Peter Ustinov

Last updated on the 21 June 2024 by Evandrus

Peter Ustinov_headshot

Mini Biography

Born: 16 April 1921, Swiss Cottage, London, England. 

Born into a cosmopolitan family, Peter Ustinov was a true Renaissance man, excelling in a variety of fields including acting, writing, directing and diplomacy. His versatile talents and witty charm earned him international acclaim and a lasting legacy.

Peter Alexander Freiherr von Ustinov came from a mixed-heritage background, with Russian, German and French roots. His father was a Russian journalist and his mother a painter of Russian and French descent. Raised in Switzerland, Ustinov attended Westminster School and the London Theatre Studio.

Peter Ustinov Evil Under the Sun
Peter Ustinov wearing the swimming costume he designed for Evil Under the Sun

Peter Ustinov’s professional debut came at the age of 17 in a production of “The Wood Demon,” where he played an elderly character. This early exposure to age appropriated roles would become a hallmark of his acting career. After a few uncredited roles in British films, Ustinov’s breakthrough came in 1942 with the film “The Goose Steps Out.” His talent for mimicry and versatility made him a sought-after actor, and he appeared in numerous films throughout his career, including “Spartacus” (1960), for which he won his first Academy Award, and “Topkapi” (1964), which earned him another Oscar.

Beyond acting, Ustinov was a prolific writer and director. He penned numerous plays, novels and essays, often incorporating his sharp wit and social commentary.

Peter Ustinov married four times, with his first marriage to Isolde Benham producing a daughter, actress Tamara Ustinov. He had four other children from his subsequent marriages. Throughout his life, he was known for his charming personality and engaging public persona, often hosting television shows and delivering captivating lectures.

The Old Curiosity Shop - Peter Ustinov and Sally Walsh
The Old Curiosity Shop – Peter Ustinov and Sally Walsh

Peter Ustinov’s contributions to the arts and his dedication to humanitarian causes earned him numerous accolades. He received two Academy Awards, a BAFTA Award, three Emmy Awards, and a Grammy Award. He was also a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA). Beyond his artistic achievements, Ustinov was a vocal advocate for peace and human rights, serving as president of the World Federalist Movement from 1991 to 2004.

Upon his death in 2004, Peter Ustinov was mourned as a true Renaissance man, a master storyteller and a passionate advocate for global peace. His legacy continues to inspire generations with his wit, wisdom and unwavering dedication to human values.


BAFTA award


WINNER | Film: British Screenplay for Billy Budd (1963)


Oscar award


WINNER | Best Supporting Actor for Spartacus (1960) | Best Supporting Actor for Topkapi (1964)



Suggested viewing


Evil Under the Sun (1982)

Evil Under the Sun (1982) poster

Bftv 8.5 / IMDb 7.0

Belgian detective Hercule Poirot arrives on an idyllic island resort, only to discover that paradise is shattered by the murder of the beautiful and manipulative Arlena Marshall. As Poirot delves into the lives of the island’s guests, he uncovers a web of dark secrets, hidden motives and simmering resentments, leading him to confront the truth that lies hidden beneath the sun-drenched surface.

Top cast: Peter Ustinov, James Mason, Sylvia Miles, Roddy McDowell, Maggie Smith, Jane Birkin, Nicholas Clay, Diana Rigg, Denis Quilley.


Death on the Nile (1978)

Death on the Nile (1978) poster

Bftv 8.5 / IMDb 7.2

Belgian detective Hercule Poirot finds himself on the Egyptian cruise ship Karnak, where a glamorous socialite named Linnet Ridgeway is found dead in her cabin. As Poirot investigates, he uncovers a web of hidden affairs, jealous relationships, and long-held grudges among the ship’s passengers, all of whom could have had a motive for murder.

Top cast: Peter Ustinov, Jane Birkin, Lois Chiles, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Jon Finch, Olivia Hussey, I.S. Johar, George Kennedy, Angela Lansbury, Simon MacCorkindale, David Niven, Maggie Smith.


Billy Budd (1962)

Billy Budd poster

Bftv 8.5 / IMDb 7.8

In the late 18th century, aboard the British warship HMS Bellipotent, a young sailor named Billy Budd arrives after being impressed from the merchant ship Rights-of-Man. Billy’s gentle nature and physical prowess endear him to his fellow sailors, but he becomes a target of envy and malicious gossip from Master-at-arms John Claggart, who harbours a deep-seated hatred for the young man.

Top cast: Terence Stamp, Robert Ryan, Peter Ustinov, Melvyn Douglas, Paul Rogers, John Neville, David McCallum, Ronald Lewis.


The Old Curiosity Shop (1995)

The Old Curiosity Shop (1995) poster

Bftv 8.5 / IMDb 7.1

In this adaptation of Charles Dickens’s novel, Little Nell and her beloved grandfather take to the road, seeking a better life. Along the way, they encounter a cast of eccentric characters, including the kindly Dick Swiveller, the unscrupulous Sampson Brass and the mysterious Quilp. As they travel, Nell’s innocence and purity draw them further into danger.

Top cast: Peter Ustinov, Sally Walsh, Tom Courtenay, Alan Barry, Adam Blackwood, Brian de Salvo, Christopher Ettridge, James Fox, Julia Mackenzie.


Peter Ustinov full filmography @ Wikipedia
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