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Robert Adolph Wilton Morley, CBE (26 May 1908 - 3 June 1992) was an English actor who was usually cast as a pompous English gentleman representing the Establishment, often in supporting roles. In Movie Encyclopedia, film critic Leonard Maltin describes Morley as "recognisable by his ungainly bulk, bushy eyebrows, thick lips and double chin, ... particularly effective when cast as a pompous windbag." More politely, Ephraim Katz in his International Film Encyclopaedia describes Morley as "a rotund, triple-chinned, delightful character player of the British and American stage and screen." In his autobiography, Responsible Gentleman, Morley said his stage career started with managements valuing his appearance for playing "substantial gentleman" roles - as a doctor, lawyer, accountant or other professional member of society.[self-published source?]
Morley was born in Semley, Wiltshire, England, the son of Gertrude Emily (née Fass) and Robert Wilton Morley, a major in the British Army. His mother came from a German family that had emigrated to South Africa. Morley attended Wellington College, Berkshire, which he hated, followed by RADA. As he was a famous "Old Wellingtonian", generations of headmasters tried to contact him, without success, with Morley stating "the only reason for me visiting Wellington would be to burn it down".
Morley made his West End stage debut in 1929 in Treasure Island at the Strand Theatre and his Broadway debut in 1938 in the title role of Oscar Wilde at the Fulton Theatre. Although soon won over to the big screen, Morley remained both a busy West End star and successful author, as well as appearing in touring productions.
Ken Annakin's Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines was released 16 June 1965. In the Britishperiodcomedy film, Morley is featured among an international ensemble cast including Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, Terry-Thomas, James Fox, Red Skelton, Benny Hill, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Gert Fröbe and Alberto Sordi. The film, revolving around the craze of early aviation circa 1910, is about a pompous newspaper magnate (Morley) who is convinced, by his daughter (Miles) and her fiancé (Fox), to organize an air race from London to Paris. A large sum of money is offered to the winner, hence it attracts a variety of characters who participate. The film received positive reviews, describing it as funny, colourful, clever and having captured the early enthusiasm for aviation. It was treated as a major production, one of only three full-length 70 mm Todd-AO Fox releases in 1965 with an intermission and musical interlude part of the original screenings. Because of the Todd-AO process, the film was an exclusive roadshow feature initially shown in deluxe Cinerama venues, where customers needed reserved seats purchased ahead of time. The film grossed $31,111,111 theatrically and on home video $29,950,000. Audience reaction both in first release and even today, is nearly universal in assessing the film as one of the "classic" aviation films.
Morley also personified the conservative Englishman in many comedy and caper films. He was the face of BOAC (later British Airways) as the merry television commercial spokesman of the 1970s with "We'll take good care of you" for British Airways. Later in his career, he received critical acclaim and numerous accolades for his performance in Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?.
During the 1980s, Morley hosted a celebrity cooking show on Cable TV, Celebrity Chefs. In 1980, Morley hosted (providing explanatory introductions) the 14-episode Granada Television anthology series Ladykillers.
He was renowned as a witty raconteur and for being an eloquent conversationalist, as well as a noted and enthusiastic gourmet, in real life and in various roles in film and TV.
Morley was honoured by being the first King of Moomba appointed by the MelbourneMoomba festival committee and, in typical humility, he accepted the crown in bare feet. Morley was in Australia touring his one-man show, The Sound of Morley.
In his book British Film Character Actors, Terence Pettigrew wrote: "Morley, who has more wobbly chins than a Shanghai drinking club, enjoys poking fun at life's absurdities, among whom he generously includes himself."
Robert Morley married Joan Buckmaster (1910-2005), a daughter of Dame Gladys Cooper. Their elder son, Sheridan Morley, became a writer and critic. They also had a daughter, Annabel, and another son, Wilton.