Trevor Howard

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This article is about the actor. For the football player, see Trevor Howard (footballer).
Trevor Howard
Trevor Howard Allan Warren.jpg
Born Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith
(1913-09-29)29 September 1913
Cliftonville, Kent, England, UK
Died 7 January 1988(1988-01-07) (aged 74)
Arkley, Barnet, Hertfordshire, England, UK
Resting place Saint Peter's Church, Arkley
Occupation Actor
Years active 1934–88
Spouse(s) Helen Cherry (1944-88)

Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith (29 September 1913 – 7 January 1988), known as Trevor Howard, was an English actor. After varied stage work, he achieved wide acclaim in the film of Noël Coward's Brief Encounter (1945), followed by The Third Man (1949). This led to many popular appearances on film and TV. His distinguished war record is claimed to have been fabricated.

Early life[edit]

Howard was born in Cliftonville, Kent, England. He was educated at Clifton College (to which he left in his will a substantial legacy for a drama scholarship) and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), acting on the London stage for several years before World War II. His first paid work was in the play Revolt in a Reformatory (1934), before he left RADA in 1935 to take small roles.

Although stories of his courageous wartime service in the Royal Corps of Signals earned him much respect among fellow actors and fans alike, files held in the Public Record Office reveal that he had actually been discharged from the Army in 1943 for mental instability and having a "psychopathic personality". The story, which surfaced in Terence Pettigrew's biography of the actor, published by Peter Owen in 2001, was initially denied by Howard's widow, Helen Cherry. Later, confronted with official records, she told the Daily Telegraph (24 June 2001) that his mother had claimed he was a holder of the Military Cross. She added that Howard had an honourable military record and "had nothing to be ashamed of".[1]

Acting career[edit]

After a theatrical role in The Recruiting Officer (1943) Howard began working in films with The Way Ahead (1944). His role in The Way Ahead came to the attention of David Lean, who was looking for someone to play the role of Alec in Brief Encounter. Lean recommended him to Noël Coward, who agreed with the suggestion, and the success of the film launched Howard's film career. However, The Passionate Friends, in which Howard played a character similar to Alec, was not as successful.

The Third Man (1949), in which Howard played the slightly dry, slightly crusty, but capable British military officer Major Calloway, secured his reputation. During filming in Vienna Howard visited the fairground, which was, at that time, under the jurisdiction of the Soviet military, where, still wearing the uniform of a British Army Major, he was promptly arrested. He was returned to the British military police's Special Investigation Branch after his true identity was ascertained.

Howard also starred in The Key (1958, based on a novel by Jan de Hartog), for which he received the Best Actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and in Sons and Lovers (1960), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Another notable film was The Heart of the Matter (1953), which, like The Third Man, was based on a story by Graham Greene.

Over time Howard shifted to being a character actor. His later work included such films as Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), Father Goose (1964), Morituri (1965), Von Ryan's Express (1965), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Battle of Britain (1969), Ryan's Daughter (1970), Superman (1978), and Gandhi (1982).

By the time of filming White Mischief on location in Kenya in 1987, Howard was seriously ill from alcoholism. The company wanted to fire him, but co-star Sarah Miles was determined that Howard's distinguished film career would not end that way. In an interview with Terence Pettigrew for his biography of Howard, she describes how she gave an ultimatum to the executives, threatening to quit the production if they got rid of him.[2]

The Dawning (1988) was his final film. One of his strangest films, and one he took great delight in, was Vivian Stanshall's Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (1980), in which he played the title role. His wife, Helen Cherry, starred with him in the film 11 Harrowhouse (1974).

While continuing to work in films and occasionally in stage plays, Howard also found work in television, winning an Emmy award for his role as the title figure in The Invincible Mr Disraeli (1963) and being nominated for another Emmy for The Count of Monte Cristo (1975), in which he played Abbé Faria.

Howard declined the award of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1982.

Throughout his film career Howard insisted that all his contracts include a clause excusing him from work whenever a cricket Test Match was being played.[3]


He died on 7 January 1988 from hepatic failure and cirrhosis of the liver in Arkley, Barnet, aged 74, and was survived by his widow Helen. [4]


Howard left behind just two Shakespeare performances, the first, recorded in the 1960s, was as Petruchio opposite Margaret Leighton's Kate in Caedmon Records' complete recording of The Taming of the Shrew; the second was in the title role of King Lear for the BBC World Service in 1986.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Howard was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for Sons and Lovers (1960). He won one BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Key (1958) and was nominated four more times. He won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie for Hallmark Hall of Fame: Invincible Mr. Disraeli in 1963 and received two other nominations, one as a lead and the other as a supporting actor. He also got three Golden Globe Award nominations.

A British government document leaked to the Sunday Times in 2003 shows that Howard was among almost 300 celebrities to decline honours.[5]


Box office ranking in Britain[edit]

For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted him among the top ten British stars at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.

  • 1947 – 10th[6]
  • 1950 – 2nd[7]
  • 1951 – 5th (11th overall)[8]
  • 1952 – 9th[9]


  1. ^ Rachel Williams (3 March 2008). "A CV that proved a recipe for disaster – US channel axes British celebrity chef / The other pork pies". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ Terence Pettigrew Trevor Howard: A Personal Biography, London: Peter Owen, 2001, p.149
  3. ^ "The Passionate Lives of Trevor Howard". Ottawa Citizen. 17 February 1961. 
  4. ^ Pettigrew Trevor Howard: A Personal Biography, London: Peter Owen, 2001, p.245
  5. ^ "No Sir! Stars who refused honors". CNN. 21 December 2003. Retrieved 21 September 2009. 
  6. ^ 'Bing's Lucky Number: Pa Crosby Dons 4th B.O. Crown', The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C] 03 Jan 1948: 12.
  7. ^ "Hope tops list for popularity.". The Mail (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 30 December 1950. p. 5 Supplement: Sunday Magazine. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  8. ^ "Vivien Leigh Actress of the Year.". Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld.: National Library of Australia). 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  9. ^ "COMEDIAN TOPS FILM POLL.". The Sunday Herald (Sydney: National Library of Australia). 28 December 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 

References and sources[edit]

External links[edit]