Distinguished Honorary Graduate Sir Donald Sinden dies, aged 90

Posted by pt91 at Sep 12, 2014 10:20 AM |
Theatre, film and TV actor had long association with University, city and county

Actor Sir Donald Sinden who has died, aged 90, received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Leicester in 2005.

Sir Donald, who was appointed a CBE in 1979 and then knighted in 1997 for his services to drama, referenced his own passing in a humorous address to graduands at the University of Leicester degree ceremony held at De Montfort Hall, Leicester.

He also spoke of his long association with Leicester and fundraising efforts for Leicestershire schools. He spoke of how thrilled he was to receive the honour from the University of Leicester and expressed his grateful thanks for the degree, adding: “I am indeed honoured that a university which has Professor Richard Foulkes as [former] Head of its English Department should bestow upon me an Honorary Degree of DLitt.”

Professor Foulkes said: "Donald Sinden began his theatrical career in Leicester and went on to become one of the outstanding actors of his generation. Although best known for his comedy performances on television and film as well as the stage he achieved great success in tragic roles notably his award-winning King Lear. Amongst Donald's many interests was his passion for theatre history, a keen collector himself he was the moving force behind what became the Theatre Museum. His numerous contributions to the nation's theatre were recognised by the award of an honorary doctorate by the University of Leicester in 2005, something in which he took tremendous pride."

Sir Donald Sinden, CBE, FRSA was one of the country’s best-known actors who originally trained as an architect before moving into the professional theatre.

His connections with Leicester dated back to six months with the Leicester Repertory Company in 1945, a time which he recalled as a formative experience. Every week he went to concerts at the De Montfort Hall with his fellow actors, developing ‘a splendid technique’ for getting soloists to give encores.

From 1974 onwards, for a long-standing period, he served on the Leicester Education Arts Committee, including a term as Chairman.

Sir Donald had long-standing links with the University of Leicester’s former Department of Adult Education (now Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning), and had contributed to study days run by the Department. One of the most memorable was ‘King Lear’ at the former University Centre, Northampton, with the Shakespearian scholar, Professor Kenneth Muir, in 1977.

His career spanned classical theatre to the West End and numerous television appearances, while his 29 film performances included The Cruel Sea and Doctor in the House.

As a Shakespearian actor, Sir Donald had been hailed as one of the finest actors of his time. His Shakespearian roles began in 1946 at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and continued into the 1990s in television. A founder member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1963, he appeared as Polonius in Sir Peter Hall’s 1994 production of Hamlet. Two of his greatest performances were considered to be Malvolio and King Lear, working with John Barton and Trevor Nunn, while his performance as Feste merited a chapter to itself in Professor Stanley Wells’ book, Royal Shakespeare.

An enthusiastic theatre historian, he founded the British Theatre Museum Association (now the Theatre Museum), of which he was Chairman (1971-7). He was President of the Henry Irving Society, and had actively supported the July 2005 conference at the University of Leicester, Sir Henry Irving, a Life in the Victorian Theatre.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1966, awarded a CBE in 1979 and knighted in 1997; the same year he became a Freeman of the City of London.

Watch the University of Leicester honorary degree ceremony for Sir Donald:

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