Bristol finally unveils statue to its most famous son: Archie Leach

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The Independent Online

The face on the bronze statue might be instantly recognisable as one of the great Hollywood actors but the name on its plaque may confuse many who gaze upon it.

"Archie Leach," the inscription begins, before adding: "Known to some outside Bristol as Cary Grant." Seventy years after the film legend signed his first contract with Paramount studios – taking the name Cary Grant – Bristol yesterday set up the first reminder of his West Country origins.

The unveiling of the £60,000 statue by his widow, Barbara Jaynes, who flew in from Beverly Hills, began three days of Cary Grant festivities in the city. Bus tours visit the Bristol haunts where the actor grew up in poverty, saw his mother taken into a mental institution and became infatuated with the glamour of local theatres.

American visitors from the actor's internet fan club – nicknamed the "E-mail War Brides" after the Grant film I Was A Male War Bride – are expected at a photographic exhibition in the city called "Archie Goes to Hollywood".

The celebrations are a long overdue recognition of a man who left England at the age of 17 in a touring acrobat troupe and went on to become one of the great film stars. Born as Archibald Alexander Leach in the suburb of Horfield in 1904, he was only nine when his mother, Elsie, was committed to an asylum. He later lived in the Montpelier neighbourhood with his poorly-paid father, Elias, attending Fairfield Grammar School, where he received what he later described as a "sketchy education".

At the age of 13, Archie Leach was introduced by a teacher's assistant to the Bristol Hippodrome theatre. In his autobiography, Grant later wrote: "What other life could there be but that of an actor? They happily travelled and toured. They were classless, cheerful and carefree."

He became a junior stagehand at the theatre before joining Bob Pender's troupe of acrobats, which toured America in 1921. The teenager was so impressed that he stayed behind, working as an actor and finally breaking into films at the age of 27. He became known for films such as Arsenic and Old Lace, The Philadelphia Story and North by Northwest.

Grant returned frequently to Bristol, visiting his elderly mother – whose health improved – and taking her to see pantomimes, where he became friends with English stars such as Eric Morecambe.