Leslie Linder: Actor and theatrical agent who worked with Jack Lemmon, Rod Steiger and Peter Sellers

Leslie Linder was one of the most respected and successful theatrical agents during the boom years of British films in the 1960s and '70s. A big man of extraordinary energy and charm, Linder gave up his acting career in 1961 to join the talent agency, John Redway Associates, where he swiftly made an impact nursing the careers of young actors – including Sean Connery, whom he discovered in the chorus of South Pacific and insisted on signing despite his partner's objection to the actor's dirty fingernails.

When Peter Sellers, who had just won rave reviews for his role as Clare Quilty in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita, received a Hollywood offer he felt he couldn't refuse, he asked Linder to break the contract for his next film, a minor British comedy called Waltz of the Toreadors. Although Sellers was one of his agency's biggest clients, Linder refused to do it. Ten days before Toreadors was due to start shooting, Seller's withdrawal would have killed the project stone dead. "You'd put a hundred people out of work, Peter. You can't do it," Linder said. Sellers threatened to move his representation to the American agency, William Morris. Unflustered, Linder gave him the directions to the Morris office. Sellers backed down.

Linder's stubborn integrity and reputation for straight-dealing was well established by the time he opened the Redway office in Rome in 1964, where he continued to attract a dazzling array of some of the most talented actors, directors and writers for the productions Hollywood was setting up in Italy to take advantage of the lira-dollar exchange rate.

Although his mid-Atlantic accent made many of his clients believe he was an American, he was born on 31 August 1924 in North London, where his father owned a chain of confectionery shops. He was 11 when he was taken to New York on a visit, and stayed on with relatives for five years. He became an accomplished American football player and remained a dedicated sportsman all his life. Until a year ago he played tennis and worked out every day.

In 1940, he went to Canada and tried to enlist in the army. Turned down because of his age, he spent a year playing semi-pro American football before returning to England in 1942 and joining the Royal Armoured Corps. He was discharged in 1945 with the rank of captain in the Parachute Regiment.

With no idea what he wanted to do now that the war was over, he saw an advertisement in a copy of the News Chronicle he picked up on the underground offering government grants for ex-servicemen for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Although he had never acted in his life – "I was six foot two, had a flaming red beard, and I thought: why not give it a go?" – he applied, and won a place. Other students in the two years he was there included Adrienne Corri, Peter O'Toole and Laurence Harvey, who later became a friend and colleague. It was the start of an acting career that would take Linder back to New York in the golden age of American live television, where he worked with Jack Lemmon and Rod Steiger.

After 10 years in the agency business, in 1971 he joined Martin Ransohoff's Filmways company. His first film as a producer was 10 Rillington Place. Based on Ludovic Kennedy's book, it was the story of the serial killer John Christie, played by his friend Richard Attenborough, and the execution of the innocent Timothy Evans (played by John Hurt) for the murder of one of Christie's victims.

A committed campaigner for social justice, Linder found his greatest fulfillment in projects which expressed his own beliefs. As an anti-apartheid activist, he had met Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo before the former's imprisonment in the early 1960s, and produced Mandela, starring Danny Glover, for the BBC in 1987.

In the 1960s, together with Stella Richmond, and his friend and client, Wolf Mankowitz, he had brought the Ward Room, a moribund restaurant in Curzon Street, and planned to turn it into a place where his clients and friends would want to go. The journalist Logan Gourlay was not impressed. "This is a terrible idea," he said. "You'll lose your shirt. It's a white elephant." Linder called it The White Elephant, and it became the place to dine for Hollywood stars in London for 30 years. In the 1970s, with Lord Lichfield and the celebrity tailor Douglas Haywood, he opened Burke's restaurant in Mayfair, continuing the "lucky elephant" theme with the Cool Elephant, a jazz club, with Dudley Moore as resident pianist.

It was not until he was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 80 that Linder thought of "taking it a little easier" – even so, he was the only man his doctor knew who continued to play tennis every day throughout his chemotherapy treatment. Zealously guarding his privacy, he avoided award ceremonies, declined interviews, and saw only old friends in the last decade of his full life. "I have a wonderful son, two terrific daughters, six grandchildren whom I adore, and a beautiful and loving partner [the former fashion marketing guru, Norma Quine]. What else do I need?" he recently told a friend.

Peter Evans

Leslie Linder, actor, theatrical agent and restaurateur: born Highgate, London 31 August 1924; married 1952 Dorothy Alison (separated 1971, died 1992; one son, two daughters); partner to Norma Quine; died London 16 January 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick