- Category : Actor
- Type : PE
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX The Plane 2
Kenneth Gilbert More CBE (20 September 1914 – 12 July 1982) was an English film and stage actor, who had a high profile during the 1950s when he received several international awards and was one of the most popular film stars in the country.
Raised to stardom by the vintage car based film-comedy Genevieve (1953), he appeared in many roles as a carefree, happy-go-lucky gent. His biggest hits from this period include Raising a Riot (1955), Reach for the Sky (1956) and The Admirable Crichton (1958).
His career declined in the early 1960s. However, two of his own favourite films date from this time - The Comedy Man (1964) and the slightly earlier The Greengage Summer (1961) with Susannah York, "one of the happiest films on which I have ever worked." He also enjoyed a revival in the much-acclaimed TV adaptation of The Forsyte Saga (1967) and the Father Brown series.
Kenneth More was born in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, the only son of Charles Gilbert More, a Royal Naval Air Service pilot, and Edith Winifred Watkins, the daughter of a Cardiff solicitor. He was educated at Victoria College, Jersey. He spent part of his childhood in the Channel Islands, where his father was general manager of the Jersey Eastern Railway. After he left school, he followed the family tradition by training as a civil engineer. He gave up his training and worked for a while in Sainsbury's.
When More was 17 his father died, and he applied to join the RAF, but failed the medical test for equilibrium. He went to Canada, intending to work as a fur trapper, but was sent back for lacking immigration papers.
On his return, a family friend, Vivian Van Damm, took him on as assistant manager at the Windmill Theatre, where his job included spotting audience members misbehaving or using opera glasses to look at the nude players during its Revudeville variety shows. He was soon promoted to playing straight man in the Revudeville comedy routines, appearing in his first sketch in August 1935. He played there for a year, which then led to regular work in repertory, including Newcastle, performing in plays such as Burke and Hare and Dracula's Daughter. He continued this work until World War II, during which time he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, seeing active service aboard the cruiser HMS Aurora and the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious, returning to acting in 1946.
On demobilisation he went to work for Wolverhampton repertory, then appeared on stage in the West End in And No Birds Sing (1946), then played Badger in a TV adaptation of Toad of Toad Hall. He was seen by Noël Coward playing a small role on stage in Power Without Glory (1947), which led to being cast in Peace In Our Time (1947).
Around this time, More began appearing in films, starting with a small role in Scott of the Antarctic (1948) for which he was paid ?500. His parts grew larger and he achieved a notable stage success in The Way Things Go (1950) with Ronald Squire, from whom More later claimed he learned his stage technique. Roland Culver recommended More audition for a part in a new play by Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue Sea (1952); he was successful and achieved tremendous critical acclaim in the role of Freddie.
Director Henry Cornelius approached More during the run of The Deep Blue Sea and offered him £3,500 to play one of the four leads in Genevieve (1953). The resulting film was a success at the British box office, as was Doctor in the House (1954), for which More received a BAFTA Award as best newcomer. The Deep Blue Sea was adapted for television in 1954 and seen by an audience of 11 million. More signed a five-year contract with Sir Alexander Korda at £10,000 a year. '
He was now established as one of Britain's biggest stars and Korda announced plans to feature him in two films based on true stories, one about the Transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown in 1919 also featuring Denholm Elliot, and the other Clifton James, the double for Field Marshal Montgomery.The first film was never made and the second (I Was Monty's Double) with another actor. Korda also wanted More to star in a new version of The Four Feathers, Storm Over the Nile (1956) but he turned it down. However More did accept Korda's offer to appear in a film adaptation of The Deep Blue Sea (1955) gaining the Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his performance.
More starred in Raising a Riot (1955), which was a hit. He then received an offer from David Lean to play the lead role in an adaptation of The Wind Cannot Read by Richard Mason. More was unsure about whether the public would accept him in the part and turned it down, a decision he later regarded as "the greatest mistake I ever made professionally". (Lean dropped the project and was not involved in the eventual 1958 film version which starred Dirk Bogarde).
However for the moment More's career continued without any trouble. He played the Royal Air Force fighter ace, Douglas Bader, in Reach for the Sky (1956), which was the most popular British film of the year. By 1956 his asking price was £25,000 a film. He received offers to go to Hollywood but turned them down, unsure his persona would be effective there. However, he started working with American co-stars and directors more often, and negotiated a deal with 20th Century-Fox in association with the Rank Organisation to make three films. In 1957 he stated that:
Hollywood has been hitting two extremes - either a Biblical de Mille spectacular or a Baby Doll. Britain does two other kinds of movie as well as anyone - a certain type of high comedy and a kind of semi-documentary. I believe we (the British film industry) should hit these hard.
He turned down an offer from Roy Ward Baker to play a German POW in The One That Got Away (1957) but agreed to play the lead in the Titanic film for the same director, A Night to Remember (1958). This was the first of a seven-year contract with Rank at a fee of £40,000 a film.
More specialised in likeable, unflappable English heroes ("an air of hectoring confidence ... heroic in a cocky big-brotherly way"), a persona that could in some roles show darker aspects, as with the brash Ambrose Claverhouse in Genevieve and the controlling Crichton in The Admirable Crichton.
Regarding his performance in the latter film, critic David Shipman wrote:
It wasn't just that he had superb comic timing: one could see absolutely why the family trusted their fates to him. No other British actor had come so close to that dependable, reliable quality of the great Hollywood stars - you would trust him through thick and thin. And he was more humorous than, say, Gary Cooper, more down-to-earth than, say, Cary Grant.
In 1957 More had announced that he would play the lead role of a captain caught up in the Indian mutiny in Night Runners of Bengal. While the film was never made, More did appear in another Imperial adventure set in India, North West Frontier (1959).
He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1959 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the Odeon Cinema, Shepherd’s Bush.
In 1960, Rank's Managing Director John Davis gave permission for More to work outside his contract to appear in The Guns of Navarone. More, however, made the mistake of heckling and swearing at Davis at a BAFTA dinner at the Dorchester, losing both the role (which went to David Niven) and his contract with Rank.
For a number of years More remained a significant star in Britain, enjoying notable success with Sink the Bismarck! (1960). However box office receipts started to decline for films such as Man In The Moon (1960) and Some People (1962). He tried to change his image with The Comedy Man (1963) which the public did not like, although it became his favourite role.
His film parts got smaller in the 1960s, with some thinking his popularity declined when he left his wife to live with Angela Douglas. Film writer Andrew Spicer thought that "More's persona was so strongly associated with traditional middle class values that his stardom could not survive the shift towards working class iconoclasts" during that decade.
More appeared in a 35 minute prologue to The Collector (1965) at the special request of director William Wyler however it ended up being removed entirely from the final film. In 1968 he had a supporting role in the realistic war film Dark of the Sun. He made a number of cameos in such war films as The Longest Day (1962), Battle of Britain and Oh! What a Lovely War (both 1969).
More's popularity recovered in the 1960s through West End stage performances and television roles, especially following his success in The Forsyte Saga (1967), and as the title character in ATV's Father Brown (1974). Critic David Shipman said his personal notices for his performance in The Secretary Bird (1968) "must be among the best accorded any light comedian during this century". He also took the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooge (1970). More was the potential replacement for Bernard Lee as M in the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973) when it was not known if an ill Lee would be able to appear.
More was married three times. His first marriage in 1939 to actress Beryl Johnstone (one daughter, Susan, born 1941) ended in divorce in 1946. He married Mabel Edith "Bill" Barkby in 1952 (one daughter, Sarah, born 1954) but left her in 1968 for Angela Douglas, an actress 26 years his junior, causing considerable estrangement from friends and family. He was married to Douglas (whom he nicknamed "Shrimp") from 17 March 1968 until his death.
Kenneth More wrote two autobiographies, Happy Go Lucky (1959) and More or Less (1978). In the second book he related how he had had since childhood a recurrent dream of something akin to a huge wasp descending towards him. During the war he experienced a Nazi Stuka bomber descending in just such a manner. After that he claimed never to have had that dream again. Producer Daniel M. Angel successfully sued More for libel in 1980 over comments made in his second autobiography.
More and Douglas separated for several years during the 1970s but reunited when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The disease made it increasingly difficult for him to work, and his last job was in a US TV adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. In 1981 he wrote that:
Doctors and friends ask me how I feel. How can you define "bloody awful?" My nerves are stretched like a wire; the simplest outing becomes a huge challenge - I have to have Angela's arm to support me most days... my balance or lack of it is probably my biggest problem. My blessings are my memories and we have a few very loyal friends who help us through the bad days... Financially all's well. Thank goodness my wife, who holds nothing of the past over my head, is constantly at my side. Real love never dies. We share a sense of humour which at times is vital. If I have a philosophy it is that life doesn't put everything your way. It takes a little back. I strive to remember the ups rather than the downs. I have a lot of time with my thoughts these days and sometimes they hurt so much I can hardly bear it. However, my friends always associate me with the song: "When You're Smiling..." lt isn't always easy but I'm trying to live up to it.
He died of the disease on 12 July 1982, aged 67, and was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium.
The Kenneth More Theatre, named in his honour, is in Ilford, London.