English film, stage, and television actor. In his early career he often played stiff-upper-lip Englishmen, and later portrayed somewhat degenerate upper-class characters. In his first film for Hollywood, King Rat (1965), he was a cynical prisoner. He followed this a year later with the part of the villainous back-street abortionist in Alfie (1966).
Elliott joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (renamed the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961) at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1960, and played Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice, Troilus in Troilus and Cressida, and Valentine in Two Gentlemen of Verona. His stage appearances became less frequent as his film career became more demanding. His con-man aristocrat in Nothing but the Best (1964), instructing Alan Bates how to get into high society, marked a turning point for Elliott, who played many villains in films after this. He also appeared in many TV plays and series, including Bleak House (1987).
Early life Elliott started acting at his Surrey preparatory school, then went on to Malvern College public school, Worcestershire. He studied for a year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London before joining the Royal Air Force Bomber Command at the beginning of World War II. He spent the last three years of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany and acted in a number of camp productions.
Stage career His professional career began with a part in a Victorian melodrama, The Drunkard (1945), at the Amersham Playhouse, Buckinghamshire. His first appearance in London's West End was as a public schoolboy in The Guinea Pig by W Cheetham Strode, at the Criterion Theatre. In 1949 and 1950 he was Edgar, the son of the Duke of Altair, played by Lawrence Olivier, in Christopher Fry's Venus Observed at St James's Theatre. He went to New York later in 1950 to appear in Ring Round the Moon by the French playwright Jean Anouilh. In 1953 he was in T S Eliot's The Confidential Clerk at the Edinburgh Festival and in London.
Film career His first film part was that of a minor civil servant in Dear Mr Prohack (1949); then followed leading roles in The Cruel Sea and The Heart of the Matter (both 1953), and several minor roles until his breakthrough in 1964. Later film roles include the conceited butler in Trading Places (1983), the Fleet Street hack in Defence of the Realm (1985), and Mr Emerson in A Room with a View (1986).
He received the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for best TV actor in 1981 and for best supporting film actor in 1984, 1985, and 1986.
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