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Sir Bernard Miles

Sir Bernard James Miles, Baron Miles of Blackfriars, CBE (27th September, 1907 – 14th June, 1991) was an English character actor, writer and director.

Sir Bernard was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex and attended Bishopshalt School in Hillingdon.  His father and mother were, respectively, a farm labourer and a cook.  Sir Bernard completed his education at Pembroke College, Oxford and then entered the theatre in the 1930s.  He also soon began appearing in films and featured prominently in patriotic cinema during the Second World War, including classics such as ‘In Which We Serve’ and ‘One of Our Aircraft Is Missing’.  He also had an uncredited role in ‘The First of the Few’ (released in the United States as Spitfire). His typical persona as an actor was as a countryman, with a strong accent typical of the Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire counties.

He opened the Mermaid Theatre in London in 1959, the first new theatre opened in the City of London since the 17th century.  He was also, after Robert Newton, the actor most associated with the part of Long John Silver, which he played in a British television version of Treasure Island, and in an annual performance at the Mermaid commencing in the winter of 1961 – 1962.  Actors in the annual theatrical productions included Spike Milligan as Ben Gunn, and, in the 1968 production, Barry Humphries as Long John Silver.  It was Sir Bernard who, impressed by the talent of John Antrobus, originally commissioned him to write a play of some sort.  This led to Antrobus collaborating with Milligan to produce a one-act play called The Bed Sitting Room, which was later adapted to a longer play, and staged by Sir Bernard at The Mermaid on 31st January, 1963, with both critical and commercial success.

He had a pleasant rolling bass-baritone voice that worked well in theatre and film, as well as being much in demand for voice-overs.  As a performer, he was most well-known for a series of comic monologues, often given in a rural dialect.  These were recorded and sold as record albums, which were quite popular.  Some of his comic monologues are currently available on  Sir Bernard was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1953, was knighted in 1969, and was granted a life peerage as Baron Miles, of Blackfriars in the City of London in 1979.  He was only the second British actor ever to be given a peerage (the first was Laurence Olivier).