Farewell to Ustinov: actor, writer, humanitarian

By Caroline Gammell
Friday 19 November 2004 01:00

Celebrities including Terence Stamp and Lord Attenborough turned out yesterday to celebrate the life of Sir Peter Ustinov, the actor, writer and raconteur. More than 600 people filled St-Martin-in-the-Fields church in London to pay their last respects.

Sir Peter, who was best known for his screen role as Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and his fabulous mimicry, died in March aged 82 in Switzerland, where he had lived for more than 30 years. He was buried in the small Swiss wine-making village of Bursins.

Stars such as Ben Kingsley, Stamp, Lord Attenborough and his brother Sir David ignored the rain to attend the thanksgiving service. Stamp, who starred as a young man with Sir Peter in Billy Budd, paid tribute to the actor and quoted Robert Louis Stevenson: "He has achieved success, he has lived well, laughed often and loved much." He added: "My first impression of Peter was of a large man sitting in a small chair. The strength of his presence was such that all the things I wanted to say were squashed in my throat." After the filming, Sir Peter told the 21-year-old Stamp: "If you do good things, then good things will come to you." There was laughter in the hour-long memorial service as his daughter Tamara Ustinov and her husband Malcolm Rennie read an extract from Ustinov's play, The Love of Four Colonels.

Several others spoke of the wit of Sir Peter, whose ability to speak many languages and imitate world leaders and various musical instruments, caused much mirth in the congregation.

Lord Attenborough said their acting careers had begun within three weeks of each other in 1942. "We have known each other a long time and I feel very glad today's [memorial] is taking place." The journalist and broadcaster Michael Parkinson said: "He was a remarkable man, a really lovely man, God's gift to talk-show hosts. I knew Peter from 1971 to the day he died and he had been on eight or nine of my shows. He was a wonderful man and I loved him."

Glenda Jackson, the actor turned Labour MP, said: "I feel very honoured to be invited. Peter was a wonderful human being. The work he did against war and violence and for human rights all over the world was wonderful."

Theodore Steinway Chapin, of the piano-making family, said in his address: "He was actor, writer, dramatist, wit, mimic, raconteur, humorist, director, producer, goodwill ambassador, cartoonist and, above all, a humanitarian."

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