Actor who was on cusp of stardom in 'Young Winston' but had little appetite for fame
SIMON WARD, who has died aged 70, was tipped as one of the rising young actors of his generation when, in 1972, he achieved overnight stardom for his portrayal of Churchill in the film Young Winston; that he never fulfiled this promise was probably due to his diffidence and a certain lack of ambition.
Relatively unknown when he landed the role, Ward won high praise for his performance, playing Churchill between the ages of 17 and 27, and also supplied the voice-over narration. He was nominated for 'New Male Star of the Year' by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
His success in Young Winston led to roles in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973); as the Duke of Buckingham in Richard Lester's The Four Musketeers (1974); Aces High (1976), in which he was a fighter pilot; and Zulu Dawn (1979), about the Battle of Isandlwana. He also played, in 1975, the vet James Herriot in a television film of All Creatures Great and Small.
But Ward never really capitalised on his success as Churchill: "I knew I wasn't going to hack it in Hollywood because I didn't look right for American movies," he reflected in 2000. "I would have ended up playing depressed gay marquesses. I was too young for the butler. I was not craggy enough for the conventional leading man. My nose was not big enough -- you need a big nose."
More to the point, perhaps, Ward appeared to have no real appetite for stardom, admitting: "I've never desperately wanted anything, neither fame nor riches." In the event, he earned his living mainly in the theatre and television, and worried about money.
The son of a car salesman, Simon Ward was born at Beckenham, Kent, on October 19 1941, and educated at Alleyn's School, Dulwich. Aged 13, he joined the National Youth Theatre, and he later trained at Rada, where he shared a room with his good friend, Anthony Hopkins. His first professional stage appearance was in 1963 at Northampton Rep, as Freddy in Hobson's Choice. His break came in 1967 when he took the lead in Joe Orton's play Loot.
More good theatre roles followed, including Laertes in the National Theatre's Hamlet in 1975 and Troilus in Troilus and Cressida at the Young Vic. In 1987, however, when he was appearing at the Savoy theatre in William Douglas-Home's comedy Portraits, Ward was mysteriously struck on the head near his Hampstead home. At first he was unaware that he had suffered multiple skull fractures, and for three days continued to appear on stage. In his role as Field Marshal Montgomery, he noticed that his beret was getting tighter. He realised: "If my beret isn't smaller, my head must be bigger."
Ward's last stage role was in late 2010, as the king in Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III, with the Original Theatre Company. Although in poor health, he toured all over England, never missing a performance. He also continued to appear on television
In 1997, Ward's daughter, the actress and former model Sophie, who was married with two children, publicly announced that she was a lesbian. "The biggest surprise was that (my wife and I) didn't know. If you have shocks in your life -- and this was a shock -- you have to decide how to cope. You say: this is our child whom we adore and admire. . . The only response is: 'If this is what you say, darling, then that, of course, is how it must be'."
Simon Ward, who died on July 20, is survived by his wife, Alexandra, and their three daughters.