Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Sir Alec Guinness

Sir Alec Guinness' (1914-2000) archives have been purchased by the British Library from his family for £320,000. Funding from the Friends of the British Library was sought for this acquisition of 100 volumes of diaries and approximately 1,000 letters (many of which include cartoon style illustrations) to family and friends.

One of the great English actors of 20th century, Sir Alec was famous for his roles in 'Lawrence of Arabia', 'A Passage to India', 'Oliver Twist' and in the 'Star Wars' trilogy. Both the diaries and letters offer insights into Sir Alec's character - his superstitions, outlook on life, health, finances and relationships with his friends and family including his parents (he had never known his father and got on poorly with his mother).

Ref: 601-8097U, Amateur actors, Sir George Grey Special Collections
The British Library also holds the archives of his contemporaries - Sir Laurence Olivier, John G Gielgud, and Sir Alec's great friend Sir Ralph Richardson (1902-1983).

In 1983, soon after learning of Richardson's death, Sir Alex wrote in a diary that he was putting on "a very heavy grey overcoat" and felt somebody invisible help him on with it. "I felt a shiver of fright, made the sign of the cross and then laughed … I laughed I believe because I thought it was the sort of thing Ralph might have done."

In 1944, whilst on active service in the Navy Volunteer Reserve, he wrote to his wife describing an experience during the night. "An audible sinister voice said in my ear 'TOMORROW'. It didn't say anything else, but its meaning was too clear. It implied 'by tomorrow you'll be dead'".However, the voice was "so wicked I felt something like hope". Sir Alec's ship was subsequently wrecked in a storm but he survived without injury.

Whilst Guinness published two volumes of his own diary extracts entitled 'My Name Escapes Me' and 'A Positively Final Appearance', the diaries have never been published in full and his letters were not catalogued. The British Library plans to exhibit some of the material in the near future and the archive will be open to scholars in 2014.

Auckland Libraries' heritage collections contain resources on movies and the theatre as well as images in the Heritage Images database (try keywords such as theatre, actors, film).

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