January 2, 2017


Lionel Jeffries (1926-2010) b. London, England.

Lionel Jeffries

Lionel Jeffries was born in London on 10th June 1926. Both his parents were members of the Salvation Army and worked with poor people in London’s East End. He was educated at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Wimborne, Dorset. During World War II he served in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry in Burma and as a member of the Royal West African Frontier Force. He also lost his hair at the same time, a result, he said, of sweating in the humidity of the Far East. After being demobbed, Jeffries studied at RADA and started his acting career in repertory theatre in Lichfield, making his film debut in 1950. Two years later came Jeffries’s first major role, alongside Sir John Mills and Eric Portman in The Colditz Story (1955).

During the 1950s, he appeared in films like Bhowani Junction (1956), Doctor at Large (1957), The Vicious Circle (1957) and Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1957) before excelling as the instantly dislikeable Marquis of Queensbury in The Trials of Oscar Wilde in 1960. Often the bumbling fool, he turned in excellent supporting performances opposite Peter Sellers as the exasperated prison warder in Two Way Stretch (1960) and the frustrated police inspector in The Wrong Arm of the Law (1962). But it was as Grandpa Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) that he will perhaps be best remembered.

In 1970, Jeffries directed and wrote the screenplay for the enchanting film version of Edith Nesbit’s Edwardian novel The Railway Children (1970). The movie proved a huge success and remains a perennial Christmas favourite. Following its success, Jefferies was inspired him to make more period films with similar warmth and simplicity, but The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972), Wombling Free (1977) and The Water Babies (1978) failed to reach the heights of his directorial debut. In television, Jeffries worked in sitcoms like Tom, Dick and Harriet as well as and the series All for Love and Shillingbury Tales.

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