Who was Kenneth More? A journey into the life of the much-loved actor
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
A number of lifetimes poured into one well-lived life. Most will have heard of Kenneth More CBE, and many will be familiar with the Ilford theatre that bears his name.
But behind that is a nagging sense that the BAFTA award-winning actor is still not remembered with the reverence his cultural success warrants.
Whatever the reason for this - and there are a few mooted - there is no doubt that he lived a life worth knowing about.
So who was Kenneth More?
Thanks to a recently-released book by Nick Pourgourides, the world's insight is greater than it ever has been. More, Please! adds the cherry on top of what was known about Kenneth, and shines a real spotlight on the scale of his success.
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With so much to write about an incredible life, this tribute will focus on Kenneth's journey to his period of huge success in the 1950s.
It all began on September 20 1914, where Kenneth Gilbert More was born in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire. His childhood with somewhat transient, with financial woes and a scarring stint at boarding school seeing Kenneth grow up quickly.
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This was compounded by the premature death of his father Bertie in 1931. By this point Kenneth had already attempted to become a civil engineer's apprentice in Shrewsbury after finishing school.
He also pursued careers in the RAF and at Sainsbury's, but neither was a fit. It was only after an ill-fated trip to Canada (which saw Kenneth unable to enter the country due to not having the correct paperwork) that life began to have true direction.
At 20, his star was born. A chance decision saw Kenneth ask for a job at the Windmill Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. The audacious request was granted – on the now-ironic promise that he never become an actor – and the rest is history.
This was his home for two years, before his thirst for variety took him to Byker, Hammersmith and Wolverhampton.
A different call came in 1939: The Navy. Kenneth enlisted after the Second World War broke out, facing a near-death experience in 1942 when a bomb hit his ship, the HMS Aurora. Surviving this was often used by the actor in subsequent times of strife; he had not been saved to be defeated elsewhere.
Released by the Navy in 1946, Kenneth worried for his halted career; could he pick up where he left off? That, and more. Kenneth initially returned to theatre in 1946, where his performance in The Crimson Harvest saw a BBC producer offer him a role in small TV plays.
He made his West End debut in the same year at the Aldwych Theatre; in 1947 he was cast in Peace in Our Time by legendary English playwright Sir Noel Coward.
Kenneth's star continued to rise, culminating in his life-changing break in 1952. He played the role of Freddie Page in The Deep Blue Sea at The Duchess Theatre, a performance which he often cited as his favourite on stage.
While performing that play the then 38-year-old received the offer that would forever change things - Ambrose Claverhouse in Genevieve.
The now classic comedy was not always destined for success, almost not being released before it catapulted to huge recognition and multiple award wins.
A starring role in Doctor in the House followed a year later in 1954, with the role earning him the 1955 BAFTA Award for Best Actor.
Amidst this upward trajectory was one blip, as Kenneth made what he subsequently admitted was his biggest professional mistake. He turned down a role in the film The Wind Cannot Read, offered by revered director David Lean, due to worries over being accepted in a serious role.
Slightly regretful, but undeterred, Kenneth kept plugging away until Reach for the Sky came along in 1956.
This serious role came at the right time for Kenneth, who had been enraptured by the book on which it was based.
He believed the story - about the real-life legless fighter pilot Sir Douglas Bader - could be an incredible film. And so it proved, becoming the UK's most successful film since Gone with the Wind in 1939.
This was Kenneth's seminal moment on screen, where the strength of his performance convinced any remaining sceptics of his chops as a leading man.
A list of popular films - including A Night to Remember (1958) and North West Frontier (1959) saw out the fifties, with the actor now firmly at the top table.
Still to come: Kenneth's foray through the 1960s and beyond.
More, Please! is available on Amazon.