History Centre Heroes: Charles Dance

Accomplished actor, screenwriter and film director Charles Dance spent his childhood in Plymouth.

He was born in Redditch, Worcestershire on 10 October 1946. His dad Walter passed away when he was just four years old and his mum Nell went on to marry the lodger. Her new husband Edward was a civil servant working for the Admiralty and so the family moved to Plymouth.

Charles Dance grew up in Plymouth
Charles Dance grew up in Plymouth

As a youngster, Dance attended Widey Technical School for Boys in Crownhill and Plymouth College of Art. He enjoyed singing in the HMS Drake choir and acting in school productions but didn’t initially consider a career on the stage.

In interviews he has described his early years in Plymouth as a difficult time but apparently has fond memories of a bar called El Sombrero – ‘the first espresso coffee bar in the south west of England’ – and the Minerva pub!

He briefly toyed with the idea of joining the Navy like his older brother. Eventually, he decided to go to Leicester College of Art and Design to study graphics and photography. During his time at art school, a stammer that he had developed in adolescence disappeared.

He returned to Plymouth and rediscovered his early love of acting with the help of two retired RADA actors he met called Leonard and Martin. They agreed to coach him part time and set about teaching him everything he would have learned if he’d gone to drama school.

In a Radio Times interview, Dance once stated: “They were like gurus to me. I spent a couple of years with them, two or three evenings a week. We worked our way through Shakespeare, Shaw and Beckett.’

Charles Dance in 'The Last Action Hero'
Charles Dance in ‘Last Action Hero’ in 1993

As a result of this training Dance moved on to provincial theatre. His first significant break came in 1975 when he became a supporting player with the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing roles in ‘Hamlet’, ‘Henry IV’, ‘Richard III’, ‘Henry V’, ‘As You Like It’, ‘Coriolanus’ and more.

Nine years later, he became a household name with the award-winning TV series, ‘The Jewel In The Crown’.

Since then he has graced many theatre, film and television productions and received rave reviews and a Critics’ Circle Best Actor Award for his performance as the Oxford don C.S. Lewis in the 2007 stage revival of ‘Shadowlands’.

Dance is best known for playing bureaucrats or villains. Some of his most high-profile roles include Sardo Numspa in The Golden Child (1986), Dr. Jonathan Clemens in Alien 3 (1992), Benedict in Last Action Hero (1993), Lord Stockbridge in ‘Gosford Park’ (2001) and Alastair Denniston in The Imitation Game (2014).

Charles Dance in 'Game of Thrones'
Charles Dance starred as Tywin Lannister in ‘Game of Thrones’ from 2011 to 2015

He played a Bond villain in ”For Your Eyes Only’ (1981) and Bond creator Ian Fleming in the miniseries ‘Goldeneye’ (1989).

He was awarded the OBE for his services to drama in the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

From 2011-15 he played the role of Tywin Lannister in HBO’s massively popular ‘Game of Thrones’.

In 2016 he appears in four major films including ‘Me Before You’ and the remake of ‘Ghostbusters’.


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