Home » TV and Films » Biographies » A Brief Profile of Trevor Howard

A Brief Profile of Trevor Howard

A Brief Profile of Trevor Howard

Early Life

The actor Trevor Howard was born Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith in Cliftonville, Margate, Kent on 29 September 2013. Later in life, he claimed to have been born in 1916 but his school records and other sources show otherwise. He was the son of Mabel and Arthur Howard-Smith, an insurance underwriter for Lloyd’s of London. His father’s work meant Howard spent the first eight years of his life globe-trotting.

Howard was educated at Clifton College and later at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He made his professional acting debut at the Gate Theatre in Revolt in a Reformatory (1934), while still attending RADA. In the mid-1930s, he reputedly turned down a Hollywood contract to pursue a West End stage career in classic theatre.

Military Service

Howard’s military service is something of an enigma. Howard was initially turned down for military service by both the RAF and the British Army at the outbreak of WW2. It had been reported that a manpower shortage had led to him being called up in 1940. He then joined the Army Signal Corps as a second lieutenant. It was purported he had been a war hero and won a Military Cross. It was further claimed he had demobbed at the end of the war with the rank of Captain.

However, a 2001 biography of Howard by the journalist Terence Pettigrew gave a very different picture of his time in the military. Pettigrew claimed to have interviewed those with access to records which showed Howard was commissioned into the South Staffordshire Regiment as a second lieutenant on 3 October 1942. He had then relinquished his commission on 2 October 1943 on the grounds of ill health, while still a second lieutenant. However, it would seem the embellished of Howard’s military service record was promoted by others rather than himself. The book also alleged that Howard had suffered from a psychotic personality.

Early Film Career

Howard made his big-screen debut with an uncredited appearance in The Way Ahead (1944). He managed to get a credit in his next film The Way to the Stars (1945), starring John Mills. He went on to co-star with Celia Johnson in his third film; Brief Encounter (1945). The success of the British romantic drama, directed by David Lean, propelled Howard to instant stardom. The movie is now often cited as one of the best British films of all time.

Trevor Howard with Celia Johnston in Brief Encounter (1944). Image credit: Pinterest (No copyright infringement intended)

He followed up his early big-screen success with three more big box-office hits; I See a Dark Stranger (1946), Green for Danger (1947), and They Made Me a Fugitive (1947). His next big success was starring as an intelligence officer, Major Calloway in The Third Man (1949), alongside Orson Welles. The film adapted from the Graham Greene novel of the same name was a huge international success. It was also the film of which Howard would later profess he was most proud.

Later Career

In 1950, the gravelly-voiced actor starred in three further big box office hits; Golden Salamander, Odette, and The Clouded Yellow. He won critical acclaim for his performance as the main protagonist, Harry Scobie, in Graham Greene’s Heart of the Matter (1953). Howard gained further merit in his first Hollywood movie Run for the Sun (1956) and similarly as Morel, a wildlife crusader, in Roots of Heaven (1958). In 1960, he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in Sons and Lovers. He also went on to play Captain William Bligh in the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), opposite Marlon Brando.

Some of Howard’s other notable films in the rest of his prodigious career include Von Ryan’s Express (1965), Ryan’s Daughter (1970), Ludwig (1972), and Gandhi (1982). His last film role was that of Grandfather in the 1988 British drama The Dawning, starring Anthony Hopkins. His very last screen appearance was as Lord Charles Henry Somerset in Shaka Zulu. The South African television series was originally screened between 1986 and 1989. By the end of his career, Howard, as well as his television and stage work, had appeared in almost 100 films.

Personal Life

Howard married the British actress Helen Cherry on 8 September 1944. They remained married until Howard’s death in 1988. The couple lived in the village of Arkley, Hertfordshire from around 1950 onwards. They did not have any children.

Howard had a reputation as a heavy drinker and womaniser, especially among the acting community. However, he was also an ardent cricket fan and a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club. Such was his passion for the game, he insisted on having a clause in his contracts that allowed him to take breaks from filming to attend test matches. His other great love was traditional jazz music.

Howard was known to have been modest and fairly non-plus about his accomplishments as an actor. He is said to have thought of acting as very much “just a job”. With his usual nonchalance, he once told an American interviewer “We don’t have the Method School of acting in England. We simply read the script, let it seep in, then go put on whiskers – and do it”.

In 2003, the Sunday Times reported that Howard was one of around 300 individuals who had declined official honours. He turned down a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) award in 1982.


Trevor Howard died in hospital at Bushey, Watford, near London, on 7 January 1988, aged 74. He had been suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, most likely brought on by heavy drinking. His death was hastened when he contracted flu and bronchitis, with complications from jaundice.

Howard’s funeral, at his own request, was a simple affair held at Hendon crematorium. It was attended by his local friends but few, if any, from the acting fraternity. His favourite jazz music was played as mourners filed past his coffin. After the memorial service, mourners toasted his memory in traditional style at his local village pub; The Gate, in Arkley.


Header image credit: Wikipedia Commons


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to toolbar