Jonathan Cecil

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Jonathan Cecil
Jonathan Cecil.jpg
Jonathan Hugh Gascoyne-Cecil

(1939-02-22)22 February 1939
Died22 September 2011(2011-09-22) (aged 72)
Cause of deathPneumonia
Years active1963–2011
Spouse(s)Vivien Heilbron 1963 [1]
Anna Sharkey 1976-2011; his death

Jonathan Hugh Gascoyne-Cecil (22 February 1939 – 22 September 2011), more commonly known as Jonathan Cecil, was an English theatre, film and television actor.

Early life[edit]

Cecil was born in London, England, the son of Lord David Cecil and the grandson of The 4th Marquess of Salisbury.[1] His other grandfather was the literary critic Sir Desmond MacCarthy. He was the great-grandson of former Conservative Prime Minister The 3rd Marquess of Salisbury.

Brought up at Oxford, where his father was Goldsmith Professor of English, he was educated at Eton, where he played small parts in school plays and at New College, Oxford, where he read modern languages, specialising in French and continued with amateur dramatics.[2][3]

At Oxford, his friends included Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett.[4] In a production of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, he played a lunatic called Troubadour and a woman who sells pigs.[3] Of his early acting at Oxford, Cecil said

I was still stiff and awkward, but this was rather effective for comedy parts, playing sort of comic servants in plays, and in the cabaret nights we had.[3]

After Oxford, he spent two years training for an acting career at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, where he was taught by (among others) Michael MacOwan and Vivian Matalon and where his contemporaries included Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi.[3]


Cecil's first television appearance was in playing a leading role opposite Vanessa Redgrave in "Maggie", an episode of the BBC television series First Night transmitted in February 1964, which he later called "a baptism by fire because I was being seen by half the nation". After that he spent eighteen months in repertory at Salisbury, of which he later commented, "You learnt how to make an entrance and make an exit." His parts at Salisbury included the Dauphin in Saint Joan, Disraeli in Portrait of a Queen, Trinculo in The Tempest, and "all the Shakespeare".[3]

His first West End part came in May 1965 in Julian Mitchell's dramatisation of A Heritage and Its History at the Phoenix, in which he got good notices, and his next was in a Beaumont production of Peter Ustinov's Half-Way up the Tree, directed by Sir John Gielgud.[3]

In film and television, Cecil almost always played upper class English characters. His screen work included the roles of Cummings in The Diary of a Nobody (1964), Captain Cadbury in the Dad's Army episode Things that Go Bump in the Night (1973), Bertie Wooster in Thank You, P.G. Wodehouse (1981), Ricotin in Federico Fellini's And the Ship Sails On (1983), and Captain Hastings (to Peter Ustinov's Hercule Poirot) in Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Dead Man's Folly and Murder in Three Acts (both 1986).[5] He has been called "one of the finest upper-class-twits of his era".[2] In 2009 he appeared in an episode of Midsomer Murders.[5]

He also worked in radio, where his credits included The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Brightonomicon. He also appeared in The Next Programme Follows Almost Immediately, playing characters with very bad foreign accents. Additionally, he stood in for Derek Nimmo in the role of the Bishop's Chaplain, the Reverend Mervyn Noote, in the second series of the radio episodes of the ecclesiastical sitcom All Gas and Gaiters, which ran for twenty episodes.

He narrated audio books of many of P.G. Wodehouse's books, performing voice characterisations for each character, and becoming possibly the most known narrator to ever perform the series.

Cecil wrote occasionally for The Spectator and The Times Literary Supplement. In one piece he noted

Handsome young male actors of the older school have tended, in my experience, to be somewhat vapid and vain. I write this in no spirit of envy — comic and character actors, like proverbial blondes, usually have more fun.[6]

He also admitted that "... most of my experience has been in comedy, that’s the way life has taken me ... if I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t do parts with more depth".[3]


Cecil died from pneumonia on 22 September 2011 at Charing Cross Hospital in London, aged 72. He had suffered from emphysema.[7][8]



  1. ^ Jonathan Hugh Gascoyne-Cecil at
  2. ^ a b Robert Gore-Langton, Floreat Etona (actors) from The Spectator dated 8 July 2006, online
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Interview with Jonathan Cecil at
  4. ^ "Jonathan Cecil". The Daily Telegraph. London. 24 November 2011.
  5. ^ a b Jonathan Cecil on IMDb
  6. ^ Jonathan Cecil, A modest triumph Archived 25 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine dated 13 November 2004, from The Spectator online
  7. ^ Michael Billington (25 September 2011). "Jonathan Cecil obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
  8. ^ "Jonathan Cecil Obituary". The Times. Retrieved 22 September 2011.

External links[edit]