Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Guinness, Sir Alec from Philip's Encyclopedia

British actor. He is best-known for his film performances in the Ealing Studios comedies, such as Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955). He won an Academy Award for best actor in Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Other films include Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), Star Wars (1977), A Passage to India (1984), and Little Dorrit (1988). He was knighted in 1959.


Summary Article: Guinness, Sir Alec
from Chambers Biographical Dictionary

1914-2000

English actor

Born in London, he worked briefly as a junior copywriter for an advertising firm before training to become an actor at the Fay Compton Studio of Dramatic Art. He made his stage debut in Libel (1934). He appeared as Osric in John Gielgud's production of Hamlet (1934-35) and joined the Old Vic in 1936, where he played Hamlet (1938). He rejoined the company in 1946 after serving in the Royal Navy throughout World War II. He made his film debut as an extra in Evensong (1934) but began his cinema career in earnest with the Dickens adaptations Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948). Long associated with Ealing Studios, his many comic triumphs include Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955). He received a Best Actor Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and an Honorary Award for lifetime achievement in 1980. Other films include Tunes of Glory (1960), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Star Wars (1977) and Little Dorrit (1988). Although infrequent, his many distinguished stage performances include The Cocktail Party (1949-50), Ross (1960), Dylan (1964), Macbeth (1966), A Voyage Round My Father (1971), The Old Country (1977) and A Walk in the Woods (1989). His television work includes two BAFTA-winning appearances as inscrutable spycatcher George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) and Smiley's People (1982) as well as Foreign Field (1993). He was knighted in 1959 and published the autobiographies Blessings in Disguise (1985) and My Name Escapes Me (1996) and A Positively Final Appearance (1999).

  • Read, Piers Paul Alec Guinness: The Authorised Biography (2003).
© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2011

Related Articles


Full text Article Guinness, Alec (1914 - )
The Cambridge Guide to Theatre

Guinness's first stage appearance was in 1934, and in 1936 he joined the Old Vic theatre, playing various classic roles...

Full text Article Guinness, Sir Alec (1914-2000)
Chambers Film Factfinder

English, born in Marylebone, London. A student at the Fay Compton Studio of Dramatic Art, he made his film debut in Evensong (1933) but...

Full text Article Guinness, Sir Alec (1914 - 2000)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

He established his reputation as a stage actor in the late 1930s and played Hamlet in modern dress in 1938. After World War...

See more from Credo