In the earliest days of Radley College, acting was not considered a gentleman’s profession, but that did not stop those with a dramatic flair from treading the boards.

As the era of  silent movies came to an end, giving way to the ‘talkies’ of the 1930s and the Hollywood boom of the 1940s and 50s, the acting profession went from taboo to desirable. Here are just a few of the many Old Radleians who have taken to the stage and screen.

Kenneth Douglas (1892, E)

Kenneth Douglas Savory was born in 1876 in Eastbourne, and came to Radley in 1892, staying for only a year. He became a stage actor in London, and later New York. He married composer and singer Grace Lane in 1903. He was best known for his role in silent film A Girl of Yesterday (1915) starring Mary Pickford. Apart from a handful of stills, this film is among the 75% of silent-era films now presumed to be lost due to the volatile nature of early film reel. Kenneth and Grace were the parents of Gerald Savory, a TV and film writer and producer.

Nicholas ‘Beau’ Hannen (1895, C)

A member of the 1st VIII and a prefect at Radley, Nicholas Hannen worked in the office of famous architect Edwin Lutyens before becoming a stage actor in 1910. He appeared in almost 50 plays during his lifetime, alongside such talent as Sybil Thorndike, Ralph Richardson, and Laurence Olivier. He was awarded an OBE for his service during military operations in France during WWI, and soon returned to the stage once back in Britain. He had roles in dozens of films from 1930 – 1960, including as Seneca in Quo Vadis (1951), and Vice Admiral Ramsay in Dunkirk (1958).

Sutton Vane (1902, E)

The eldest son of author and playwright Frank Sutton-Vane, Vane Hunt Sutton-Vane (known, somewhat bewilderingly, like his father as Sutton Vane), headed to the stage after leaving Radley, and acted until the outbreak of WWI. He was invalided out after a period of service at the front line, and after recovering he returned to the combat zone as an entertainer for the troops, performing with artillery blasts within earshot. He wrote a number of plays, including the extremely popular fantasy-drama Outward Bound, which was adapted for both stage and screen.

Arthur Wellesley (1905, A)

Born on Christmas Day 1890, Christian Arthur Wellesley, known as Viscount Dangan and later as 4th Earl Cowley, trained at Sandhurst after leaving Radley. After service in WWI, he took to the stage in London, acting as ‘Arthur Wellesley’, and had roles in numerous comedy pieces such as Betty and Fallen Angels. He played the lead with American actress Tallulah Bankhead, and met his first wife, New York showgirl Mae Pickard, while playing in musical drama The Girl on the Film.

Geoffrey Goodhart (1911, G)

Geoffrey Goodhart came to Radley as a junior scholar. He began his life in entertainment as a musician, recording a number of dance band tracks in the mid-1920s. He went on to be an actor and producer, and appeared in films such as Always a Bride (1953) and The House in the Woods (1957). He produced The Flaw (1955), The Dynamiters (1956), and The Gelignite Gang (1956).

Allan Bourne (1921, C)

Allan Charles Bourne Webb was born in Wiltshire in 1907, and was at Radley for four years before going up to Worcester College, Oxford. He was an actor and baritone, having roles in the TV plays The Pilgrim’s Progress (1939) and Magyar Melody (1939). After serving in WWII between 1940-45, he joined the historic Sadler’s Wells Opera Company, and also appeared in Lady Audley’s Secret (1949). He retired from the stage in 1949 to become the director of a publishing firm.

Patrick Barr (1922, C)

A talented rower, both at Radley and Oxford University, Patrick Barr’s first screen role was in The Merry Men of Sherwood (1932). After a break, he began acting again in the late 1940s, and soon landed appearances in a number of blockbusters such as The Dam Busters (1955), The First Great Train Robbery (1979) and Octopussy (1983). Over the course of his life, Patrick featured in more than 140 films and television series.

Desmond Llewelyn (1928, E)

Desmond Llewelyn played Q, the head of the R&D division of the British Secret Service, in 17 James Bond films between 1963 and 1999, alongside all of the first five actors to play the role of Bond. Q was, by far, his best known and best loved role, but Desmond also appeared in a number of films and theatre productions, including Cleopatra (1963), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and alongside Laurence Olivier on stage.

Dennis Price (1929, E)

Best remembered for his portrayal of the valet Jeeves in the television adaption of P. G. Wodehouse’s short stories, Dennis Price was also widely known for his role as the ambitious serial murderer, Louis Mazzini, in the film Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). He acted throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and one of his final roles was as the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (1972), alongside Peter Sellers and Dudley Moore.

Peter Dyneley (1935, G)

A player in the Radley rugby 1st XV, Peter Dyneley Hessey Hessey-White studied at McGill University and served in the Royal Canadian Navy during WWII. He returned to London to study opera, developing the bass voice that would make him famous. He appeared in over a hundred stage productions, films, and TV shows, and was best known as the voice of Jeff Tracy (and the introductory countdown) in the TV series Thunderbirds.

Richard Burrell (1939, D)

The cox of the 1942 1st VIII, Richard Burrell trained at the Old Vic Theatre. His TV career spanned two decades, during which time he became a familiar face, appearing in dozens of roles in shows including Dixon of Dock Green and The Newcomers. He also played supporting roles in a few well-known films, such as Pursuit of the Graf Spee (1956), Act of Murder (1964) and The Ipcress File (1965).

James Bree (1942, A)

A prefect in his final year at Radley, James Rutherfoord Worsfold Thomson served in the RAF during WWII. He studied at The Central School of Speech and Drama, and made hundreds of appearances on stage and screen, including in Rising Damp, The Bill and Silent Witness. His best-known roles were as Blofeld’s attorney, Gumbold, in the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and as Nefred (series 18) and Keeper of the Matrix (series 23) in Doctor Who.

Noel Harrison (1947, G)

After leaving Radley aged 15, Noel Harrison became a member of the British ski team and represented Great Britain at the 1952 and 1956 Winter Olympics. He embarked on a musical career, and moved to the United States, where he had a number of successful records including The Windmills of Your Mind and secured the role of Mark Slate in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. alongside the star, Stefanie Powers. Throughout the rest of his life, Noel toured both musically and theatrically.

Peter Cook (1951, C)

Following involvement with drama and the Marionettes at Radley, and the Footlights Club at Cambridge, Peter Cook began a long-running creative partnership with Dudley Moore. His career included opening Soho nightclub The Establishment, playing a foundational role in the satire boom of the 1960s, financing, supporting, and contributing to Private Eye, and dozens of television and film appearances. He was awarded a BAFTA in 1966, and Grammy Awards in 1963 and 1975. The Peter Cook Cup, introduced at Radley in 2018, is a yearly drama competition in which boys perform monologues.

Read this article, and more on the theme of drama and filmmaking, in The Old Radleian 2023, available online.


The Old Radleian 2023