Gifted with gravitas, Timothy West is a master at playing authority figures. Over his long and distinguished career, he has portrayed Winston Churchill in three productions (Hiroshima, 1995; The Last Bastion, 1984; and Churchill and the Generals, 1979), King Francis in Ever After (1998), Emperor Vespasian in Masada (1981), Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII (1979), King Edward VII in Edward the King (1975), and Bolingbroke -- the future King Henry IV -- in The Tragedy of King Richard II (1970). He has also portrayed sundry sirs, lords, judges, overseers, superintendents, doctors, professors, and high-ranking military officers. Remove him to the fantasy world of animated features, and it's the same. In two cartoon series, he was the voice of King Otto (The Big Knights, 1999) and King Hrothgar (Beowulf, 1998). Often, he plays the head of a family rather than the head of an army or a country. For example, he portrayed Charles Dickens' father, John, in the 2002 TV miniseries Dickens; Gloucester, father of Edgar and Edmund, in a 1997 TV production of Shakespeare's King Lear; and James Tyrone, the head of a dysfunctional family, in the 1991 British National Theatre adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's A Long Day's Journey Into Night. West also portrayed still another king -- Harry King -- in a 1987 TV production, Harry's Kingdom.
West was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, on October 20, 1934. Whether his veins ran with royal blood -- the kind that would later enable him to play those kings and emperors -- is doubtful. But there is no question that his veins ran with acting blood: Both of his parents were theater professionals. It was only natural, therefore, that he would marry an actress, Prunella Scales, and that he would father children, Samuel and Joseph, who grew up to act in films of their own. On occasion, Scales and West perform together, as in the O'Neill play and in Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party at London's Piccadilly Theatre in 1999. West has also acted with his sons. In the aforementioned Edward the King, they played his onscreen sons. West began his professional film, stage, and TV career in the 1960s. In the early '70s, his appearance in two important motion pictures -- Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and The Day of the Jackal (1973) -- helped win him roles in other major productions, including adaptations of such literary classics as Joseph Andrews, Hard Times, Crime and Punishment, and Oliver Twist.