Hugh Griffith

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Hugh Griffith
Griffith in 1960
Hugh Emrys Griffith

(1912-05-30)30 May 1912
Died14 May 1980(1980-05-14) (aged 67)
London, England
Resting placeGolders Green Crematorium
Years active1939–1980
Spouse(Adelgunde) Margaret Beatrice von Dechend (m. 1947)
RelativesElen Roger Jones (sister)

Hugh Emrys Griffith (30 May 1912 – 14 May 1980) was a Welsh film, stage, and television actor.[1] He is best remembered for his role in the film Ben-Hur (1959), which earned him critical acclaim and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Some of his other notable credits include Exodus (1960), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), Tom Jones (1963), How to Steal a Million (1966) and Oliver! (1968).

Early life[edit]

Griffith was born in Marian-glas, Anglesey, Wales, the youngest son of Mary and William Griffith.[2] He was educated at Llangefni County School and attempted to gain entrance to university, but failed the English examination. He was then urged to make a career in banking, becoming a bank clerk and transferring to London to be closer to acting opportunities.[3]

Just as he was making progress and gained admission to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, he had to suspend his plans in order to join the British Army, serving for six years with the Royal Welch Fusiliers in India and the Burma Campaign during the Second World War.[3] He resumed his acting career in 1946.


Between 1946 and 1976, Griffith won acclaim for many stage roles, in particular for his portrayals of Falstaff, Lear and Prospero.[3] Griffith performed on both sides of the Atlantic, taking leading roles in London, New York City and Stratford. In 1952, he starred in the Broadway adaption of Legend of Lovers, alongside fellow Welsh actor Richard Burton.[4]

In 1958, he was back in New York, this time taking a lead role in the opening production of Look Homeward, Angel, alongside Anthony Perkins.[5] Both he and Perkins were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.

Griffith began his film career in British films during the late 1940s, and by the 1950s was also working in Hollywood. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Ben-Hur (1959), and was nominated for his performance in Tom Jones (1963). In 1968, he appeared as the magistrate in Oliver!. His later career was often blighted by his chronic alcoholism.[6][7]

He played the funeral director Caradog Lloyd-Evans in the 1978 comedy Grand Slam. While visibly unwell at the time of shooting (years of alcohol abuse had clearly taken their toll), Griffith's portrayal received widespread acclaim and helped the movie attain cult status.[citation needed]

On television, he had major roles in Quatermass II (1955), a miniseries adaptation of A. J. Cronin's The Citadel (1960) and Clochemerle (1972).[citation needed] He also appeared in an episode, 'The Talking Head', of Colonel March Of Scotland Yard.


He received an honorary degree from the University of Wales, Bangor, in 1965.[8]


Griffith, after being unwell for about a year, died in 1980 at his home in Kensington, London,[8] two weeks before his 68th birthday.[9]


Year Title Role Notes
1939 Johnson Was No Gentleman A Footman TV movie
1940 Night Train to Munich Sailor Uncredited
Neutral Port Bit Uncredited
1947 The Wandering Jew Juan de Texeda TV movie
Maria Marten or, the Murder at the Red Barn Ishmael TV movie
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus Mephistophilis TV movie
The Silver Darlings Packman
1948 The Three Weird Sisters Mabli Hughes
So Evil My Love Coroner
The First Gentleman Bishop of Salisbury
A Comedy of Good and Evil The Rev. John Williams TV movie
London Belongs to Me Headlam Fynne
1949 The Last Days of Dolwyn The Minister
Kind Hearts and Coronets Lord High Steward
Doctor Morelle Bensall
A Run for Your Money Huw Price
1950 Gone to Earth Andrew Vessons Significantly changed for the American market, retitled The Wild Heart and released in 1952
1951 The Galloping Major Harold Temple, Process Server
Laughter in Paradise Henry Augustus Russell
1952 The Wild Heart Andrew Vessons
1953 The Titfield Thunderbolt Dan Taylor
The Beggar's Opera The Beggar
Escapade Andrew Deeson TV movie
The Broken Jug Judge Adam TV movie
The Teddy Bear Charley Delaney TV movie
1954 The Million Pound Note Potter Uncredited
The Sleeping Tiger The Inspector
1955 Passage Home Pettigrew
The Merry Christmas Scrooge TV movie
1957 The Good Companions Morton Mitcham
Lucky Jim Professor Welch
1959 Ben-Hur Sheik Ilderim Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Laurel Award for Top Male Supporting Performance (3rd place)
National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor
The Story on Page One Judge Edgar Neilsen
1960 The Citadel Philip Denny TV movie
The Day They Robbed the Bank of England O'Shea
Point of Departure Father TV movie
Exodus Mandria
1962 The Counterfeit Traitor Collins
The Inspector Van der Pink
Term of Trial O'Hara
Mutiny on the Bounty Alexander Smith
1963 Tom Jones Squire Western Laurel Award for Top Male Supporting Performance (5th place)
Nominated-Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated-BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1964 Hide and Seek Wilkins
The Bargee Joe Turnbull
1965 The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders Prison Governor
Treasure Island Short
1966 The Poppy Is Also a Flower Salah Rahman Khan
How to Steal a Million Bonnet
1967 Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad Commodore Roseabove
The Sailor from Gibraltar Llewellyn
On My Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who... Ibn-el-Rascid
Brown Eye, Evil Eye Tadeusz Bridges
1968 Il marito è mio e l'ammazzo quando mi pare Ignazio
Oliver! The Magistrate Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
The Fixer Lebedev
1970 Start the Revolution Without Me King Louis XVI
Cry of the Banshee Mickey
Wuthering Heights Dr. Kenneth
1971 Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? The Pigman/Mr. Harrison
The Abominable Dr. Phibes Rabbi
1972 Dr. Phibes Rises Again Harry Ambrose
The Canterbury Tales Sir January
What? Joseph Noblart
1973 Crescete e moltiplicatevi
The Final Programme Professor Hira
Take Me High Sir Harry Cunningham
1974 Luther John Tetzel
Cugini Carnali Barone di Roccadura Also screened under the names Loving Cousins, Hot and Bothered, and High School Girl
Craze Solicitor
1975 Legend of the Werewolf Maestro Pamponi
1976 The Passover Plot Caiaphas
1977 Casanova & Co. The Caliph
Joseph Andrews Squire Western
The Last Remake of Beau Geste Judge
1978 Grand Slam Caradog Lloyd-Evans TV movie
The Hound of the Baskervilles Frankland
1979 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square Sid Larkin Final film role


  1. ^ Obituary Variety, 21 May 1980.
  2. ^ "Hugh Griffith". BBC Wales Arts. 12 January 2009. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Davies, John; Jenkins, Nigel; Menna, Baines; Lynch, Peredur I., eds. (2008). The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 335. ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6.
  4. ^ "Legend of Lovers". Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  5. ^ "Look Homeward, Angel". Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  6. ^ Biodrowski, Steve (2004). "Dr. Phibes Rises Again". Hollywood Gothique. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  7. ^ Turner, Robin (29 March 2009). "New book tells of Wales' famous boozers". Western Mail. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  8. ^ a b "Griffith, Hugh Emrys (1912–1980)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/55467. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ "Hugh Griffith, Oscar-Winning Actor In 1959 For His Role in 'Ben Hur,' Dies", The Washington Post, digital archives, 15 May 1980, C4. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Retrieved 7 August 2019.

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