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Frank Thornton

Frank Thornton

Frank Thornton was born in 1921 and he grew up in Dulwich, London; from a young age he had a keen interest in drama when he started watching silent films at his local cinema. When he was a teenager his aspirations to become an actor were dismissed by his father, William Ball, a banker, who instead wanted his son to have a regular job.

Following his dad’s advice, he applied for a job as a clerk in an insurance company. However Thornton still pursued his interest in drama and enrolled in an evening class at the London School of Dramatic Arts. After two years of working in an insurance company, he was about to realise his dream of becoming an actor when he was offered a full time place by the London School of Dramatic Arts.

He tried convincing his father to fund his studies so he could study full time, and his father eventually agreed. Just as he was about to start drama school, the Second World War had begun and he moved with the rest of the drama school to Oxfordshire. Finding work with a touring company in Thurles in County Tipperaray, Ireland at nineteen, he made his debut performance.

Thornton’s dream of becoming an actor was once again put on hold when he was drafted into the RAF in 1943. He was sent overseas to Canada where he trained as a navigator. Thornton never experienced military service when he came back to Britain before the end of the war 1945; the same year he met and married actress Beryl Evans they had one daughter together.  

He did perform plays in the RAF entertainment Unit until he was discharged from RAF in 1947. Once again he was able to pursue his life long ambition of acting, he started out again by acting as Franzel in a Novelli musical The Dancing Years for a year until 1948. Thornton was in another small acting role as Gregory Thistle in Vernon Sylvaine’s farce One Wild Oat.

After two west end plays, it was not until the early seventies when he eventually found fame in the television series ‘Are You Being Served‘ which ran from 1972 to 1985,  playing captain Steven Peacock, a pompous well dressed floor manager,  which he was ideally suited to playing as a straight comedy actor. It was role that millions of people often associated with Thornton the most. During this time, he also managed to join the Royal Shakespeare Company.

He reprised the same role in a spin off show called Grace and Favour at the end of the seventies. This success in the seventies landed him more comedy roles in more than fifty British films;  The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Three Musketeers, Steptoe and Son and The Bawdy adventures of Tom Jones. He returned to the stage in the eighties in the West End musical, Me and My Gal. In the 1997 he landed a role in the TV series, Last of the Summer Wine as Herbert, replacing actor Brian Wilde, as well as making two appearances, the first in 2000 and second in 2002, as Brian Dingle in the soap opera Emmerdale.

In the early hours of Saturday 16 March Thornton passed away in his sleep. He was ninety two years old. No biography has ever been written about Thornton’s life, however in a career which spanned fifty years he was rarely out of work as an actor. A member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he was highly regarded among his fellow actors. 

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