Trevor Howard
Trevor Howard, 1973
Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith

(1913-09-29)29 September 1913[1]
Cliftonville, Kent, England
Died7 January 1988(1988-01-07) (aged 74)
Arkley, London, England
Resting placeSt Peter's Church, Arkley
Years active1934–1988
(m. 1944)

Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith (29 September 1913 – 7 January 1988)[2] was an English stage, film, and television actor. After varied work in the theatre, he achieved star status with his role in the film Brief Encounter (1945), followed by The Third Man (1949).

He is also known for his roles in Golden Salamander (1950), The Clouded Yellow (1951), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Battle of Britain (1969), Lola (1969), Ryan's Daughter (1970), Superman (1978), Windwalker (1981), and Gandhi (1982). For his performance in Sons and Lovers (1960) he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Early life

Howard was born in Cliftonville, Kent, England the son of Mabel Grey (Wallace) and Arthur John Howard-Smith, an insurance agent. His parents married in 1909 .[3][4][5] Although Howard later claimed to have been born in 1916 (the year quoted by most reference sources) he was actually born in 1913 (which is supported by school and other records).[1]

His father was an insurance underwriter for Lloyd's of London, serving as representative in Colombo, Ceylon and elsewhere; Trevor spent the first eight years of his life travelling around the world.[6][7] He was educated at Clifton College[8](to which he left in his will a substantial legacy for a drama scholarship) and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).[9] In 1933, at the end of his first year, he was chosen as best actor in his class for his performance as Benedict in a school production of Much Ado About Nothing. While Howard was still studying, he made his professional debut at the Gate Theatre in Revolt in a Reformatory (1934). Howard's sister, born 1 January 1917 in India, was Merle Florence Howard-Smith, later an actress.[citation needed]

When he left school he worked regularly on stage, including in Sheridan's The Rivals, several performances at Stratford-upon-Avon, and in a two-year run in the original production of French Without Tears.[10][11]

Military service

Around 1945, journalists began to circulate stories stating that Howard had a courageous wartime service in the British Army's Royal Corps of Signals, which earned him much respect among fellow actors and fans. The police visited Howard, warning him that it was a crime to claim a medal under the Army Act, but Howard assured them he was not the source of the stories.[12] In fact, he "did his best to dodge the call-up",[13] and journalist Terrence Pettigrew, in his 2001 biography of Howard,[14] recounted that files held in the Public Record Office revealed he was actually discharged from the British Army in 1943 for mental instability and having a "psychopathic personality", on account of having "lied about his background, from his schooldays onward ... determinedly".[15] Initially Howard's widow, actress Helen Cherry, denied this, but after being confronted with the official records, she said that Howard's mother had claimed he was a holder of the Military Cross, adding that her late husband had an honourable military record with "nothing to be ashamed of".[16]

Per The London Gazette, Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith (247202) was commissioned into the South Staffordshire Regiment as a Second lieutenant effective 3 October 1942,[17] relinquishing his commission on 2 October 1943 "on account of "ill-health", still a Second Lieutenant.[18] This contradicted the post-war stories that he had won the Military Cross and high promotion.[19]


After a theatrical role in The Recruiting Officer (1943), Howard began working in films with an uncredited part The Way Ahead (1944), directed by Carol Reed.[20] He was in a big stage hit, A Soldier for Christmas (1944), and a production of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie (1944). Howard received his first film credit for The Way to the Stars (1945), playing a pilot.[21]

Howard's performance in The Way Ahead came to the attention of David Lean, who was looking for someone to play the role of Alec in Brief Encounter (1945). Lean recommended him to Noël Coward, who agreed with the suggestion, and the success of the film launched Howard's film career.[22]

He followed it with I See a Dark Stranger (1946) with Deborah Kerr, and Green for Danger (1947), starring Alastair Sim. Both films were successful as was They Made Me a Fugitive (1947). That year British exhibitors voted Howard the 10th most popular British star at the box office.[23] So Well Remembered (1948) was made with American talent and money and was a hit in Britain but lost money overall. Howard was reunited with Lean for The Passionate Friends (1949), but the film was not a success.[citation needed]

However, The Third Man (1949), which Howard starred in alongside Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten for Carol Reed from a story by Graham Greene, was a huge international success, and became the film of which Howard was most proud.[24]

During filming of The Third Man in Vienna, Howard was keen to get to his favourite bar each night, for a drink, as soon as filming had finished for the evening. On one occasion, Howard was in too much of a hurry to even bother changing out of his costume, which was the uniform of a British Army major. After a few drinks, he got into an argument that attracted the attention of the Royal Military Police, who detained him for impersonating a British officer. The MPs, being non-commissioned officers, had to summon an officer to actually perform the arrest. On the lieutenant's arrival the matter was settled with apologies all around.[25]

Howard was the lead in Golden Salamander (1950) and played Peter Churchill in Odette (1950) with Anna Neagle, a big hit in Britain. It was directed by Herbert Wilcox who put Howard under contract.[26] He loaned Howard to Betty Box and Ralph Thomas to make The Clouded Yellow (1950), a popular thriller with Jean Simmons. These films helped Howard be voted the 2nd biggest British star at the box office in 1950[27] and the 5th biggest (and eleventh bigger over-all) in 1951.[28]

Howard was reunited with Carol Reed for Outcast of the Islands (1952) and he made a war film, Gift Horse (1952). That year he made his final appearance on the list of Britain's ten most popular actors, coming in at number nine.[29] He was in another adaptation of a Graham Greene story, The Heart of the Matter (1953). Greene also wrote and produced Howard's next film, the British-Italian The Stranger's Hand (1954). Howard was in a French movie, The Lovers of Lisbon (1955), then supported Jose Ferrer in a war film from Warwick Pictures, The Cockleshell Heroes (1955), which was popular in Britain.[30]

Howard's first Hollywood film was Run for the Sun (1956), where he played a villain to Richard Widmark's hero. He made a cameo in Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and again played a villain to an American star, Victor Mature, in Warwick's Interpol (1957).

Howard starred in Manuela (1957) then supported William Holden in Carol Reed's The Key (1958), for which he received the Best Actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. When William Holden dropped out of the lead of The Roots of Heaven (1958), Howard stepped in as his first opportunity at a starring role in a Hollywood film (although top billing still went to Errol Flynn).

After a thriller Moment of Danger (1960) he was in Sons and Lovers (1960), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He was nominated for a BAFTA on four other occasions. and received two other Emmy nominations, one as a lead and the other as a supporting actor. He also received three Golden Globe Award nominations.[citation needed]

Howard was reunited with Holden for The Lion (1962). He was Captain Bligh to Marlon Brando's Fletcher Christian in MGM's remake of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962). He was in a TV movie production of Hedda Gabler (1962)[31] and played the title prime minister in "The Invincible Mr Disraeli" (1963), an episode of the Hallmark Hall of Fame for which he won an Emmy Award for his role then supported Robert Mitchum in Man in the Middle (1964) and Cary Grant in Father Goose (1964). After a cameo in Operation Crossbow (1965), Howard supported Frank Sinatra in Von Ryan's Express (1965), Brando and Yul Brynner in Morituri (1965), and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965). After a leading role in The Poppy Is Also a Flower (1966) he made two movies with Brynner, Triple Cross (1966) and The Long Duel (1967).

Howard had a change of pace supporting Hayley Mills in Pretty Polly (1968). He went back to military roles: The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), as Lord Cardigan, and Battle of Britain (1969), as Air Vice Marshal Keith Park. He had support parts in Lola (1969) and Ryan's Daughter (1970), the latter for David Lean.

He made a Swedish film The Night Visitor (1971) then settled into a career as a character actor: To Catch a Spy (1971), supporting Kirk Douglas; Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), as Sir William Cecil; Kidnapped (1971); Pope Joan (1972); Ludwig (1972); The Offence (1972), with Sean Connery; A Doll's House (1973), for Joseph Losey; Who? (1974), supporting Elliott Gould; and Catholics (1974) for British TV.

He appeared in some horror films – Craze (1974), Persecution (1974) – and the more prestigious 11 Harrowhouse (1974), in which his wife Helen Cherry starred with him. In The Count of Monte Cristo (1975), he mentored Richard Chamberlain. He played military men in Hennessy (1975) and Conduct Unbecoming (1975). Around this time he complained that he had to work so hard because of the high rate of tax in Britain.[32]

Howard could be found in Albino (1976), shot in Rhodesia; The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976); Aces High (1976); Eliza Fraser (1976), shot in Australia;[33] The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977); and Stevie (1978). He was one of many names in Superman (1978), Hurricane (1979), Meteor (1979) and The Sea Wolves (1980). He appeared in a TV series Shillingbury Tales (1980–81). One of his strangest films, and one he took great delight in, was Vivian Stanshall's Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (1980), in which he played the title role. He and Celia Johnson from Brief Encounter were reunited in Staying On (1980) for British TV.

Howard was also top-billed in Windwalker (1981).

Final years

Howard appeared in some prestigious movies towards the end of his career: The Deadly Game (1982), The Missionary (1982), Gandhi (1982), George Washington (1984), Shaka Zulu (1986), Dust (1985), and Peter the Great (1986).

At the time of filming White Mischief (1988) on location in Kenya during 1987, Howard was seriously ill and suffering from alcoholism. The company wanted to sack him, but co-star Sarah Miles was determined that Howard's distinguished film career would not end that way. In an interview with Terence Pettigrew for his biography of Howard, Miles describes how she gave an ultimatum to the executives, threatening to quit the production if they got rid of him.[34] His final film role was in The Dawning in 1988.

Throughout his film career Howard insisted that all his contracts include a clause excusing him from work whenever a cricket Test match was being played.[35]

Howard recorded two Shakespeare performances, the first, recorded in the 1960s, was as Petruchio opposite Margaret Leighton's Kate in Caedmon Records' complete recording of The Taming of the Shrew; the second was in the title role of King Lear for the BBC World Service in 1986.[citation needed]

Personal life

He married stage and screen actress Helen Cherry.[3]

A British government document leaked to the Sunday Times in 2003 showed that Howard was among almost 300 people to decline an official honour of the United Kingdom. He declined to be made a CBE in 1982.[36]


Howard died, aged 74, at his home in Arkley, Barnet on 7 January 1988. The cause of death was hepatic failure and cirrhosis of the liver.[37]





  1. ^ a b Pettigrew 2001, p. 26.
  2. ^ Pettigrew 2001, p. 26 and 245.
  3. ^ a b "Howard, Trevor [real name Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith] (1913–1988), actor". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/39937. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Trevor Howard: The Man and His Films, Michael Munn, Robson, 1989, p. 16
  5. ^ British Stars and Stardom: From Alma Taylor to Sean Connery, ed. Bruce Babington, 'Trevor, not Leslie, Howard', Geoffrey McNab, Manchester University Press, 2001, p. 138
  6. ^ "World news Howard: the epitome of British stoicism". The Canberra Times. Vol. 62, no. 19, 088. Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 9 January 1988. p. 4 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ "Popular star Trevor Howard hides behind beard". The Australian Women's Weekly. Vol. 14, no. 13. 7 September 1946. p. 36 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ "Clifton College Register" Muirhead, J.A.O. p. 394: Bristol; J.W Arrowsmith for Old Cliftonian Society; April, 1948
  9. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Howard, Trevor (1916–1988) Biography".
  10. ^ "Trevor Howard - Theatricalia".
  11. ^ Arditti, Michael (10 July 2016). "Theatre reviews: French Without Tears and No Villain".
  12. ^ "Howard's widow hits out at madness claim". The Telegraph. 24 June 2001. Retrieved 12 June 2024.
  13. ^ "A rake in tweed clothing". The Telegraph. 4 August 2001. Retrieved 12 June 2024.
  14. ^ Pettigrew 2001, p. 154.
  15. ^ "Trevor Howard details". The Guardian. 3 March 2008.
  16. ^ "Obituaries: Helen Cherry". 2 October 2001. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022.
  17. ^ "Supplement to the London Gazette" (PDF). Supplement to the London Gazette: 4749. 3 November 1942. (prev. page states "The undermentioned Cadets to be 2nd Lts., 3rd Oct. 1942:")
  18. ^ "Supplement to the London Gazette, 5 October, 1943" (PDF). Supplement to the London Gazette: 4398. 5 October 1943.
  19. ^ "Trevor Howard (actor) erroneously reported in newspapers as having been awarded the Military Cross". Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  20. ^ "Production of The Recruiting Officer - Theatricalia".
  21. ^ "Trevor Howard". Archived from the original on 1 May 2016.
  22. ^ "Brief Encounter (1945) - Articles -". Turner Classic Movies.
  23. ^ 'Bing's Lucky Number: Pa Crosby Dons 4th B.O. Crown', The Washington Post (1923–1954) [Washington, D.C] 3 Jan 1948: 12.
  24. ^ Variety Staff (15 December 2001). "Trevor Howard: A Personal Biography".
  25. ^ Drazin 1999, p. 65.
  26. ^ "Actor's safety clause". The Sun. No. 2461. New South Wales, Australia. 18 June 1950. p. 46 – via National Library of Australia.
  27. ^ "Hope tops list for popularity". The Mail. Adelaide. 30 December 1950. p. 5 Supplement: Sunday Magazine – via National Library of Australia.
  28. ^ "Vivien Leigh Actress of the Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Qld. 29 December 1951. p. 1 – via National Library of Australia.
  29. ^ "COMEDIAN TOPS FILM POLL". The Sunday Herald. Sydney. 28 December 1952. p. 4 – via National Library of Australia.
  30. ^ "The Cockleshell Heroes (1956) - Articles -". Turner Classic Movies.
  31. ^ "Ibsens "HEDDA GABLER"". The Australian Women's Weekly. Vol. 30, no. 19. 10 October 1962. p. 4 (Television) – via National Library of Australia.
  32. ^ "AUSTRALIAN FILM FOR THE ACTOR WITH "THE LIVED-IN FACE"?". The Australian Women's Weekly. Vol. 42, no. 52. 28 May 1975. p. 15 – via National Library of Australia.
  33. ^ "Million-dollar movie planned". The Canberra Times. Vol. 50, no. 14, 311. 26 February 1976. p. 16 – via National Library of Australia.
  34. ^ Pettigrew 2001, p. 149.
  35. ^ "The Passionate Lives of Trevor Howard". Ottawa Citizen. 17 February 1961.
  36. ^ "No Sir! Stars who refused honors". CNN. 21 December 2003.
  37. ^ Pettigrew 2001, p. 245.