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100 years of much-loved character actor Denholm Elliott

Born on 31 May 1922, the British actor enjoyed a long career which brought him to the Costa del Sol, although it was in Ibiza that he bought a home and finally died

ALEKK M. SAANDERS

This year marks several round-number anniversaries in the life of British actor Denholm Elliott. One hundred years ago he was born in England, 80 years ago his plane was shot down over Germany, and 30 years ago he died in Spain.

A particular favourite

Denholm Elliott was born in Kensington, London, on 31 May, 1922. He was of English, Scottish, and Irish descent. He was educated at Malvern College and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. During the second world war his plane was shot down over Germany and the young soldier was thrown into a prisoner-of-war camp for several years.

Elliott made his stage debut in 1945 and four years later he appeared on the silver screen. The talented actor specialised in playing flawed upper middle-class English gentlemen, well-mannered, ineffectual characters although also slightly eccentric and alcoholic ones as well.

His career spanned nearly 40 years, and he became a well-known face both in Britain and in the United States. He was a particular favourite with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) in the 1980s. The actor managed to win the award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for three consecutive years. Additionally, the actor appeared in three films that were nominated for the Oscar.

Filming in Andalucía

In the spring of 1959, Elliott was in Malaga and its surrounding area playing the leading role of Oliver Larker in Scent of Mystery, a film about vacationing English novelist, who tried to save a young American heiress from being killed during her vacation in Spain.

Filming started in April 1959 near Barcelona, followed by Pamplona and Madrid. However, most of the three-month-long production took place in Andalucía, or rather in Cordoba, Seville, Granada, and Malaga province where the culmination of the exciting plot was filmed.

Larker, with his sidekick (a taxi driver, Smiley), travelled across the Guadalhorce countryside in order to prevent the crime. The film became a sort of travelogue, showcasing the beauty of the local valleys and mountains as well as emblematic Ronda and Torremolinos and even Pizarra,

At the Caminito de Rey, the main characters were seen racing along stone walkways to escape gunfire. Unsurprisingly, during the production, the film was titled The Chase Is On. Although later it was released under the title Scent of Mystery, eventually it got its final name - Holiday in Spain, after extra adaptation. The New York Times critics wrote about the new version that it became "so light and bright and gay in its wild adventure in southern Spain that you never really seem to care whether it makes much sense or not".

Private life in Spain

Being gay was a part of Denholm's private life too, although it was never officially confirmed. Elliott's first marriage to actress Virginia McKenna ended in divorce. Later he married American actress Susan Robinson, with whom he had two children. It's said that their marriage was an open one as Elliott was bisexual. In any case, he was part of an important milestone for the gay community. In 1971, he kissed Joss Ackland on a West End stage in John Mortimer's play Bermondsey. It is considered the first gay kiss on stage.

It was apparently his bisexuality that brought Elliott to Ibiza, an island of freedom and tolerance. He bought a house in Santa Eulària des Riu and spent his last days there. Denholm Elliott died at his home of complications arising from AIDS, on 6 October 1992, when he was 70. According to some sources, his ashes were scattered in the garden of his Ibiza home.

In 1992 the actor played his last role in Noises Off.

Elliott was considered an all-giving person, full of life.