Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Rd, London NW10 5JU, UK
Henry Hinchliffe Ainley (21 August 1879 – 31 October 1945) was an English Shakespearean stage and screen actor.
He was born in Leeds on 21 August 1879. He was baptised in St. George's Parish Church and brought up in Morley by his father Richard, a cloth finisher, and his mother Ada, but moved to London as an adult to pursue an acting career. He made his professional stage debut for F.R. Benson's company of actors and later joined Herbert Beerbohm Tree's company. He found fame in 1902 as Paolo in Paolo and Francesca.
Ainley's first stage role was as a messenger in Macbeth. He subsequently appeared as Glo'ster in Henry V at the Lyceum in London and returned to Leeds to play at the Grand Theatre. Later roles included Oliver Cromwell, Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and Macbeth himself. He played Malvolio (1912) and Leontes under the direction of Granville Barker and portrayed Hamlet several times, including a 1930 production that was chosen for a Royal Command Performance.
John Gielgud held Ainley in high regard and fulfilled a longstanding ambition to perform with him when Gielgud played Iago opposite Ainley's Othello in a 1932 BBC Radio broadcast. But he described Ainley's Prospero as "disastrous", writing in the Sunday Times in 1996,
Shakespearean screen credits include Henry VIII (1911) and As You Like It, a 1936 film which also featured his son Richard and Laurence Olivier.
He was married three times - to Susanne Sheldon, Elaine Fearon and the novelist Bettina Riddle, who was known as the Baroness von Hutten zum Stolzenberg. He had several children (although the published obituaries in The Times and The Stage disagree as to the precise numbers) which include the actors Henry T. Ainley, Richard Ainley and Anthony Ainley, and also Sam and Timothy Ainley, who were not actors.
Fifteen letters in the possession of Laurence Olivier's widow Joan Plowright suggest that Ainley may have had a sexual relationship with the younger actor in the late 1930s. The letters - said by Olivier's biographer Terry Coleman to be explicitly homosexual in content - suggest that Ainley was infatuated with Olivier, even if, as some members of Olivier's family insist, notably the actor's son Tarquin Olivier, the feeling was not reciprocated.
He was also the father of Henrietta Riddle who was briefly engaged to Alistair Cooke in 1932.
In 1921, Ainley became a member of the council of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and served as its president from 1931 to 1933.
Ainley's own theatre company launched the stage career of Robert Eddison.
In 1932, Ainley was part of the effort to save the debt-laden Sadler's Wells theatre. According to a report in The Times dated 15 March 1932, Ainley considered Sadler's Wells stalwart Samuel Phelps the "greatest actor of all" and Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson "the greatest of Hamlets".
Ainley died in London and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
BACK TO HOME PAGE