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Wednesday, 26 December, 2001, 18:08 GMT
Sir Nigel Hawthorne mourned
Sir Nigel Hawthorne
Sir Nigel said acting life was a "struggle for dignity and justification"
Tributes have been paid to distinguished British actor Sir Nigel Hawthorne, who has died aged 72.

He died from a heart attack at 0930 GMT on 26 December at his Hertfordshire home.

Although he had been fighting cancer for the last 18 months, his agent said he had been responding well to treatment and his death had been unexpected.

Ken McReddie, Hawthorne's agent for 30 years, said: "He was a brilliant actor and a wonderful friend.

Margaret Thatcher's fascination was with the games between the elected politician and the unelected official

Sir Bernard Ingham
Mrs Thatcher's former press secretary

"I feel very sad and extremely cut up."

The roles of Sir Humphrey Appleby on television in Yes, Minister and as King George III on the big screen ensured his celebrity across the world.

Derek Fowlds, who played Bernard Woolley in Yes, Minister, described Hawthorne as "a very dear friend and a very loving man" and an acting "giant".

He said: "Sir Humphrey was a wonderful, wonderful creation. I often used to stand there bog-eyed at what he was achieving and what he was doing.


"It was wonderful for me as an actor to just watch him."

Mr Fowlds said he used to joke with Hawthorne at his filmstar status.

"He loved it. He was a truly great actor, apart from being a dear friend.
Hawthorne on stage at the age of 19
By the age of 19, he was set on a performing career

"He was always very supportive and very funny.

"We had great times doing that series and I will remember him for the laughs we had. It was a very special time."

Mr Fowlds added Hawthorne should have won an Oscar for his portrayal of King George, in which "actor, man, everything, came together".


Baroness Margaret Thatcher was a huge fan of the Sir Humphrey character and while prime minister she invited him to tea at Downing Street.

She also performed a three-minute sketch for Yes, Prime Minister.

Sir Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher, said: "It captured the personal agenda of the senior civil servant in any department, who will have his own views as to what should go on.

What are they outing? I've been out forever

Sir Nigel Hawthorne

"Margaret Thatcher's fascination was with the games between the elected politician and the unelected official, who had a very clear concept that his was the way to carry on government.

"She thoroughly enjoyed the exchanges and I'm pretty certain that she enjoyed it especially when Jim Hacker, who was frequently portrayed as thick as two short planks, actually came out on top."

Nigel Hawthorne was a notoriously insecure actor who admitted acting life had been "a struggle for dignity and justification".


After a childhood in South Africa, where his authoritarian father wanted him to forge a military career, he eventually performed minor parts on stage and in television in Britain.

His big break came in 1977 as Sir Humphrey Appleby in a new political TV sitcom Yes, Minister, which earned him four BAFTA awards and made him a household name.

Further success was found on West End and Broadway stages before the title role in The Madness of King George earned him an Oscar nomination and subsequently a knighthood in 1999.
Hawthorne receiving his knighthood at Buckingham Palace
Hawthorne received his knighthood in 1999

But increased tabloid attention focused on his relationship of 20 years with theatre manager Trevor Bentham, and disturbed Hawthorne intensely.

Mr McReddie said: "He felt very, very, very hurt and he could never understand why.

"He said: 'What are they outing? I've been out forever.'"

But Hawthorne relished his late flowering, saying: "I didn't really know who I was, until I was middle-aged."

If his star burned late, it burned brightly. For an actor equally at home in comedy and tragedy, he brought depth and humanity to both.

Actor Derek Fowlds
remembers his friend and colleague in Yes Minister

Tell us your memories of one of Britain's most respected actorsYour tributes
Actor Sir Nigel Hawthorne: 1929 - 2001
See also:

26 Dec 01 | TV and Radio
Hawthorne's late blooming career
24 Feb 99 | Entertainment
Knighthood for Sir Humphrey
26 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
Hindi makeover for Yes Minister
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