Peter Ustinov : 1921 - 2004

Born Peter Alexander von Ustinov on 16 April, 1921, Sir Peter Ustinov was a British-born and raised actor, writer, dramatist and raconteur. Educated at Westminster School, he had a difficult and uncertain childhood because of his parents' constant bickering and personality clashes. After training as an actor in his late teens, he made his stage début in 1938 at the Players' Theatre, becoming quickly established.

Following military service as a private soldier during World War II, during which he had made propaganda films with actors such as David Niven, he began to branch out into writing. His first major success was with "The Love of Four Colonels" in 1951. His career as a dramatist continued alongside his acting career, his best-known play being "Romanoff and Juliet" (1956).

His film roles include Roman emperor Nero in "Quo Vadis?" (1951), Captain Vere in "Billy Budd" (1962), Lentulus Batiatus in "Spartacus" (1960), an old man surviving a totalitarian future in "Logan's Run" (1976), and in several films as Hercule Poirot, a part he first played in "Death on the Nile" (1978). He also worked on several films as writer and occasionally director, including "The Way Ahead" (1944), "School for Secrets" (1946), "Hot Millions" (1968) and "Memed My Hawk" (1984). His autobiography, "Dear Me" (1977), was well received and saw him describe his life (ostensibly his childhood) whilst being interrogated by his own ego. He won Oscars for his roles in "Spartacus" and "Topkapi". He also won two Golden Globe awards (he famously set the Oscar and Globe statues up on his desk as if playing doubles tennis; the game was also a love of his life, as was ocean yachting).

In the later part of his life (from 1969 until his death), his acting and writing tasks took second place to his work on behalf of UNICEF – the United Nations Children's Fund, for which he was a Goodwill Ambassador and fundraiser. In this role he visited some of the neediest children and made use of his ability to make just about anybody laugh, including many of the world's most disadvantaged children. “Sir Peter could make anyone laugh,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy is quoted as saying. “His one-man show in German was the funniest performance I have ever seen – and I don't speak a word of German.”

Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit.

The point of living and of being an optimist is to be foolish enough to believe the best is yet to come.

In America, through pressure of conformity, there is freedom of choice, but nothing to choose from.

Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.

It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously.

Children are the only form of immortality that we can be sure of.

Intelligent or not, we all make mistakes and perhaps the intelligent mistakes are the worst, because so much careful thought has gone into them

Parents are the bones on which children cut their teeth.

A diplomat these days is nothing but a head waiter who is allowed to sit down occasionally.

If Botticelli were alive today he'd be working for Vogue.

At the age of four with paper hats and wooden swords we're all Generals. Only some of us never grow out of it.

Contrary to general belief, I do not believe that friends are necessarily the people you like best, they are merely the people who got there first

I'm convinced there's a small room in the attic of the Foreign Office where future diplomats are taught to stammer.

Once we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our mind, our duty is to furnish it well.

If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done.

The only reason I made a commercial for American Express was to pay my American Express bill.

I was irrevocably betrothed to laughter, the sound of which has always seemed to me the most civilised music in the world.

I have four children which is not bad considering I'm not a Catholic.

Courage is often lack of insight, whereas cowardice in many cases is based on good information.

I am an optimist, unrepentant and militant. After all, in order not to be a fool an optimist must know how sad a place the world can be. It is only the pessimist who finds this out anew every day.

Uncontrolled photography is one of the blights of our time.