January 2, 2017


Alastair Sim (1900-1976) b. Edinburgh, Scotland.

Alastair Sim

Alastair Sim began life as the academic he was often to play on screen. Briefly in the family business of tailoring, he was soon involved in teaching poetic drama, later teaching elocution in his native Edinburgh. In his late twenties he came to London, and friends, seeing him perform in amateur productions, urged him to turn professional. So it was that he made his London West End stage debut at 29. Sim came to the fore with the three popular Inspector Hornleigh (1939) comedy thrillers made between 1938 and 1941, they also marked the first major association between himself and the filmmaking partnership of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, later to give him several of his best roles.

Launder and Gilliat were responsible for making Sim an actor the post-war British public would pay to see when, though fourth-billed, he stole all the notices in their scary comedy-thriller Green for Danger (1947). Sim was a detective investigating the mysterious death of a patient on an operating table, in a hospital threatened with destruction at any moment by flying bombs. Now billed above the title, Sim was the bescarfed author of blood-and-thunder comics in Ealing’s Hue and Cry (1947), and the fake medium in the Launder/Gilliat London Belongs to Me (1948). Next occupied with bringing a successful stage farce, The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), to the screen, the latter filmmakers rightly preserved Margaret Rutherford from the original production, but executed a master-stroke in bringing in Sim as her opposite number, head teachers both. The film was a sneak preview of the St Trinian’s adventures, a sharply comedy about a girls’ school being billeted with a boys’ school, When it came to making a new version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, there was really only one candidate for the lead. Sim remains an imperishable Scrooge (1951), convincing whether in a state of panic over the visitation of ghosts, or expressing childlike glee when converted to the joys of the season.

Sim frequently had audiences eating out of his hand for the next decade, he became a novelist trying to commit a jailworthy offence to inherit money in Laughter in Paradise (1951), doubled as the headmistress and her bookie brother in The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954), dominated An Inspector Calls (1954) as the mysterious title character and was brilliant as one of the world’s least likely assassins in The Green Man (1956). There were no Sim appearances in 1957 and 1958 for filmgoers to savour, apart from the briefest of guest spots as the now-imprisoned headmistress in the first St Trinian’s sequel. At the end of the decade, he supported Ian Carmichael in a couple, Left, Right and Centre (1959) and School for Scoundrels (1960). After an absence from the screen of around ten years, Sim returned as a long-suffering bishop in Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class (1972). He was more genuinely benevolent in his few remaining film roles, but was much missed amid the coarser comedy surging through British film-making of the 1960s and 1970s. He died from cancer a few weeks short of his 76th birthday.

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