Michael Murrey Hordern is one of the many delightfully talented actors that appeared in Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. He was born on 3rd October 1911 at Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire in England, the son of Captain Edward Joseph Calverly Hordern of the Royal Indian Navy, and his wife Margaret Emily Murray. It was during his education at Brighton College that he developed a passion for acting, but his early years were spent as a schoolteacher and later as a travelling salesman, acting only in his spare time.
His first professional engagement on the stage came with the part of Ludovico in a production of Othello in 1937 at the Peoples Palace in East London. He later joined the repertory company of the Little Theatre in Bristol, where he met his future wife Grace Evelyn Mortimer. They were married in 1943 and later had one daughter, Joanna.
Hordern soon began to get bit parts in films, including a small part in The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938 with Errol Flynn, his first official movie debut came in Carol Reed’s Girl in the News a year later.
With the outbreak of WWII, his acting career was suspended as he served in the Royal Navy reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander RNVR. But it soon resumed after the war as he continued to find work in all media. His remarkably smooth resonant voice and rather mournful face was utilized in in nearly twenty productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, Stratford, at the Old Vic and West End. Two of his Shakespearean roles in particular, King Lear and Prospero, it is said, could have been written for him!
His extensive movie career ( he appeared in over a hundred films and nearly as many TV performances) include playing Marley’s Ghost with Alistair Sim in A Christmas Carol in 1951, Scathelok in Disney’s Story of Robin Hood in 1952 and Desmosthenes in Alexander the Great in 1956, Cicero in Cleopatra in 1963 and Baptista in Taming of the Shrew in 1967. His debut on American television came when his part in the Disney movie Dr Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was shown on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour in 1964 on NBC.
In the 1967 movie ,The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Hordern played the role of a pathetic Kim Philby type and a year later he took the part of Thomas Boleyn in Ann Of A Thousand Days.
His distinctive, mellow voice was often used in narration, such as in the animated film Watership Down in 1978 and his work in radio resulted in his performance as Gandalf, in the BBC’s Lord of the Ring’s with Ian Holm and John Le Mesurier, becoming arguably the definitive version.
His finest film performance came in 1983 when he took on the role of a disillusioned journalist in England Made Me and this prolific, much loved character actor was finally rewarded with a knighthood for his services to theatre, that same year by Queen Elizabeth. Brighton College later named a room in his honour and had a bronze bust commissioned.
His versatility remained right up to his later years, appearing in movies, radio, theatre productions, television films and mini series and even an appearance in a pop video with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees in 1984!
In the final years of his remarkable life he moved to Dartmoor to enjoy his favourite hobby, fly fishing and became the narrator of the popular Children’s Television series Paddington Bear.
In 1993 he published his autobiography A World Elsewhere. He died in Oxford on May 2nd 1995 of kidney disease.
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007