Nicol Williamson

Nicol Williamson
Nicol Williamson
Born September 14, 1938 (1938-09-14) (age 73)
Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland
Years active 1960-1997
Spouse Jill Townsend (m. 1971-1977) (divorced)

Nicol Williamson (born September 14, 1938) is a Scottish-born English actor[1] who was described by English playwright John Osborne as "the greatest actor since Marlon Brando".



Early life

Williamson was born in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, the son of Mary (née Storrie) and Hugh Williamson.[2] He came from a struggling working class family, but managed to attend the Birmingham School of Speech & Drama.


Stage and screen

Williamson made his professional debut with the Dundee Rep in 1960 and the following year appeared with the Arts Theatre in Cambridge. The following year, he made his London debut in Tony Richardson's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal Court Theatre. His first major success came in 1964 with John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence for which he won a Tony award when it transferred to Broadway in 1965. In 1968, he starred in the film version. Williamson's Hamlet for Tony Richardson at the Roundhouse caused a sensation and was later transferred to New York and made into a film, with a cast including Anthony Hopkins and Marianne Faithfull. Faithfull later stated in her autobiography "Faithfull" that she and Williamson had had an affair while filming Hamlet.

Some of his other notable film performances are as an alcoholic attorney in I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can; a Colonel in the Cincinnati Gestapo in Neil Simon's The Cheap Detective; a suicidal Irish soldier in the 1968 film The Bofors Gun; Sherlock Holmes in the 1976 Herbert Ross film The Seven-Per-Cent Solution; and Little John in the 1976 Richard Lester film Robin and Marian. More recently he has appeared as Lord Louis Mountbatten in Lord Mountbatten - The Last Viceroy (1985); the dual roles of Dr. Worley/The Nome King in Return To Oz (1985); Father Morning in The Exorcist III (1990); Badger in the 1996 movie adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows; and Cogliostro in the 1997 movie adaptation of Todd McFarlane's comic book, Spawn.

Williamson made a major contribution to the documentary "John Osborne and the Gift of Friendship",[3] recalling episodes from his long professional relationship with Osborne. Recorded excerpts of his award-winning stage performance in Inadmissible Evidence also feature in the video.

Williamson is known for several tantrums and on-stage antics. During the Philadelphia tryout of Inadmissible Evidence, a play in which he delivered a performance that would win him a Tony Award nomination in 1965[4] he hit producer David Merrick.[5] In 1968 he apologised to the audience for his performance one night while playing Hamlet and then walked off the stage, announcing he was retiring.[5] In 1976 he slapped an actor during the curtain call for the Broadway musical Rex, and in 1991 he hit his co-star (Evan Handler) on the backside with a sword during a Broadway performance of I Hate Hamlet.[4]

When Williamson appeared in the 1981 film Excalibur, director John Boorman cast him as Merlin opposite Helen Mirren as Morgana over the protests of both actors; the two had previously appeared together in Macbeth, with disastrous results. It was Boorman's hope that the very real animosity that they had towards each other would generate more tension between them on screen.[6]

Other work

In 1974, Williamson recorded a dramatic, abridged reading of The Hobbit, for Argo Records, with authorisation for abridgement provided by Tolkien's publisher. The recording was produced by Harley Usill.[7]

Personal life

In 1971, Williamson married the actress Jill Townsend, who had played the role of his daughter in the Broadway production of Inadmissible Evidence. The marriage ended in divorce in 1977.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Nicol Williamson Biography (1938-)
  3. ^ Tony Palmer (May 2006). John Osborne and the Gift of Friendship (video documentary). Isolde Films/fivearts. 
  4. ^ a b Nicol Williamson Biography - Yahoo! Movies
  5. ^ a b Scott, A. O. (7 February 2005). "We're Sorry". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  6. ^ from audio commentary to "Excalibur" DVD
  7. ^ The Hobbit, read by Nicole Williamson. 4 record boxed set, Argo Records, 1974, ZPL 1196/9

External links

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