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Monday, 16 April, 2001, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Sir Alec Guinness 'was bisexual'
Sir Alec Guinness
Guinness: Convicted for a "homosexual act" in 1946
Sir Alec Guinness was bisexual, a fact that he managed to keep secret during his lifetime, according to three new biographies.

He was charged with a homosexual act in a public lavatory in 1946, but managed to keep the episode out of the public eye, according to an authorised biography.

When arrested, he gave his name as Herbert Pocket - a character in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations who he was about to play in his screen debut.

Sir Alec Guinness in the Bridge on the River Kwai
Guinness won an Oscar for Bridge on the River Kwai
And his biographers say his bisexuality had "always been known" to family and friends.

Guinness was more successful in keeping his conviction from the newspapers than his friend Sir John Gielgud, who was arrested for soliciting in 1953.

Newspapers quickly got wind of this story, and the headlines are said to have made Gielgud suicidal.

Sheridan Morley, whose authorised biography of Gielgud is released next month, said that if news of Guinness' conviction had come out, "it would have traumatised him".

He said that if the news was published, it could have stifled a career that was then at an early stage.

Sheridan Morley's biography of Sir John Gielgud
Revelations: In Morley's biography of Gielgud
"As a character actor, he was a sort of spy, which made him good at deception in life as well as art," Mr Morley told the Guardian newspaper.

More details of Guinness's sex life will appear in a biography by Garry O'Connor, due out next year, and one by Piers Paul Read.

Guinness married his artist wife Merula in 1938 and the had one child together.

He became one of Britain's best-loved actors after appearing in films including Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars, as well as a host of famous stage roles.

'Escape'

He was knighted in 1960 and died last year.

His biographers have said that his sexual ambiguity was one of the things that made him a great actor.

"He escaped into his acting and the church as comfort," O'Connor told the Sunday Times newspaper.

"The church gave Alec a much needed security from the demons of his sexuality."

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See also:

07 Aug 00 | Entertainment
The shy genius
07 Aug 00 | Entertainment
Sir Alec Guinness dies
07 Aug 00 | Entertainment
A life in pictures: Sir Alec Guinness
06 Apr 01 | Entertainment
Gielgud sale raises over 1m
22 May 00 | Obituaries
Gielgud: A giant among actors
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