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Submitted by Nicky Smith

Dictionary of National Biography entry

Price, Dennis (1915-1973), actor, was born Dennistoun John Franklin Rose Price, 23rd June 1915 in Ruscombe, Berkshire, the younger son and second of three children of Brigadier-General Thomas Rose Caradoc Price, an army officer descended from a Cornish baronet's family, the Prices of Trengwainton, and his wife Dorothy Patience, daughter of Sir Henry Verey,official referee of the Supreme Court of Judiciature. Price was educated at Radley College and read French and Latin at Worcester College, Oxford, where he joined the Oxford University Dramatic Society. On leaving Oxford, without a degree he studied for the stage at the Embassy Theatre school, and made his London debut at the Queen's Theatre on 6th September, 1937, with (Sir) John Gielgud in Shakespeare's Richard II.

In 1939 he married the beautiful blonde actress, Joan Schofield, daughter of Major-General Arthur Cecil Temperley of Beaconfield. They had two daughters; but the marriage was soon undermined by his homosexual predilections and increasing appetite of alcohol.

After being invalided out of the Royal Artillery in 1942, Price joined the company of Noel Coward who was so impressed by his talent that in 1943 he gave Price the leading role of Charles Condamine in his play Blithe Spirit, at the Duchess Theatre. In 1944 he won his first starring role on screen in A Canterbury Tale, directed by Michael Powell. A man with a strong presence, tall, handsome, and urbane, Price swiftly became on of Britain's leading international film stars. He played the title role in The Bad Lord Byron (1948), was chosen by Ivor Novello for the lead in the Technicolour film of Novello's musical, The Dancing Years (1949), and reached the peak of his career with Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), in which he was supremely sardonic as the heartless murderer of eight ducal cousins, all played by (Sir) Alec Guinness.

Joan Scofield divorced Price in 1950, and the British film recession brought a sharp decline in his career. On 19 April 1954 he was found unconscious in his gas-filled flat in Egerton Gardens, Kensington [a very swish address, about 200 yards from the Victoria and Albert Museum], but the dramatic publicity generated by his attempted suicide was the spur to a revival in his fortunes. He starred on the South African stage in Separate Tables (1957), made an acclaimed Broadway debut in Heartbreak House (1959) [not sure about this - if it is the play for which he left The Navy Lark, it flopped quite badly !], and had further notable film roles in Private's Progress (1955), The Naked Truth (1957), I'm All Right, Jack (1959), Tunes of Glory (1960), and Tamahine (1963).

In 1965, his nonchalant interpretation of the butler, Jeeves, in the BBC television series, The World of Wooster, delighted its creator, (Sir) Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, who felt that Price had 'that essential touch of Jeeves mystery'.

Troubles with the Inland Revenue caused what he termed 'a strategic retreat' in 1966 from his home in Curzon Street, Mayfair [an even posher address than the Kensington one], to settle on the Channel Island of Sark. he was declared bankrupt in 1967. He died from cirrhosis of the liver at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital, Guernsey, 6 October, 1973.

Sources - The Times, 8 October 1973; Terence Pettigrew, British Film Character Actors, 1982; personal knowledge. Michael Thornton

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