Peter Finch

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Peter Finch, Питер Финч
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Frederick George Peter Ingle Finch (28 September 1916 – 14 January 1977) was a British-born Australian actor. He is best remembered for his role as "crazed" television anchorman Howard Beale in the film Network, which earned him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Actor, his fifth Best Actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and a Best Actor award from the Golden Globes. He was the first of two people to win a posthumous Academy Award in an acting category; the other was Heath Ledger, also Australian.

Early life



Tamara Tchinarova (1943–59) 1 child
Yolande Turner (1959–65) 2 children
Eletha Barrett (1973–77) (his death) 1 childChildrenCharles Finch
Samantha Finch
Anita Finch
Diana Finch

Finch was born as Frederick George Peter Ingle Finch in London to Alicia Gladys Fisher. At the time, Alicia was married to George Finch. George Finch was born in New South Wales, Australia, but was educated in Paris and Zurich. He was a research chemist when he moved to Britain in 1912 and later served during the First World War with the Royal Army Ordnance Depot and the Royal Field Artillery. In 1915, at Portsmouth, Hampshire, George married Alicia Fisher, the daughter of a Kent barrister. However, George Finch was not Peter Finch's biological father. He learned only in his mid-40s that his biological father was Wentworth Edward Dallas "Jock" Campbell, an Indian Army officer, whose adultery with Finch's mother was the cause of George and Alicia's divorce, when Peter was two years old. Alicia Finch married "Jock" Campbell in 1922.

Early childhood

George gained custody of Peter and he was taken from his mother and brought up by his paternal "grandmother" Laura Finch (formerly Black) in Vaucresson, France. As a member of the 1922 British expedition to Mount Everest, George Finch reached a new world record altitude of 27,300 feet (8,320 m) before retreating when his climbing partner's oxygen apparatus failed. In 1925 Laura took Peter with her to Adyar, a Theosophical community near Madras, India for a number of months, and the young boy lived for a time in a Buddhist monastery. Undoubtedly as a result of his childhood contact with Buddhism Finch always claimed to be a Buddhist. He is reported to have said: "I think a man dying on a cross is a ghastly symbol for a religion. And I think a man sitting under a bo tree and becoming enlightened is a beautiful one."

In 1926 he was sent to Australia to live with his great-uncle Edward Herbert Finch at Greenwich Point in Sydney. He attended the local public school until 1929, then North Sydney Intermediate High School for three years.

Early career

After graduating, Finch went to work as a copy boy for the Sydney Sun and began writing. However he was more interested in acting, and in late 1933 appeared in a play, Caprice, at the Repertory Theatre. He started appearing in stage shows for Doris Fitton, worked as a sideshow spruiker at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, in vaudeville with Joe Cody and as a foil to American comedian Bert le Blanc.

At age 19 Finch toured Australia with George Sorlie's travelling troupe. This, along with continuous stage work, led to the attention of Australian Broadcasting Commission radio drama producer Lawrence H. Cecil, who was to act as his coach and mentor throughout 1939 and 1940. He was "Chris" in the Children's Session and the first Muddle-Headed Wombat. He later starred with Neva Carr Glyn in an enormously popular series by Max Afford as husband-and-wife detectives Jeffery and Elizabeth Blackburn as well as other ABC radio plays.

First films

Finch's first screen performance was in a 1935 short film, The Magic Shoes, an adaptation of the fairy tale Cinderella. He made his feature film debut in 1938 with a supporting role in Dad and Dave Come to Town for director Ken G. Hall, who went on to cast Finch in a larger role supporting Cecil Kellaway in Mr. Chedworth Steps Out (1939).

War service

Finch enlisted in the Australian Army on 2 June 1941. He served in the Middle East and was an anti-aircraft gunner during the Bombing of Darwin. During his war service he was allowed to continue to act in radio, theatre and film, notably The Rats of Tobruk (1944). He produced and performed Army Concert Party work, and in 1945 toured bases and hospitals with two Terence Rattigan plays he directed, French Without Tears and While the Sun Shines. Finch was discharged from the army on 31 October 1945 at the rank of sergeant.

Mercury Theatre and Laurence Olivier

After the war, Finch continued to work heavily in radio and established himself as Australia's leading actor in that medium, winning Macquarie Awards for best actor in 1946 and 1947. He also worked as a compere, producer and writer.

In 1946, Finch co-founded the Mercury Theatre Company, which put on a number of productions in Sydney over the next few years, as well as running a theatre school. A 1948 performance of The Imaginary Invalid on the factory floor of O'Brien's Glass Factory in Sydney brought him to the attention of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, then touring Australia with the Old Vic Company. Olivier encouraged Finch to move to London, and he left Australia in 1948.

British career

When Finch arrived in Britain, Olivier became his mentor and put him under long-term contract. His first big break was being cast in James Bridie's play Daphne Laureola at the Old Vic supporting Edith Evans. He also received acclaim for his first role in a British film, Train of Events (1949), playing a murderous actor. Critic C.A. Lejeune praised his work saying he "adds good cheekbones to a quick intelligence and is likely to become a cult, I fear." The Scotsman said "he should be regarded as one of the most hopeful recruits to the British screen."

His performance as a Pole in Daphne Laureola led to his casting as a Polish soldier in The Miniver Story, the sequel to the wartime morale boosting film Mrs. Miniver; unlike its predecessor, it was poorly received critically. The same year he also appeared in the more successful The Wooden Horse playing an Australian prisoner of war.

During this time, Finch's closeness to the Olivier family led to an affair with Olivier's beautiful but increasingly unstable wife, Vivien Leigh, which began in 1948, and continued on and off for several years, ultimately falling apart due to her deteriorating mental condition.

In 1951 Finch played Iago onstage opposite Orson Welles in Othello. Despite his stage experience, Finch, like his mentor Olivier, suffered from stage fright, and as the 1950s progressed he worked increasingly in film. His roles increased in size and prestige, including being cast as the villain Flambeau in Father Brown (1954) and as the lead in the Hollywood film Elephant Walk (1954).

Film stardom

Towards the end of 1954 Finch's contract with Laurence Olivier was about to expire and he instead signed a seven-year contract with the Rank Organisation worth £87,500 to make one film a year for them. "We are going to build Peter into a major British star," said Earl St. John, Rank's head of production, at the time.

Finch's first roles for Rank under the new arrangement were undistinguished: Passage Home, Make Me an Offer, Josephine and Men and Simon and Laura. However in 1956 he appeared in two major hits, A Town Like Alice (1956) and The Battle of the River Plate (1956), which saw exhibitors vote him the seventh most popular British star at the box office; the following year his ranking went up to third, being the fifth most popular regardless of nationality. He returned to Australia to make two films, Robbery Under Arms (1957) and The Shiralee (1957).

The success of The Nun's Story (1959) saw Finch become an international star, although he never worked in Hollywood for an extended period of time, preferring to base himself in London. He was originally chosen to play Julius Caesar in Cleopatra (1963) and filmed scenes in London, but when the film was postponed he withdrew; the role instead went to Rex Harrison. However, Finch had an enormously successful career throughout the 1960s and 1970s, winning BAFTA Awards for his performances in The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) (in the title role), No Love for Johnnie (1961) and Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971). His performance in the latter also earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Other notable films included The Pumpkin Eater (1964) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1967). A profile on Finch in Screenonline claimed "it is arguable that no other actor ever chalked up such a rewarding CV in British films."

Posthumous Oscar

At the time of Finch's death, he was doing a promotional tour for the 1976 film Network in which he played the television anchorman Howard Beale who develops messianic pretensions. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for that role, posthumously winning the award, which was accepted by his widow, Eletha Finch. Although James Dean, Spencer Tracy and Massimo Troisi were also posthumously nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, Peter Finch was the first actor to have won the award posthumously, as well as the first Australian actor to win a Best Actor award. He was the only posthumous winner of an Oscar in an acting category until Heath Ledger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2009 (there were many earlier posthumous Oscar winners in non-acting categories; Ledger was also an Australian). Finch also won five Best Actor awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), including one for Network.

Shortly before he died he told a journalist:

We all say we're going to quit occasionally... I'd like to have been more adventurous in my career. But it's a fascinating and not ignoble profession. No one lives more lives than the actor. Movie making is like geometry and I hated maths. But this kind of jigsaw I relish. When I played Lord Nelson I worked the poop deck in his uniform. I got extraordinary shivers. Sometimes I felt like I was staring at my own coffin. I touched that character. There lies the madness. You can't fake it.

Personal life

Finch was married three times; first to Romanian-born French ballerina Tamara Tchinarova. He married, secondly, to South African-born actress Yolande Turner (née Yolande Eileen Turnbull; 1935-2003); both marriages ended in divorce. After his divorce from Yolande Finch, he married, thirdly and lastly, Mavis "Eletha" Barrett, who was known as Eletha Finch.

He had four children by his three marriages:

  • Anita with Tamara Tchinarova
  • Samantha and Charles Peter with Yolande Turner
  • Diana with Eletha Barrett.


After suffering a heart attack in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel, Finch died on 14 January 1977, at the age of 60; he is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.


In 1954, the Australian journalist and author George Johnston wrote a well-researched series of biographical articles on Finch, his life, and his work, which appeared in The Sun-Herald (Sydney), on four consecutive Sundays, which were certainly the first detailed account of Finch's life ever published. Finch later provided the inspiration for the character Archie Calverton in Johnston's novel, Clean Straw for Nothing.

In 1980, American author Elaine Dundy published a biography of Finch titled Finch, Bloody Finch: A Biography of Peter Finch. That year, his second wife, Yolande Finch, also published a posthumous account of their life together, Finchy: My Life with Peter Finch. Another biography had previously been published by his friend and colleague Trader Faulkner, in 1979.

According to Brian McFarlane, in The Encyclopedia of British Film, hosted by British Film Institute's Screenonline, Finch "did not emerge unscathed from a life of well-publicised hell-raising, and several biographies chronicle the affairs and the booze, but a serious appraisal of a great actor remains to be written."


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