• 29 September 1933
  •  London, England, UK

James Villiers


Character actor James Villiers was of an aristocratic background - you could half tell, not only from his sardonic looks and precisely modulated voice, but from the roles he played. More often than not, he was typecast as a snobbish, supercilious upper-class twit, effete weakling or comic second-string villain. A graduate of RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), his first major appearance on stage was in a 1954 West End production of "Toad of Toad Hall". During the following years, he expanded his repertoire at the Old Vic with performances of William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" and "Richard III", also touring on Broadway. During his extensive theatrical career, he acted in plays by Noël Coward (including a critically-acclaimed performance in "Private Lives" in 1972), Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, and, just prior to his death, played "Mr. Brownlow" in "Oliver!" at the London Palladium. In the 1960's, James Villiers was featured in several films by Joseph Losey, most notably These Are the Damned (1962). One of his most convincing roles was as one of the parents of a 10-year old boy threatened by a homicidal Bette Davis in The Nanny (1965). He was also featured in several horror movies, such as Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971) and the Amicus production of Asylum (1972), reverting to his best plummy-voiced form. On television, he was perfectly cast as "Professor Higgins" in BBC Play of the Month: Pygmalion (1973); a 1973 adaptation which co-starred Lynn Redgrave as "Eliza Doolittle". One of his earlier successes was in the 1969 BBC period drama, The First Churchills (1969), in the part of "King Charles II" (whom he was said to have resembled). One of the most British of actors, Villiers died of cancer in West Sussex in January 1998.