Vladek Sheybal

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Vladek Sheybal
Sheybal as Kronsteen in From Russia with Love (1963)
Władysław Rudolf Zbigniew Sheybal

(1923-03-12)12 March 1923
Zgierz, Poland
Died16 October 1992(1992-10-16) (aged 69)
Resting placePutney Vale Cemetery, London
51°26′12″N 0°14′34″W / 51.436588°N 0.242655°W / 51.436588; -0.242655
Alma materMerton College, Oxford
OccupationActor, singer
Years active1957–1992

Vladek Sheybal (born Władysław Rudolf Zbigniew Sheybal; 12 March 1923 – 16 October 1992[1]) was a Polish character actor, singer and director of both television and stage productions.[2] He was well known for his portrayal of the chess grandmaster Kronsteen in the James Bond film From Russia with Love (1963), a role for which he had been personally recommended by his friend Sean Connery, and as Otto Leipzig in Smiley's People (1982).[3][4]

He became a naturalised British citizen, but remained "fiercely proud of his homeland and its culture."[2]

Life and career[edit]

Sheybal was born in Zgierz, near Łódź, in the Second Polish Republic.[5] The son of a university professor, he was attracted to acting at an early age.[1] At the age of 16 he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during the occupation of Poland; escaping twice only to be recaptured and subjected to torture as punishment.[1] After World War II ended, he began performing in Polish theatres and cinemas, earning a reputation as a skilled actor.[1] He appeared in the film Kanał (1957, credited as Władysław Sheybal), directed by Andrzej Wajda, before departing for Paris and then Vienna in 1958 owing to his political opposition to the Communist Party.[6][1]

Having difficulty finding work, he immigrated to Britain in 1959 where his reputation from Polish films lent him enough credibility to support himself teaching acting.[6] He was soon appearing on the London stage, and was hired as the director of the Bromley Little Theatre in 1960.[1] That same year he directed a production of Modest Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina at Oxford University.[1] This production was seen by executives of the BBC, and it led to work as a director for opera and theatre adaptations on British television in the early 1960s, including works for ITV Play of the Week in 1961–1962 and as well as productions for the BBC.[1] In 1964 he had a triumphant success on the British stage as "He" in Leonid Andreyev's He Who Gets Slapped at the Hampstead Theatre.[1]

In 1963 he made his British cinema debut playing the evil secret agent Kronsteen in the James Bond film From Russia with Love.[1] He appeared often in villainous roles or character parts in British cinema up until his death in 1992.[6] He also appeared as Holocaust survivor Egon Sobotnik in the television mini-series QB VII.[7] He had a dual role as "the Director" and as Pierre Louys in Ken Russell's The Debussy Film (1965), one of Russell's composer biopics for the BBC.[8] Other Russell films in which he appeared were Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Women in Love (1969) and The Boy Friend (1971).[9]

His other films include Casino Royale (1967), Doppelgänger (1969), The Last Valley, Puppet on a Chain, Innocent Bystanders, The Wind and the Lion, The Lady Vanishes (1979), Fire and Sword and Red Dawn.[10]

Sheybal's other TV credits include Z-Cars, Danger Man, The Troubleshooters, The Saint, The Human Jungle, The Baron, The Champions, Callan, Strange Report, UFO, The New Avengers, Supernatural (1977), Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy, Shōgun, Smiley's People,[11] and The Man in Room 17.

A granite headstone with a cross inscribed on it and a bunch of red and white flowers next to it, among many other gravestones
Sheybal's grave at Putney Vale Cemetery, London, in 2015

In 1977, he won the Dracula Society's prestigious Hamilton Deane Award for his performance in the BBC play Night of the Marionettes, part of the Supernatural series, in which he played a sinister Austrian innkeeper whose life-size puppets supposedly inspired Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.[12][13] Sheybal's final stage appearance was as Friedrich Nietzsche in the Pierre Bourgeade play The Eagle and the Serpent at London's Offstage Downstairs Theatre in 1988.[14]

He died in London in 1992, aged 69, from a ruptured aortic aneurysm. He is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery.[9]

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Obituaries: Vladek Sheybal". The Stage and Television Today. 11 February 1993. p. 29.
  2. ^ a b Flintoff, Ian (30 October 1992). "Vladek Sheybal: A very Polish practitioner". The Guardian. Manchester.
  3. ^ "Home and Bio English - Vladek Sheybal Online". www.vladeksheybal.com.
  4. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Smiley's People (1982)". www.screenonline.org.uk.
  5. ^ "Vladek Sheybal". The Times. London. 16 November 1992.
  6. ^ a b c McFarlane, Brian (16 May 2016). The Encyclopedia of British Film: Fourth edition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9781526111968 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ https://movie-dude.co.uk/[TV]%20'QB%20VII'%20(1974).htm
  8. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Debussy Film, The (1965)". www.screenonline.org.uk.
  9. ^ a b "Vladek Sheybal". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. Retrieved 29 May 2009.
  10. ^ "Vladek Sheybal - Movies and Filmography". AllMovie.
  11. ^ "Vladek Sheybal". www.aveleyman.com.
  12. ^ "The Hamilton Deane Award". www.thedraculasociety.org.uk.
  13. ^ "Night of the Marionettes (1977)". BFI.
  14. ^ "Google Translate". translate.google.com.

External links[edit]