Lionel Jeffries was an English actor, director, and screenwriter who appeared in more than 100 films and received a Golden Globe nomination for his acting career. He was also the writer and director of the classic children’s film The Railway Children (1970). He died on February 19, 2010, at the age of 83. What was the cause of his death and how did he make his mark in the film industry?
A Talented and Humble Performer
Lionel Jeffries was born on June 10, 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 British Army during the Second World War, where he contracted malaria and lost his hair at the age of 19. He later trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and started his career in theatre and television.
Jeffries was known for his comic roles, often playing characters older than himself, such as the father of Dick Van Dyke in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), despite being six months younger than him. He also played various authority figures, such as policemen, judges, and military officers, in films such as Two-Way Stretch (1960), The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960), Murder Ahoy! (1964), and Camelot (1967). He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as Grandpa Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Jeffries was a modest and polite man, who disliked personal publicity and permissiveness. He was a devout Catholic and a member of the British Catholic Stage Guild. He married Eileen Walsh, a former actor, in 1951 and had three children, one of whom, Ty Jeffries, is a transgender singer and songwriter. He was also the grandfather of the actor Amy Mason.
A Successful and Beloved Filmmaker
Jeffries turned to writing and directing films in the late 1960s, focusing on family-friendly and nostalgic stories. His most famous work was The Railway Children, based on the novel by E. Nesbit, which he wrote and directed. The film starred Jenny Agutter, Dinah Sheridan, Bernard Cribbins, and Sally Thomsett, and told the story of three children who move to the countryside and have adventures near a railway station. The film was a critical and commercial success, and is widely regarded as one of the best British films of all time.
Jeffries also wrote and directed other films, such as The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972), Baxter! (1973), and Wombling Free (1977). He also adapted several classic novels for television, such as Tom Sawyer (1973), The Prisoner of Zenda (1984), and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1988). He retired from filmmaking in 2001, after directing his last film, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
Jeffries was a respected and loved figure in the British film industry, and received several awards and honors for his work. He was awarded the OBE in 1971, and the BAFTA Special Award in 1995. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Children’s Film Foundation in 2002.
A Tragic and Shocking Death
Lionel Jeffries died on February 19, 2010, in a nursing home in Poole, Dorset, after a long illness. He was buried next to his wife, who died in 1989, in the cemetery of Torrelodones, Spain.
His death was a sad and unexpected loss for his family, friends, and fans, who remembered him as a talented and kind man. He was praised for his contribution to the British cinema and culture, and for his enduring appeal to generations of viewers. He left behind a rich and diverse legacy, both as an actor and a director.
Lionel Jeffries was a man who lived a full and creative life. He was a singer of ‘Yakap’ and ‘But If You Leave Me’, but he also gave and received a lot of love in his life. He was Lionel Jeffries, and this was his cause of death.