Lionel Jeffries was a prolific actor, director, and screenwriter who left a lasting legacy in the British film industry. He was best known for his comic roles in films such as The Wrong Arm of the Law, The Spy With a Cold Nose, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as his acclaimed adaptation of The Railway Children. He died on 19 February 2010 at the age of 83, following a long illness. His death saddened his fans, colleagues, and friends, who remembered him as a talented and warm-hearted man.
Lionel Jeffries’ Early Life and Career
Lionel Jeffries was born on 10 June 1926 in Forest Hill, south London. Both his parents were social workers with the Salvation Army. He attended Queen Elizabeth’s grammar school in Wimborne, Dorset, and served in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and the Royal West African Frontier Force during the Second World War. He was awarded the Burma Star for his service in Rangoon.
He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and entered the film industry in the 1950s. He appeared in more than 100 films, mostly in comic character roles. He often played characters older than himself, such as the father of Dick Van Dyke in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, despite being six months younger than him. He received a Golden Globe Award nomination for his performance in Camelot in 1967.
Lionel Jeffries’ Transition to Writing and Directing
In the late 1960s, Lionel Jeffries turned to writing and directing children’s films, inspired by his own three children. His first film as a director was The Railway Children, based on the novel by E. Nesbit. The film was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and is widely regarded as a classic of British cinema. It starred Jenny Agutter, Dinah Sheridan, Bernard Cribbins, and Jeffries’ friend John Mills.
Jeffries went on to direct four more films, including The Amazing Mr. Blunden, Baxter, and Wombling Free. He also wrote the scripts for most of his films, as well as for other directors such as Bryan Forbes and Ken Annakin. He had a knack for creating charming and whimsical stories that appealed to both children and adults.
Lionel Jeffries’ Later Years and Death
Lionel Jeffries had a negative attitude towards television and avoided the medium for many years. He changed his mind in the 1980s, when he realised that television production values had improved. He appeared in several TV shows, such as Minder, Inspector Morse, and Ruth Rendell Mysteries. He also returned to the stage, starring in the musical Hello Dolly! in 1984.
He retired from acting and directing in the early 2000s, due to his declining health. He suffered from vascular dementia, which affected his memory and speech. He spent his last years in a nursing home in Poole, Dorset, where he died on 19 February 2010. He was survived by his wife Eileen, whom he married in 1951, and his three children, one of whom is the actor and singer Ty Jeffries.
His death was mourned by many people in the film industry, who praised his talent, humour, and generosity. His former co-star Jenny Agutter said: “He was the most wonderful director and had a great sense of humour. He was a very good actor, too, and very versatile.” His friend and fellow director Bryan Forbes said: “He was a very dear friend and a very talented man. He was a great loss to the industry and to me personally.”
Lionel Jeffries cause of death was a sad end to a brilliant career. He left behind a rich legacy of films that will continue to entertain and inspire generations of viewers. He was a true legend of British cinema.