Edward Fox OBE
  • May 21, 2015
  • Posted In: Actor

Award winning British actor Edward Fox OBE (b.1937) visited Henry Poole & Co at the very beginning of his career in 1959 having left Rada hoping to establish himself on stage in repertory. His single order for a striped worsted single-breasted suit cost £47, 14-shillings and sixpence. The address given is Ockenden Cottage, Cuckfield, Sussex where he grew up with his brothers actor James and film producer Robert. The order gives every indication that Poole’s services were required to cut a smart suit in which the young man could audition.

The founders of the Fox acting dynasty were Edward’s father theatrical agent Robin Fox and his wife the actress/writer Angela Worthington. Robin Fox was a flamboyant character whose clients included Paul ‘A Man For All Seasons’ Schofield, John Mills and future US President Ronald Reagan. His alleged amours included Princess Marina of Greece (the sister-in-law of King George VI) and Rosalind Chatto whose son married Princess Margaret’s daughter Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones.

Edward Fox was educated at Harrow of which he said ‘I would have liked more of an accent on artistic things’. He served with the Coldstream Guards but said he ‘was not viewed as the right stuff’ and applied to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Though he didn’t complete his two-year course at RADA, Fox made his theatrical debut in 1958 and apart from an extra role in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) served his apprenticeship as a theatre actor.

In 1969 Fox was offered a part in Richard Attenborough’s directorial debut the musical Oh! What A Lovely War co-starring the crème de la crème of British acting royalty including Dirk Bogarde, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Maggie Smith, John Mills, Laurence Olivier and Corin, Michael and Vanessa Redgrave. But Fox’s success was overshadowed by his younger brother James who rose to international stardom in films such as The Servant, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Isadora and Mick Jagger’s acting debut Performance (1970).

After filming Performance James Fox split-up with girlfriend Sarah Miles, his father Robin died and he stopped acting following a religious epiphany. Coincidentally 1971 was the breakthrough year for his elder brother. Harold Pinter’s 1971 screenplay for The Go-Between earned Edward Fox his first BAFTA as Best Supporting Actor co-starring with Julie Christie, Michael Redgrave and Alan Bates.

International film stardom followed when director Fred Zinnermann rejected Roger Moore, Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson and Robert Redford for the pivotal assassin’s role in The Day of the Jackal (1973) and gave the part to Edward Fox. Of the killer hired to assassinate General de Gaulle (another Henry Poole man), Fox said ‘you’ve got to make a totally immoral man likeable otherwise the audience don’t want to go and watch the film. You have to make the audience feel quite sorry that he missed’.

The glacial, deadly, aristocratic Englishman was a role that casting agents would turn to Fox for again and again. He was cast as Lieutenant General Horrocks in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far with an ensemble cast including Michael Caine, Dirk Bogade, Ryan O’Neal, James Caan and Sean Connery. In 1978 Fox was cast in a career-defining role as King Edward VIII in a BBC TV series chronicling the 1936 Abdication Crisis called Edward and Mrs Simpson. Fox’s resemblance to the Duke of Windsor was extraordinary as was his performance as the troubled monarch manqué.

The slicked hair, clipped accent, brittle character and underlying sadness of the Duke as Prince of Wales, King and exile added up to a masterful performance by Edward Fox that he never entirely escaped. Fox and Cynthia Harris as Edward and Mrs Simpson have never been bettered though their story has been told many times since on film and television. His roles in subsequent films such as The Cat and the Canary, The Mirror Crack’d, Gandhi and The Shooting Party have echoes of the Duke of Windsor’s lethal charm.

In a case of life imitating art, Edward Fox’s first wife Tracy Reed was the maternal granddaughter of Freda Dudley Ward who was the mistress of Edward VIII as Prince of Wales. Fox and Reed separated in the 1970s. After a dalliance with Eileen Aitkens, he met actress Joanna David with whom he had two children Emilia and Freddie. Both accomplished stage actors, Emilia Fox is the star of television series such as Silent Witness and Merlin and Freddie Fox has won acclaim in film appearing recently in Pride and The Riot Club. Edward Fox’s nephew Laurence appears in Inspector Morse television spin-off Lewis.

In 2014 Edward Fox told The Times ‘acting isn’t for people who bleed easily’. Only the Redgraves rival the Fox dynasty for the title Britain’s first family of the acting profession. Though Edward Fox’s film credits continue to accrue not least The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) and Stage Beauty (2004), he has dedicated the latter part of his career to the stage. The 2010 production An Evening with Anthony Trollope was met with great success. In 2013 he appeared as Winston Churchill opposite Dame Helen Mirren as HM The Queen in The Audience. In 2015 he appears in a BBC television adaptation of The Dresser co-starring Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins.

(c) James Sherwood