For a brief period in the 1970s, British actor Simon Ward was among the more popular leading men of stage, screen and television, playing strong-willed, magnetic figures in "Young Winston" (1972), "The Three Musketeers" (1973), and "All Creatures Great and Small" (BBC, 1975). After a lengthy tenure on the stage, he rose to fame as the embodiment of British resolve in "Young Winston," which minted him as a star almost immediately upon release. Ward enjoyed a streak of high-profile roles, including both "Musketeers" movies and the popular "Creatures" TV-movie, but his star power seemed to fade at the end of the decade. A self-admitted lack of drive, as well as a 1987 assault that put his health in serious jeopardy, undermined his ability to find substantive films roles, and Ward soon settled into television and stage projects. In the next century, he worked steadily on the small screen in "Judge John Deed" (BBC One, 2001-07) and "The Tudors" (Showtime, 2007-2010), before illness once again forced him out of the public eye. His death in July 2012 was a sobering reminder of his once-promising career, as well as the high quality of his performances that were captured on film.
Born Oct. 19, 1941 in the town of Beckenham, England, Simon Ward was the son of car dealer Leonard Ward and his wife, Winifred. Acting was his primary goal from a very young age, and he received his first training in that field as a member of the National Youth Theatre. Among his early roles there was Katherine, daughter of the King of France, in Shakespeare's Henry V, which he earned due to his slim build and high voice. Ward later trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts before making his professional acting with the Northampton Repertory in 1963, which he followed with his London debut a year later in The Fourth of June. Ward began appearing on television that same year, largely as a guest performer in televised adaptations of stage plays. His first widespread notices came in a 1966 revival of Joe Orton's play Loot, which granted him access to screen roles. Reportedly, he played one of the studies in Lindsay Anderson's "If " (1968), though his presence in the film was never substantiated. The following year, he assisted Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein in yet another attempt to create life in Hammer Films' "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969).
More television roles followed until his breakthrough as Winston Churchill in "Young Winston" (1972). Though surrounded by a supporting cast of well-known veteran players, including Robert Shaw, John Mills and Anthony Hopkins, Ward held his own in the role, which led to regular work in motion pictures. He played a German officer and the sole voice of reason opposite Alec Guinness's Fuehrer in decline in "Hitler: The Last Ten Days" (1973), as well as the rakish Duke of Buckingham in Richard Lester's "The Three Musketeers" (1973) and "The Four Musketeers" (1974). The following year, he received his second best-known role as veterinarian turned author James Herriot in "All Creatures Great and Small," though his decision to not reprise the role for the popular BBC One series was viewed by many critics as a costly misstep for his career. By the mid-1970s, his screen fame appeared to have peaked, with subsequent projects like "Aces High" (1976), "Deadly Strangers" (1976) and a remake of "The Four Feathers" (1979) finding relatively few ticket buyers. Ward soon returned to television, where he found more rewarding work, most notably in a 1982 adaptation of J.B. Priestley's "An Inspector Calls" (BBC).
After returning to the theater to play T.E. Lawrence in Terence Rattigan's Ross (1986), Ward was the victim of an assault which left him with a fractured skull. He subsequently underwent brain surgery before developing a blood disease that compromised his ability to work. Ward eventually recovered from his illness and resumed a steady schedule of appearances on television and stage, as well as the occasional feature like "Wuthering Heights" (1992), which co-starred his daughter, actress Sophie Ward. From 2001-07, he played Sir Monty Everard, Secretary to the Department of Constitutional Affairs, in the popular legal drama "Judge John Deed," and settled into a two-year stint as Bishop Stephen Gardiner on "The Tudors." The Showtime series would effectively serve as Ward's final screen credit. But despite failing health, Ward continued to act on stage, tackling the title role in a 2010 touring production of The Madness of King George, a rigorous play which taxed his already weakened state. He was subsequently slated to play Alfred Doolittle in a West End production of Pygmalion, but was forced to bow out shortly before its opening due to illness. On July 22, 2012, Ward passed away peacefully while surrounded by his family. He was 70 years old.
By Paul Gaita