Personal detailsName: Maggie Smith
Born: 28 December 1934 (Age: 78)
Where: Ilford, England
Height: 5' 5"
Awards: Won 2 Oscars, 5 BAFTAs, 2 Golden Globes, 1 Emmy
All about this star
When considering the Great British Thespians of recent generations, people have a tendency to think Male. There was Olivier, Gielgud, and Richardson, then Paul Schofield, Derek Jacobi and on to new arrivals like Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes. Yet, of course, there was a female axis, a series of stage stars that would put the willies up any egocentric male lead. Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Diana Rigg, Fiona Shaw, all carry the weight and authority to steal the show, anytime, anywhere. And there's another: a woman so focused on her work she has never, ever courted celebrity: so protective of her private life she has been nominated for Oscars on six separate occasions, winning twice, yet we know next to nothing about her. Stand up Maggie Smith, arguably Britain's finest living actor. According to Jacobi, who began his career with her at the fledgling National Theatre: "Being onstage with someone like Maggie Smith, who thinks at the speed of lightning . . . that's a lesson in itself. Unless you keep up, you are lost". Praise comes no higher.
She was born Margaret Nathalie Smith on the 28th of December, 1934, in Ilford, making her perhaps the world's best respected Essex Girl. Her mother, Margaret Hutton Little, was a Scot, her father Nathaniel Smith hailing from Newcastle, maybe explaining why Maggie has been so successful when playing gritty Northern characters. There were also two brothers, twins Ian and Alistair (good Scottish names, both), born six years earlier.
When Maggie was four, in high summer 1939, the family moved to Oxford, a far safer option, what with London being under severe threat from Nazi bombs. Nathaniel would work as a pathologist at Oxford University, and Maggie would attend the Oxford High School For Girls. Despite her father's profession, though, academic education was not for her, and she left at 16, in 1951 joining the Oxford Playhouse School and immediately beginning an all-round education in theatre. She would act, and would eventually rise to the rank of assistant stage manager.
Maggie's recognised "serious" stage debut came when she performed in the Oxford University Dramatic Society's Twelfth Night in 1952, but she had already appeared in the Chegwell Players' Children In Uniform, and The Pick-Up Girl at the Playhouse. Over the next four years, she'd test herself and widen her scope in all manner of productions. There was He Who Gets Slapped, Rookery Nook, even Cinderella. At the time, much of her effort went into variety revues, and it was in these that she played the Edinburgh Theatre Festival, and made her London stage debut, in Oxford Accents at the New Watergate.