 The Sins 'Uncle' Irwin Green BBC drama series
2003 Eroica Joseph Haydn TV movie
The Lost Prince H.H. Asquith TV movie
2004 Life Begins Eric ITV Series
2008 Merlin Anhora Episode: "The Labyrinth of Gedref" [1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w BBC News, "Actor Frank Finlay dies aged 89", 31 January 2016. Accessed 1 February 2016.
  2. ^ "Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show 1978". YouTube. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021.
  3. ^ Gary Morecambe, Eric Morecambe: Life's Not Hollywood It's Cricklewood. BBC Books, 2004, p. 210.
  4. ^ a b Daily Telegraph.
  5. ^ "Frank Finlay profile". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Family pays tribute to 'loving grandfather' and 'damn fine actor' Frank Finlay". The Bolton News.
  7. ^ Fox, Margalit (6 February 2016). "Frank Finlay, 89, Is Dead; Was Iago to Olivier's Othello". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  8. ^ "Awards listing". Awardsdatabase.oscars.org. Archived from the original on 14 January 2012. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Obituary: Frank Finlay". HeraldScotland. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  10. ^ The Broadway League. "Frank Finlay profile". IBDB.com. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  11. ^ "Beyond Reasonable Doubt". FrankFinlay.Net. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  12. ^ Josephdreams. "Frank Finlay website". Frank Finlay. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  13. ^ "BAFTA Television Awards". Bafta.org. 31 July 2014. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  14. ^ Deborah Ross (24 February 1998). "Interview: Frank Finlay: Getting to over the barbed wire". The Independent. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  15. ^ "No. 49583". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1983. p. 8.
  16. ^ Josephdreams. "Frank Finlay". frankfinlay.net.
  17. ^ a b c d e "Frank Finlay dead: British Oscar-nominated actor who played opposite Olivier dies aged 89". The Independent. 30 January 2016. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  18. ^ "Actor Frank Finlay dies aged 89". BBC News. 30 January 2016. Retrieved 31 January 2016.

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