British Actor Nigel Davenport Dies at 85

Courtesy Everett Collection
Davenport in the film "Play Dirty" (1969)

He had key roles in two of the greatest British films of all time, "A Man for All Seasons" and "Chariots of Fire."

Nigel Davenport, the veteran British actor who appeared in the Oscar best picture winners A Man for All Seasons and Chariots of Fire during a career that spanned more than a half-century, has died. He was 85.

Davenport died Oct. 25, British newspapers reported Tuesday. No other details were immediately available.

Davenport, a magnetic presence known for his gravelly voice and expressive gaze that came from a lazy right eye, appeared in more than 40 features, on dozens of TV shows and in countless stage productions.

In Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons (1966), Davenport played the powerful Duke of Norfolk, a good friend of the tragic hero Thomas More (portrayed by best actor winner Paul Scofield).

And as a member of the British Olympic Committee, Davenport’s Lord Birkenhead counsels his nation’s track athletes in Chariots of Fire (1981), the inspirational sporting drama that was directed by Hugh Hudson and set during the 1924 Summer Olympics.

Davenport’s big-screen credits also include Return to Sender (1963); A High Wind in Jamaica (1965) with James Colburn and Anthony Quinn; Life at the Top (1965) with Laurence Harvey and Jean Simmons; The Virgin Soldiers (1969) with Lynn Redgrave; Play Dirty (1969) with Michael Caine; as George Adamson in the Born Free sequel Living Free (1972); The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977); and Hudson’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984).

Davenport also was seen on British television in such series as The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Saint, South Riding, Oil Strike North, Don’t Rock the Boat, Howards’ Way and Trainer. He played King George III in the 1979 miniseries Prince Regent.

He was a founding member of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court and appeared onstage in such productions as Relative Values, The Crucible, The Country Wife, Three Sisters, King Lear and Our Betters.

Davenport served from 1986-92 as president of what was then known as the British Actors’ Equity Association, a trade union.

Survivors include his son, actor Jack Davenport from the Pirates of the Caribbean films.