When he was cast in Richard Attenborough’s epic film Young Winston in 1972, the dashing Simon Ward seemed destined for stardom. But, although he had a career of which any actor would have been proud, stardom eluded him, largely as a result of his apparent absence of ambition. He once said: “I’ve never really wanted for anything, neither fame nor riches.”
When he was selected for the role, playing Churchill between the ages of 17 and 27 and supplying the voice-over, Ward was not a complete unknown. But Attenborough had to fight for him, threatening to pull out of the movie unless the producer, Carl Foreman, agreed to Ward assuming the part. Attenborough later said Ward “was a marvellous actor with great physical agility. He had the ability to take on Churchill’s persona dramatically and physically”.
Ward won the Evening Standard award for most promising newcomer and was nominated in the same category for both the Golden Globe and BAFTA awards.
He decided when he was a boy that he wanted to be an actor. He joined the National Youth Theatre at the age of 13 and then studied at RADA. He joined rep companies, first in Northampton and then in Birmingham, but his break came in 1966 when he took the lead in Joe Orton’s Loot at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre in London. The production later transferred to the Criterion.
After Young Winston, Ward played the Duke of Buckingham in Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) and its sequel The Four Musketeers (1974). There followed the First World War adventure Aces High (1976), based on RC Sherriff’s Journey’s End, in which he played a Royal Flying Corps pilot, and Zulu Dawn (1979), in which he portrayed a cavalry officer.
From the early 1980s, Ward mainly worked in television and the theatre. In 1987, when he was appearing in William Douglas-Home’s comedy Portraits at the Savoy, he was discovered unconscious with a fractured skull by a canal near his home in Hampstead. He was unable to remember anything about the attack, but had to undergo brain surgery. As a result of the assault, he developed a chronic blood disorder.
Gradually, he resumed his career, stepping in at short notice in 1995 to replace Stephen Fry in the role of spy George Blake in Simon Gray’s Cell Mates, after Fry walked out shortly after the play had opened. Ward learned the part, which included Russian as well as English, in only six days.
On television, he played the civil service mandarin Monty Everard in Judge John Deed (2003-07) and the churchman and politician Bishop Gardiner in the BBC’s historical drama series The Tudors (2009-10). He also appeared in touring productions of Oscar Wilde’s The Ideal Husband and Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III. Although suffering from poor health in the latter play, he completed an arduous tour without missing a performance.
Last year, Ward was cast as Alfred Doolittle in a West End production of Pygmalion with Diana Rigg, with whom he had trained at RADA, but illness forced him to withdraw shortly before it opened.
On moving to Somerset in 2010, he said: “It has taken the edge off my hunger for working because it is so beautiful here, and I love being near my children and grandchildren.” He is survived by his wife Alexandra, whom he met at RADA, and their three daughters.
Ward, who was born on October 19, 1941, died on July 20, aged 70.
Richard Anthony Baker