I was irrevocably betrothed to laughter, the sound of which has always seemed to me to be the most civilised music in the world.

Actor, writer, director, playwright, raconteur and polyglot, the list of Peter Ustinov's abilities is not a short one.

Peter Alexander Ustinov was born in London on February 16th, 1921 to parents of Russian descent – his paternal grandfather, who was exiled for holding to his protestant faith, was a soldier in the army of the Tsar, and his maternal grandfather was St Petersburg ballet designer Alexandre Benois.

Ustinov was (expensively) educated at Gibbs Preparatory and Westminster schools, before joining the London Theatre Studio, where he made his stage debut at the age of seventeen, and his screen debut two years later, in a short film Hullo Fame although his first appearance in a feature film was as a Dutch priest in One of our Aircraft is Missing in 1942 His first play, House of Regrets, was produced in the same year – not bad progress for a 21-year-old.

Film making was part of Ustinov's military service during World War Two - another part was acting as batman (servant) to Hollywood star David Niven, since, although the two men came from similarly privileged backgrounds, the conscripted Ustinov was a mere Private, while the volunteer, Niven, who'd trained at Sandhurst Military Academy before becoming an actor, reached the lofty heights of Colonel.

It was during the war that he married for the first time, to Isolde Denham, the daughter of actors Reginald Denham and Moyna McGill and half-sister of Angela Lansbury. This marriage was to last ten years, and produced a daughter, Tamara.

After the war, Ustinov kept busy in all his areas of endeavour, writing scripts and plays, directing, and enjoying growing prominence as an actor. Peter always tended to do best in expansive dramatic roles, (almost ham, of truth be told) receiving an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the insane Nero in Quo Vadis? in 1951. This was the start of a golden period in Ustinov's life. His play The Love of Four Colonels, in which he also acted, ran for two years the West End and transferred to Broadway in 1953, where it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.

In 1954 he married his second wife, a Quebecois actress called Suzanne Cloutier. He starred in another of his own plays Romanoff and Juliet, for which he wrote the songs as well as the script, in the late fifties. It was a huge hit both in London, where it won the Evening Standard Best New Play Award, and on Broadway, where it earned Ustinov Tony nominations both as actor and writer.

In fact, there's barely an area of the arts Peter Ustinov did not receive awards for in the fifties and sixties – he won two supporting actor Academy Awards, for his portrayal of the cowardly slave trader Lentulus Batiatus in Spartacus in 1960 and for his performance as a conman conned in 1964's Topkapi. He received Emmys for TV portrayals of Dr Samuel Johnson and Socrates, and a Grammy for his narration on a recording of Tchaikovsky's Peter and the Wolf. He also became the father of three more children, Pavla, Andrea and Igor. Two of his daughters, Tamara and Pavla have gone on to become actors, with Pavla also writing and directing.

One thing he failed to do in the sixties, however, was to star in the phenomenally successful Pink Panther films – he was the first choice for the role of Inspector Clouseau, but he pulled out, leaving the Mirisch Company to cast Peter Sellers and sue Ustinov.

In 1968, he became a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, a responsibility he kept up for the rest of his life.

He was never to experience the same level of success after the sixties, although his claim to have taken on an advertisement for American Express to pay his bill with the company was probably an exaggeration. He divorced from Suzann Cloutier in 1971, and a year later married the woman who was to be his partner until his death, Helene du Lau d'Allemans. Like several of his contemporaries, he moved to Switzerland around this time. During the 1970's he did a significant amount of TV and voice work before taking up the role he played most often on film, and was probably best-known for – Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot – towards the end of the decade. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1975.

In his later years, he earned a considerable reputation as a raconteur and lecturer in many countries, aided by a prodigious talent for languages – he was fluent in French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish as well as English and could get by in Turkish and Greek among others. He was knighted in 1990, became chancellor of Durham University in 1992 and continued write and to work in films and TV right up until 2003. In 1997 he even had a song The night I saved Peter Ustinov written about him by Lauren Christy.

In every area of his life, he seemed to have been well liked and respected. A genuinely amiable and gentle man, he never had a bad word to say about anyone – except critics and 'experts' and then only as a group, not as individuals - and, it seems, nobody had anything bad to say about him.

Peter Ustinov died on 28 March 2004, and is buried in Bursins, Switzerland.



Memed My Hawk (1984)
Hammersmith Is Out (1972)
Lady L (1965)
Billy Budd (1962)
Romanoff and Juliet (1961)
Private Angelo (1949)
Vice Versa (1948)
School for Secrets (1946)


Inside the Vatican (1993) TV Series
Peter Ustinov's Russia: A Personal Journey (1986) TV Series
Memed My Hawk (1984)
Photo Finish: The Race Finished (1977) TV Series
Hot Millions (1968)
Das Leben in meiner Hand (1966) (TV) (play)
Lady L (1965)
Billy Budd (1962)
Romanoff and Juliet (1961)
Spartacus (1960)
Moment of Truth (1955) (TV)
Private Angelo (1949)
Vice Versa (1948)
School for Secrets (1946)
The True Glory (1945)
The Way Ahead (1944)


Winter Solstice (2003) (TV)
Luther (2003)
The Will to Resist (2002)
Salem Witch Trials (2002) TV Series
Victoria & Albert (2001) (TV)
Deutschlandspiel (2000) (TV)
The Bachelor (1999)
Animal Farm (1999) (TV)
Alice in Wonderland (1999) (TV)
Stiff Upper Lips (1998)
The Phoenix and the Carpet (1995)
The Old Curiosity Shop (1995) TV Series
Wings of the Red Star MIG Force (1993) TV Series
Lorenzo's Oil (1992)
The Orchestra (1990) (TV)
C'era un castello con 40 cani (1990)
La Révolution Française (1989)
Around the World in 80 Days (1989) TV Series
Appointment with Death (1988)
Murder in Three Acts (1986) (TV)
Dead Man's Folly (1986) (TV)
Thirteen at Dinner (1985) (TV)
Abgehört (1984) (TV)
Memed My Hawk (1984)
Evil Under the Sun (1982)
Search for Santa Claus (1981)
Grendel Grendel Grendel (1981)
The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981)
Dr. Snuggles (1979) TV Series
Tarka the Otter (1979)
Nous maigrirons ensemble (1979)
Ashanti (1979)
Doppio delitto (1978)
The Thief of Baghdad (1978) (TV)
Death on the Nile (1978)
Winds of Change (1978)
Un taxi mauve (1977)
Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977)
The Mouse and His Child (1977)
Jesus of Nazareth (1977) TV Series
Treasure of Matecumbe (1976)
Logan's Run (1976)
One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1975)
Robin Hood (1973)
Burt Bacharach: Opus No. 3 (1973) (TV)
Clochemerle (1972) TV Series
Hammersmith Is Out (1972)
Gideon (1971) (TV)
A Storm in Summer (1970) (TV)
Viva Max! (1970)
Hot Millions (1968)
Blackbeard's Ghost (1968)
The Comedians (1967)
Barefoot in Athens (1966) (TV)
Lady L (1965)
John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965)
Peaches (1964)
Topkapi (1964)
Billy Budd (1962)
Romanoff and Juliet (1961)
Sundowners (1960)
Spartacus (1960)
Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird (1959)
Un Ángel pasó por Brooklyn (1957)
Les Espions (1957)
I Girovaghi (1956)
The Moment of Truth (1955) (TV)
Lola Montès (1955)
We're No Angels (1955)
Beau Brummell (1954I)
The Egyptian (1954)
Le Plaisir (1952)
Magic Box (1951)
Hotel Sahara (1951)
Quo Vadis? (1951)
Odette (1950)
Private Angelo (1949)
Way Ahead (1944)
Goose Steps Out (1942)
Let the People Sing (1942)
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942)
Hullo Fame (1940

Bibliography: Books, plays, and academic papers/lectures

A Handful of Summers
A Study of Story Telling Humour and Learning in Medicine: 8th H.M.Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Fellowship
Add a Dash of Pity
Dear Me
Families: Celebration and Hope in a World of Change
God and the State Railways
Happiness (Baggs memorial lectures)
Home of Regrets
Life Is an Operetta and Other Short Stories
Monsieur Rene
My Russia
Parallel Cultures: Majority minority Relations in the Countries of the Former Eastern Bloc
Photo Finish
Plays about people
Quotable Ustinov
Romanoff and Juliet
The Ballad of Worple Road
The Comedy Collection
The Disinformer
The frontiers of the sea: Short stories
The Loser
The Love of Four Colonels
The moment of truth: A play in four acts
The Old Man and Mr. Smith
The unknown soldier and his wife: two acts of war separated by a truce
Third Millennium: the Challenge and the Vision: The Club of Budapest Report on Creative Paths for Human Evolution
Ustinov at Large
Ustinov in Russia
Ustinov Still at Large
Ustinov's diplomats
We were only human
Wit of Peter Ustinov

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