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Hordern was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, and educated at Brighton College, as was his brother Peter. He acted at school and then as an amateur with the St. Pancras People's Theatre. He worked as a school teacher and travelling salesman before entering the profession. In 1937, he made his professional stage début at the People's Palace, East London, playing a minor role in Othello, and later in the year joined the repertory company of the Little Theatre in Bristol. There he met the actress Grace Eveline Mortimer; they married in 1943, and remained together until her death in 1986. They had one daughter, Joanna.
His stage work, for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and in London, at the Old Vic and in the West End demonstrated his wide range and distinctive, rich voice. He played King Lear, as directed by Jonathan Miller, at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1970. He reprised the role for Miller on two further occasions, in 1975 and in the BBC Television Shakespeare series in 1982. In 1978 he returned to Stratford to play a wise Prospero in The Tempest. This was also replicated for the BBC Shakespeare series in 1980.
Hordern made more than a hundred and sixty film appearances, usually in character roles, appeared on television, and was also in great demand for voice over work.
On radio he played Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings (1981); another great wizard, Merlin, in an adaptation of T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone (1982); and P. G. Wodehouse's famous indefatigable valet (or gentleman's gentleman) Jeeves in several series in the 1970s.
List of Radio RolesEdit
Later years and deathEdit
In 1956 he bought a house near Newbury in Berkshire, where he spent his final years close to the river Lambourn on which he enjoyed fishing for trout and grayling.
Shortly before his death, Brighton College named a room in his honour where a bronze portrait bust stands; the National Portrait Gallery in London has another copy. He died in 1995, of a kidney disease.