Peter Ustinov

Sir Peter Alexander Ustinov, CBE FRSA (/ˈjuːstɪnɒf/or/ˈstɪnɒf/;16 April 1921 – 28 March 2004) was an English actor, writer and dramatist . He was also renowned as a filmmaker , theatre and opera director , stage designer , author, screenwriter , comedian , humorist , newspaper and magazine columnist, radio broadcaster , and television presenter . A noted wit and raconteur , he was a fixture on television talk shows and lecture circuits for much of his career. He was also a respected intellectual and diplomat who, in addition to his various academic posts, served as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and President of the World Federalist Movement .Ustinov was the winner of numerous awards over his life, including two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor , Emmy Awards , Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards for acting, a Grammy Award for best recording for children, as well as the recipient of governmental honours from, amongst others, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. He displayed a unique cultural versatility that has frequently earned him the accolade of a Renaissance man . Miklós Rózsa , composer of the music forQuo Vadisand of numerous concert works, dedicated his String Quartet No. 1, Op. 22 (1950) to Ustinov.In 2003, Durham University changed the name of its Graduate Society to Ustinov College in honour of the significant contributions Ustinov had made as chancellor of the university from 1992 until his death.

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 Peter Ustinov's Family background and early life

Her father, Leon Benois , was an Imperial Russian architect and owner of Leonardo da Vinci 's paintingMadonna Benois. Leon's brother Alexandre Benois was a stage designer who worked with Stravinsky and Diaghilev . Their paternal ancestor Jules-César Benois was a chef who had left France for St. Petersburg during the French Revolution and became a chef to the Emperor Paul .

( Peter Wright mentions in his bookSpycatcherthat Jona was possibly the spy known as U35; Ustinov says in his autobiography that his father hosted secret meetings of senior British and German officials at their London home.) Ustinov's great-grandfather Moritz Hall,a Jewish refugee from Kraków and later a Christian convert and collaborator of Swiss and German missionaries in Ethiopia, married into a German-Ethiopian family.

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 Peter Ustinov's Career highlights

Ustinov as Nero inQuo Vadis(1951)

at the Aylesbury Rep, where he performed in a different accent every night.

The Way Ahead. The difference in their ranks—Niven was a lieutenant-colonel and Ustinov a private—made their regular association militarily impossible; to solve the problem, Ustinov was appointed as Niven's batman.He also appeared in propaganda films, debuting inOne of Our Aircraft Is Missing(1942), in which he was required to deliver lines in English, Latin and Dutch. In 1944 Ustinov, under the auspices of ENSA , presented and performed the role of Sir Anthony Absolute, in Sheridan'sThe Rivals, with Dame Edith Evans , at the Larkhill Camp theater.

After the war he began writing; his first major success was with the playThe Love of Four Colonels(1951). He starred with Humphrey Bogart and Aldo Ray inWe're No Angels(1955). His career as a dramatist continued, his best-known play beingRomanoff and Juliet(1956). His film roles include Roman emperor Nero inQuo Vadis(1951), Lentulus Batiatus inSpartacus(1960), Captain Vere inBilly Budd(1962), and an old man surviving a totalitarian future inLogan's Run(1976). Ustinov voiced the anthropomorphic lion Prince John of the 1973 Disney animated filmRobin Hood. He also worked on several films as writer and occasionally director, includingThe Way Ahead(1944),School for Secrets(1946),Hot Millions(1968), andMemed, My Hawk(1984).

Ustinov (left) as Hercule Poirot with John Gielgud inAppointment with Death(1988)

In half a dozen films he played Agatha Christie 's famous detective Hercule Poirot , first inDeath on the Nile(1978) and then in 1982'sEvil Under the Sun, 1985'sThirteen at Dinner(TV Movie), 1986'sDead Man's Folly(TV Movie), 1986's Murder In Three Acts (TV Movie), and 1988'sAppointment with Death.

Ustinov inThe Sundowners(1960)

Ustinov won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor for his roles inSpartacus(1960) andTopkapi(1964). He also won one Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actor for the filmQuo Vadis(he set the Oscar and Globe statuettes up on his desk as if playing doubles tennis; the game was a love of his life, as was ocean yachting). Ustinov was also the winner of three Emmys and one Grammy, and was nominated for two Tony Awards.

Between 1952 and 1955, he starred with Peter Jones in the BBC radio comedyIn All Directions. The series featured Ustinov and Jones as themselves in a London car journey perpetually searching for Copthorne Avenue. The comedy derived from the characters they met, whom they often also portrayed. The show was unusual for the time as it was improvised rather than scripted. Ustinov and Jones improvised on a tape, which was very difficult, and then edited for broadcast by Frank Muir and Denis Norden , who also sometimes took part. The favourite characters were Morris and Dudley Grosvenor, two rather stupid East End spivs whose sketches always ended with the phrase "Run for it Morry" (or Dudley as appropriate.)

During the 1960s, with the encouragement of Sir Georg Solti , Ustinov directed several operas including Puccini 'sGianni Schicchi, Ravel 'sL'heure espagnole, Schoenberg 'sErwartungand Mozart 'sThe Magic Flute. Further demonstrating his great talent and versatility in the theatre, Ustinov later undertook set and costume design forDon Giovanni.

His autobiography,Dear Me(1977), was well received and saw him describe his life (ostensibly his childhood) while being interrogated by his own ego, with forays into philosophy, theatre, fame and self-realisation.[citation needed]

In the later part of his life (from 1969 until his death), his acting and writing tasks took second place to his work on behalf of UNICEF , for which he was a Goodwill Ambassador and fundraiser. In this role he visited some of the neediest children and made use of his ability to make just about anybody laugh, including many of the world's most disadvantaged children. "Sir Peter could make anyone laugh," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy is quoted as saying. "His one-man show in German was the funniest performance I have ever seen – and I don't speak a word of German."[citation needed]

Ustinov in 1986

He is best known to many Britons and Americans as a chat-show guest, a role to which he was ideally suited. He was an extremely frequent guest of Jack Paar 'sTonight Showin the early 1960s and was a guest on the famous "upside down" episode of the American talk showLate Night, during which the camera, mounted on a slowly revolving wheel, gradually rotated the picture 360 degrees during the course of an hour; Ustinov appeared midway through and was photographed upside down in close-up as he spoke while his host appeared only in long shots. Towards the end of Ustinov's life, he undertook some one-man stage shows in which he let loose his raconteur streak: he told the story of his life, including some moments of tension with the society he was born into. For example, he took a test as a child, asking him to name a Russian composer; he wrote Rimsky-Korsakov but was marked down. He then told the correct answer, Tchaikovsky , since he had been studying him in class, and was told to stop showing off.

He was the subject ofThis Is Your Lifeon two occasions: in November 1977 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at Pinewood Studios on the set of Death on the Nile . A week before he was surprised at a book signing at book printers Butler and Tanner in Frome, Somerset. This footage was not used as Ustinov flatly refused to take part and swore at Andrews. His wife persuaded him to change his mind. He was surprised again in December 1994, when Michael Aspel approached him at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.

A car enthusiast since the age of four, he owned a succession of interesting machines ranging from a Fiat Topolino , several Lancias , a Hispano-Suiza , a pre-selector Delage , and a special-bodied Jowett Jupiter . He made records like Phoney Folklore that included the song of the Russian peasant "whose tractor had betrayed him" and his "Grand Prix of Gibraltar" was a vehicle for his creative wit and ability at car engine sound-effects and voices.

He spoke English, French, Spanish , Italian, German , and Russian fluently, as well as some Turkish and modern Greek . He was proficient in accents and dialects in all his languages.

Ustinov in 1992 by Erling Mandelmann

He received an honorary doctorate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium).

Ustinov was a frequent defender of the Chinese government, stating in an address to Durham University in 2000, "People are annoyed with the Chinese for not respecting more human rights. But with a population that size it's very difficult to have the same attitude to human rights." In 2003, Durham's postgraduate college (previously known as the Graduate Society) was renamed Ustinov College .

Amongst his lesser known works, Ustinov presented and narrated the official video review of the 1987 Formula One season . His commentary proved highly entertaining. Ustinov also narrated the documentary seriesWings of the Red Star. In 1988 he hosted a live television broadcast entitledThe Secret Identity of Jack the Ripper.

Ustinov gave his name to the Foundation of the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for their prestigious Sir Peter Ustinov Television Scriptwriting Award , given annually to a young television screenwriter.

Ustinov at a book-signing session

Ustinov appeared as a guest star during the first season ofThe Muppet Showin 1976.[citation needed]

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 Peter Ustinov's Personal life

Ustinov with Suzanne Cloutier and daughter in the 1950s

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 Peter Ustinov's Death

He was so well regarded as a goodwill ambassador that UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy spoke at his funeral and represented United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan .

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 Peter Ustinov's Television

  • Doctor Snuggles
  • Jesus of Nazareth (miniseries)
  • Wings of the Red Star(as narrator)

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 Peter Ustinov's Discography

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 Peter Ustinov's Filmography

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 Peter Ustinov's Awards

Academy Award[edit]

  • 1952 nominated: Best Supporting Actor (Quo Vadis)
  • 1961won:Best Supporting Actor (Spartacus)
  • 1965won:Best Supporting Actor (Topkapi)
  • 1969 nominated: Best Original Screenplay (Hot Millions, with Ira Wallach )

BAFTA Award[edit]

  • 1962 nominated: Best British Screenplay (Billy Budd)
  • 1978 nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Death on the Nile)
  • 1992won:Britannia Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • 1995 nominated: Best Light Entertainment Performance (An Evening with Sir Peter Ustinov)

Berlin International Film Festival[edit]

  • Romanoff and Juliet)
  • : Silver Bear for an outstanding artistic contribution (Hammersmith Is Out)
  • 1972 nominated: Golden Bear (Hammersmith Is Out)

Emmy Award[edit]

  • 1958won:Best Single Performance by a Leading or Supporting Actor (Omnibus: The Life of Samuel Johnson)
  • 1967won:Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Barefoot in Athens)
  • 1970won:Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (A Storm in Summer)
  • 1982 nominated: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Informational Programming (Omni: The New Frontier)
  • 1985 nominated: Outstanding Classical Program in the Performing Arts (The Well-Tempered Bach with Peter Ustinov)

Golden Globe Award[edit]

  • 1952won:Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (Quo Vadis)
  • 1961 nominated: Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (Spartacus)
  • 1965 nominated: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (Topkapi)

Grammy Award[edit]

  • Best Recording for Children (Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf) with the Philharmonia Orchestra directed by Herbert von Karajan

Tony Award[edit]

  • 1958 nominated: Best Play (Romanoff and Juliet)
  • 1958 nominated: Best Actor in a Play (Romanoff and Juliet)

Evening Standard British Film Award[edit]

  • 1980wonBest Actor (Death on the Nile)


  • 1992: Britannia Award
  • 1993: London Critics' Award
  • 1994: Bambi
  • 1997: German Video Prize of the DIVA Award
  • 1998: Bavarian Television Award
  • 2001: Golden Camera (Goldene Kamera, Berlin )
  • 2002: Planetary Consciousness Award of the Club of Budapest
  • 2004: Bavarian Film Award (Bayerischer Filmpreis)
  • 2004: Rose d'Or Charity Award with UNICEF (posthumously)


  • 1974: Golden Camera Award for Best Actor for theExchange of Notes
  • 1978: Prix de la Butte forOh my goodness! Messy memoirs
  • 1981: Karl-Valentin-Orden (Munich)
  • 1987: Golden Rascal (Goldenes Schlitzohr)

State honours and awards[edit]

  • 1957: Benjamin Franklin Medal of the Royal Society of Arts (London)
  • 21 September 1974: Order of the Smile (Poland)
  • 1975: Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) (United Kingdom)
  • 1978: UNICEF International Prize for outstanding services
  • 1985: Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)
  • 1986: Istiqlal Order (Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan)
  • 1987: Order of the Yugoslav Flag
  • 1990: Gold Medal of the City of Athens
  • 1990: Medal of the Hellenic Red Cross
  • 1990: Knight Bachelor (United Kingdom)
  • 1991: Medal of Charles University in Prague
  • 1994: Knight of the National Order of the Southern Cross (Brazil)
  • 1994: German Culture Prize (Deutscher Kulturpreis)
  • 1995: International UNICEF Prize for Outstanding Services
  • 1998: Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesverdienstkreuz)
  • 2004: Hanseatic Bremen Prize for International Understanding (Bremer Hansepreis für Völkerverständigung)

Honorary Degrees[edit]

Sir Peter Ustinov Received Many Honorary Degrees These Include:

Honorary Degrees
 Ohio 1968 Cleveland Institute of Music
 Scotland 1969 University of Dundee Doctor of Laws (LL.D)
 Pennsylvania 1971 La Salle University Doctor of Laws (LL.D)
 England 1972 Lancaster University
 Alberta 1981 University of Lethbridge
 Ontario June 1984 University of Toronto
 District of Columbia 1988 Georgetown University
 Ontario 1991 Carleton University
 England 1992 Durham University Doctor of Humanities
 Ontario 1995 St. Michael's College
 Ontario 1995 Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies
 Belgium 1995 Free University of Brussels
 Republic of Ireland 1999 National University of Ireland
  Switzerland 2001 International University in Geneva

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 Peter Ustinov's In popular culture

In 1997 singer/songwriter Lauren Christy released a song entitled "The Night I Saved Peter Ustinov", on her Polygram Records albumBreed. In it Christy recounts a story in which she saves Ustinov from a suicide attempt .

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 Peter Ustinov's References

  1. The pronunciations accepted by Sir Peter himself according to Miller, Gertrude M. Miller (Editor). BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names. Oxford University Press, 1971. ISBN 0-19-431125-2.
  2. "". Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  3. McEwan, Dorothea (2013). The Story of Däräsge Maryam. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 45. ISBN 3643904088. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 
  4. Distinguished Guest in the Visitation Parish | Gemeinde Mariae-Heimsuchung St. Petersburg. (17 March 2011).
  5. Peter Ustinov.
  6. MI5 monitored union and CND leaders with ministers' backing, book reveals Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, 5 October 2009.
  7. For his biography, with references to archival documentation and publications on him and his family, see Holtz: "Hall, Moritz", in: Siegbert Uhlig (ed.): Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 2, Wiesbaden 2005. There is also a family photo, which shows Ustinov's grandmother with her husband and their children, including Ustinov's father Jona.
  8. Ustinov, Peter (1977). Dear Me (1st ed.). Boston: Little, Brown. p. 95. ISBN 0-316-89051-0. OCLC 3071948. 
  9. Exit Through the Fireplace by Kate Dunn, 1998
  10. "Obituary: Sir Peter Ustinov (BBC)". Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  11. Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. University of California Press; 2003.
  12. World Federalist Movement: President at the Wayback Machine (archived October 29, 2008).
  13. Shafe, Michael; et al. (1982). University Education in Dundee 1881–1981 A Pictorial History. Dundee: University of Dundee. p. 205. 
  14. "Rectorial Elections". Archives, Records and Artefacts at the University of Dundee. University of Dundee. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  15. Baxter, Kenneth; et al. (2007). A Dundee Celebration. Dundee: University of Dundee. p. 32. 
  16. [1][dead link]
  17. peter ustinov. (28 March 2004).
  18. "Our people - Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)". British Humanist Association. Retrieved November 16, 2015. 
  19. Humanist. Rationalist Press Association Limited. 1963. 
  20. Peter Ustinov, 82. Chicago Tribune (30 March 2004).
  21. Sir Peter Ustinov, President of the World Federalist Movement from 1991 to 2004, Dies at Age 82 at the Wayback Machine (archived February 7, 2005), World Federalist Movement, 29 March 2004.
  22. "Peter Ustinov, a friend of global federalism has died". Union of European Federalists. 3 March 2004. Retrieved 29 October 2015. 
  23. Ustinov, Peter (May 1991). "The Old Man and Mr. Smith: A Fable" (1st ed.). Arcade Publishing. ISBN 978-1559701341. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  24. Profile of Omni: The New Frontier;; accessed 29 July 2014.
  25. Via le monde: Le défi mondial
  26. "Awards for Romanoff and Juliet". Retrieved 24 January 2010. 
  27. "Berlinale 1972: Prize Winners". Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  28. "Sir Peter Ustinov, Oscar-winning actor, dies at 82," The New York Times, 30 March 2004. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
  29. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1444. Retrieved 12 December 2012. 

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