Sir Peter Ustinov (born Peter Alexander Ustinov) was born in London in 1921, after his father, an officer in the Russian Czar's army, refused to take an oath to the Eastern Orthodox church because he was a Protestant. His mother was Nadia Benois, the designer daughter of Alexandre Benois, the St. Petersburg designer of the first big Diaghilev ballets.
According to Peter Wright, in his book Spycatcher, Ustinov's father was Klop Ustinov, who had been active in MI5 (British Security Service, Counterespionage) as an agent runner during the Second World War. Ustinov used to allude in his speeches and stories to his father's espionage work and with the recent release of official papers it would seem that Wright was right (no pun intended) about Ustinov's father.
Educated at the Westminster School in London, he left at 16 because he hated it, but had almost instant success on the London stage.
His first play was staged when he was only 19.
During his time in the army in World War II he was batman to actor David Niven.
The pair were to become lifelong friends. He co-starred with
Niven and co-wrote
the screenplay for the classic war movie The Way Ahead in 1944.
He spent part of the war stationed in Kent at St Margaret's at Cliffe, and returned there in 2002 to open a village hall.
He produced his first play, Home of Regrets, in 1942. He wrote, produced & directed the 1946 film,
School for Secrets.
His acting career lasted more than 60 years, and included Academy Awards
for two supporting roles - in 1961 for Spartacus, and in 1965 for Topkapi.
He was also nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for Quo Vadis in 1951, and best screenplay for 1968's Hot Millions.
In January 1963, the Mirisch Company sued him for canceling out of The Pink Panther, which was in production in
Rome with his replacement, Peter Sellers.
In 1973, The New London Theatre in Drury Lane, London WC2 first opened with Peter Ustinov's play The Unknown Soldier and His Wife.
One of his most famous film roles was as the Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot in a number of film adaptations of Agatha Christie's novels.
Famous for his rich, musical speaking voice, he was also fluent in French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish, and could also speak Greek and Turkish.
Ustinov was married three times - first to Isolde Denham, Isolde Denham, daughter of Reginald Denham and Moyna MacGill. Their daughter is Tamara Ustinov. Isolde was the half-sister of Angela Lansbury. The marriage lasted from 1940 to their divorce in 1950 and they had one child.
His second marriage was to Suzanne Cloutier, which lasted from 1954 to their divorce in 1971. They had three children, two daughters, Pavla Ustinov and Andrea Ustinov, and a son Igor Ustinov.
His third and final marriage was to Helene du Lau d Allemans, which lasted from 1972 to his death.
Sir Peter was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1975, and was knighted in 1990. He was also the Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF from 1968 until his death, and Chancellor of the University of Durham from 1992 until his deat. He was a Humanist Laureate, a member of the International Academy of Humanism.
He died of heart failure on the 28th March, 2004, at Genolier, Switzerland.
In April 2004, his funeral service was held at Geneva's historic Cathedral of St Pierre. He was later buried in the village of Bursins, where he had lived in a Chateau since 1971.
Ustinov will be remembered as a master of many things. He was the portly British character actor, the master dialectician and famed entertaining raconteur who shone in comedic roles and dramatic performances alike, and the acclaimed writer who sold more books in Russia than Agatha Christie and Sartre combined! On his death his agent, Steve Kenis said:
"He had a breadth of vision of himself and of the world that few people have.
"He was a writer of note. People forget he was twice-nominated by the Writers' Guild of America for screenplays he wrote.
"Above all he was a great humanitarian. He was a Unicef ambassador and he valued that very highly."
His chose the epitaph for his gravestone to be:
The Way Ahead