Nigel Dawson

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Nigel Dawson CBE
Born Nigel Lionel Dawson
Template:Birth date[1]
Exeter, Devon, England
Died Template:Death date and age
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
Cause of death Colorectal cancer
Nationality British
Occupation Actor
Years active 1952–1996
Spouse(s) Jean Bartlett (1964–1984)
(Divorced) 7 children
Partner(s) Grace Tiller (1984–2000)
(Her death)

Nigel Lionel Dawson CBE (December 23, 1926 — October 15, 2002)[1] was an English actor. After achieving success in film with starring roles in films such as The Strenuous Tide (1960), Dawson launched himself into a successful career in television: first he played French secret agent Linus Claudius Lamont in The Impossible Spy (1963–1968) and maverick detective John Wormwood in The Wormwood Files (1971–1981); for the prior he received two BAFTA Award nominations and for the latter he received three Primetime Emmy Award nominations and two Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.

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Early life

Born Nigel Lionel Dawson in Exeter, Devon, Dawson was the son of Royal Air Force flight captain John Dawson (1898—1960) and his wife Angela (née Saxby; 1902—1982). He had two elder brothers Desmond (1919—1984) and Robert (1921—2011). Dawson resided with his family in Exeter from birth until 1939, when he was thirteen-years-old, he moved with his parents and brothers to Paris after his father was dispatched to the Battle of France. In 1940 Dawson returned to England alone to complete his education, staying with his aunty Jean in Redruth, Cornwall.

After leaving school in mid-1944, a 17-year-old Dawson moved to Edinburgh, Scotland to study law at the Queen Margaret University. While studying law he took a part-time as a lighting designer at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal. Whilst working there Dawson was allowed to watch theatrical productions by the theatre for free. Fascinated by the dramatic arts portrayed there, Dawson considered enrolling at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow during 1947, but chose to complete his course in law first. In 1949 Dawson left the Queen Margaret University with a degree in law and later that same year he attempted to enroll at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. However Dawson was rejected by the academy due to him already possessing a degree in law. Subsequently during mid-1950 Dawson moved to a house in Whitechapel, London and enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he remained for the following two years.

Career

Early stage and screen roles

Having left RADA during 1952, Dawson's early career consisted mainly of onstage appearances. His career as a professional actor began with the Royal National Theatre in productions of Shakespeare classics Othello, Hamlet and The Tempest. After establishing himself as a Shakespearean theatrical actor he moved to Stratford-upon-Avon to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing in nearly forth productions by the theatre.

Between the mid to late-1950s Dawson began to make the transition into screen roles. Having already made his film debut as a background character in the 1953 film The Captain's Paradise, between 1956 and 1958 Dawson appeared in television shows such as Dixon of Dock Green, Hancock's Half Hour, Armchair Theatre, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Crackerjack, The Army Game, The Adventures of Aggie, Living It Up, The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, Quatermass and the Pit and Six-Five Special.

Cinematic breakthrough

After making his second big screen appearance with a small part in the 1957 film The Admirable Crichton, Dawson had a prominent part with a supporting role in the 1958 film Carve Her Name with Pride. Two years later, after a further few television appearances, Dawson starred in the British mystery crime film The Strenuous Tide (1960), playing the rebellious yet admirable detective Jack Catherton. The film turned Dawson into a household name and he went onto star in the 1962 film Neighbourhood Watch and play supporting roles in the films The Angry Silence (1960) opposite Richard Attenborough and Billy Liar (1963) opposite Tom Courtenay.

Television successes

The Impossible Spy

Dawson's sudden upsurge in cinematic success soon got him recognized by several acting promoters across the United Kingdom. In December 1962 Dawson was approached by television producer Ken HutchinsonTemplate:Disambiguation needed to play French secret agent Linus Claudius Lamont in the new-to-ITV spy thriller series The Impossibly Spy. Hutchinson admired Dawson's versatility as an actor, skills as a stuntman and ability to identify with the characters in the scripts. After having him screen tested for the role Hutchinson cast Dawson as Lamont. Filming began in February 1963 and the first series was broadcast between 11 May and 29 June 1963. One of Dawson's co-stars was his future wife Jean Bartlett whom co-starred alongside him in the first and second series. Dawson and Bartlett's off screen relationship and the subsequent media coverage of their liaison helped with the promotion of the series.

Six series of the program were broadcast between 1963 and 1968. Dawson won received two nominations for a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1964 and 1966, going onto win the latter nomination. During the broadcasting of the series Dawson continued to altercate into other roles, appearing in episodes of The Avengers (1964) and The Frost Report (1966) and appearing as Brigadier Charles Manson in the 1964 film Zulu.

By the time of the show's cancellation in 1968, Dawson had become one of the highest paid British television actors of the 1960s and had gained him international acclaim. Outside of the United Kingdom, Dawson became particularly popular in the United States. The role lead to him being approached by Albert R. Broccoli to play James Bond in the next installment to the series On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), but he turned it down and George Lazenby was instead cast. Instead Dawson appeared in a different film released that year, playing romantic aristocrat Brett Morrison in Body Language, a role that won him an Academy Award nomination. That year he also played Francois Di Vincenzo in The Assassination Bureau. Dawson however regretted turning down the role of Bond and later asked to audition for the part again for the 1977 installment The Spy Who Loved Me, but was rejected due to his age, which at that time was 51.

The Wormwood Files

Subsequent to his work in The Impossibly Spy, Dawson had become a well known actor around the world. In 1971 Dawson was approached by American television producer Michael BurtonTemplate:Disambiguation needed and offered the role of maverick detective John Wormwood in the upcoming CBS crime thriller series The Wormwood Files. Dawson was reluctant at first as he wished to further his career in cinema, but eventually agreed to be screen tested for the role. Once again Dawson's persona, appearance and skills as a stuntman won him the role. Filming for the role began just two days after he was screen tested for the role. Three seasons of the show were commissioned on CBS between 1971 and 1973. The series transferred over to HBO for the next eight seasons between 1974 and 1981.

The Wormwood Files brought Dawson more critical and commercial success than The Impossible Spy, partly due to the nation in which it was filmed and screen: the United States. Dawson received three Primetime Emmy Award nominations in 1976, 1980 and 1982 and two Screen Actors Guild Award nominations in 1976 and 1980 for the role. However behind the scenes there was much altercations between Dawson and series producers; Dawson felt that he was over committed to the series and felt unable to alternate between playing John Wormwood and roles in other media. He only managed to appear in three other television shows, making appearances in M*A*S*H (1976), Kojak (1976) and Crown Court (1980) and managed to further his film career with appearances in only two films: The First Great Train Robbery (1979) and Eye of the Needle (1981). Dawson was forced to turn down roles in many films and television series due to his commitment to the series, and due to this fact he demanded a higher salary for his commitment. When The Wormwood Files ended in 1981 following ten season, Dawson vowed never to act in a mainstream television series again.

Later and final projects

After The Wormwood Files was cancelled in 1981, Dawson hoped to further his film career. However he found himself turning down many film roles to avoid being typecast, with John Wormwood continuing to overshadow his career. However he did manage to make prominent appearances in commercially successful films such as Brazil (1985) and The Hunt for Red October (1990). However arguably his most successful role since ending his contract to CBS was that of Saint Joseph in Martin Scorsese's controversial motion picture The Last Temptation of Christ (1988); he won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role.

As his career entered the 1990s Dawson began appearing in television shows once again, appearing in shows such as Boon, Jeeves and Wooster, Lovejoy, Soldier Soldier, London's Burning, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, NYPD Blue, Evening Shade, Birds of a Feather and ER. In 1995 Dawson made his first cinematic appearance in five years, but also his last film role before his retirement; he played George Haskins in Latter Day Lover Boy, a man who after being diagnosed with a terminal illness decided to find a soul mate after being a bachelor his entire life. In 1996 he made his final two screen roles with appearances in Only Fools and Horses and Casualty. He announced his retirement from the acting industry in December 1996, whilst celebrating his 70th birthday.

Awards and accolades

Title Year Award Result Format
Won Nominated
The Impossibly Spy 1964 BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role Template:Y Television series
1966 Template:Y
Body Language 1969 Academy Award for Best Actor Template:Y Feature film
The Wormwood Files 1976 Emmy Award for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Template:Y Television series
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Template:Y
1980 Emmy Award for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Template:Y
1981 Template:Y
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Template:Y
The Last Temptation of Christ 1988 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor Template:Y Feature film

Personal life

Dawson was married once to American actress Jean Bartlett, who was his co-star on The Impossibly Spy. Dawson and Bartlett began their relationship upon meeting when filming began on the series in February 1963. Dawson proposed to Bartlett in January 1964 and they married on Valentine's Day that year. The couple were married for twenty years, during which time they had seven children: Paul Thomas (b. 30 May 1965); John Nigel (b. 12 September 1967); Cassandra Ann (born 31 December 1968); David George (b. 16 December 1970); twins Lionel Bruce and Louisa Jean (b. 24 June 1972); and Emily Rose (b. 8 August 1975). During 1984 the couple divorced after twenty years after marrying and maintained a close relationship following their divorce.

Shortly after divorcing Bartlett, Dawson began a romantic relationship with Grace Tiller, an old childhood sweetheart whom he had had a relationship with whilst living in Redruth. The couple had a sixteen year relationship between 1984 and 2000. Around August 1999 Tiller developed ovarian cancer and died from the illness on 8 November 2000, aged 72, little under two years before Dawson himself died of cancer.

In 1975 Dawson underwent heart surgery for a irregular heartbeat, and had a pacemaker fitted. He made a full recovery.

During his lifetime Dawson owned a number of automobiles, and cited that his favorites were the Aston Martin DB5 and the Ferrari 250. He was also known to have owned at least two motorcycles — a Triumph Tiger T110 (which was used by his character in The Impossible Spy on three occasions) and a Suzuki DR-Z400 — and at one point he also owned the De Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter, a floatplane that he kept stationed at his holiday home in the Caribbean Islands.

He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire at the 1990 Birthday Honours for services to stage and screen.

Illness and death

On 14 July 2002 Dawson was taken to hospital suffering from severe pain in his lower abdomen that he had experiencing for nearly a week. Tests determined the source of the pain to be a malignant tumour that had developed on his bowel and metastasized to his livers and prostate. Despite being told that the cancer was inoperable Dawson chose to undergo a major operation to have part of his bowel removed in order to prolong his life expectancy. He went public with his illness during an interview on BBC News on 29 August 2002, stating that "he felt he'd lived a full enough life" and that he was "still happy and content with how his life had gone".[2][3] On 13 October 2002 whilst preparing to carry out the operation surgeons discovered that the cancer had spread through Dawson's bloodstream to his brain, kidneys and bladder. With these organs as well as his bowel, livers and prostate now all cancer stricken, surgeons found they were unable to operate. Dawson died at the hospital in Kansas City, Missouri two days later from multiple organ failure, surrounded by his seven children. He was 75.[1][4][5]

Dawson's body was taken back to England for a private funeral service at his childhood home in Exeter, Devon. He is buried at Higher Cemetery, Exeter, beside his partner of sixteen years Grace Tiller. He is survived by his seven children Paul, John, Cassandra, David, Lionel, Louisa and Emily.

Filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1953 The Captain's Paradise Uncredited
1957 The Admirable Crichton Hugo
1958 Carve Her Name with Pride Terrence Lauder
1960 The Strenuous Tide Jack Catherton
The Angry Silence Frank Powell
1962 Neighbourhood Watch Lester Maynard
1963 Billy Liar Noakes
1964 Zulu Brigadier Charles Manson
1969 Body Language Brett Morrison Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
The Assassination Bureau François Di Vincenzo
1979 The First Great Train Robbery Ernest Browning
1981 Eye of the Needle Curtis Saab
1982 The Draughtsman's Contract Morgan
1985 Brazil Roy Sheridan
1986 Absolute Beginners Milton
Caravaggio Roberto
1988 The Last Temptation of Christ Saint Joseph Nominated — New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
1990 The Hunt for Red October Commander Jedediah Ellison
1995 Latter Day Lover Boy Tom Burton Final film role

Television

Year Title Role Notes
1956 Dixon of Dock Green (1 episode) Taxi driver Uncredited
Hancock's Half Hour (4 episodes) Brett
Armchair Theatre (2 episodes) Fred Fishbone
The Adventures of Robin Hood (5 episodes) Sir Guy of Gisbourne
Crackerjack (1 episode) Himself
1957 The Army Game (2 episodes) Lieutenant Colonel Frank Sands
The Adventures of Aggie (1 episode) Roger
Living It Up (1 episode) Norman
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (7 episodes) Sir Gawain
1958 Quatermass and the Pit (2 episodes) Doctor Shearman
Six-Five Special (1 episode) Himself Uncredited
1960 As the World Turns (6 episodes) Tom Prescillo
Men into Space (1 episode) Senator Curt Burgundy
Danger Man (2 episodes) Herman Krebb

References

External links

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