Peter Ustinov

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It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously.
Laughter would be bereaved if snobbery died.

Sir Peter Alexander Ustinov, CBE (16 April 192118 March 2004), born Peter Alexander von Ustinov, was an Academy Award-winning English-German actor, writer, dramatist and raconteur.

See also Billy Budd (1962 film)

Quotes[edit]

If Botticelli were alive today he'd be working for Vogue.
There is no question but that if Jesus Christ, or a great prophet from another religion, were to come back today, he would find it virtually impossible to convince anyone of his credentials despite the fact that the vast evangelical machine on American television is predicated on His imminent return among us sinners.
Beliefs are what divide people. Doubt unites them.
Children are the only form of immortality that we can be sure of.
  • Laughter would be bereaved if snobbery died.
    • As quoted in The Observer (13 March 1955)
  • Politicians only get to the top because they have no qualifications to detain them at the bottom.
    • As quoted in International Celebrity Register (1959) Cleveland Amory
    • Variant: People who reach the top of the tree are only those who haven't got the qualifications to detain them at the bottom.
  • I hate being moved. I hate that man who came in. So self-righteous, so cruel. He made fun of me, that's why I cried. You never did that. You led me into temptation by your — politeness.
    • The Loser : A Novel (1960)
  • Irrespective of nationality, soldiers are always open to the same discomfort and to the same comradeship the world over. I'll make things easy for you if you make things easy for me. That is, after all the unwritten law of the barracks.
    • The Loser : A Novel (1960)
  • If Botticelli were alive today he'd be working for Vogue.
    • As quoted in The Observer (21 October 1968); a punctuation variant occurs in some publications: "If Botticelli were alive today, he'd be working for Vogue."
  • To be gentle, tolerant, wise and reasonable requires a goodly portion of toughness.
    • As quoted in Who Said That? (1984) by Renie Gee.
  • By increasing the size of the keyhole, today's playwrights are in danger of doing away with the door.
    • As quoted in Contemporary Quotations (1969) by James Beasley Simpson
  • I'm convinced there's a small room in the attic of the Foreign Office where future diplomats are taught to stammer.
    • As quoted in Words and Their Masters (1974) by Israel Shenker, p. 170
  • Parents are the bones on which children cut their teeth.
    • As quoted in The Book of Quotes (1979) by Barbara Rowes, p. 164
  • Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.
    • As quoted in Morrow's International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations (1982) by Jonathon Green
  • In America, through pressure of conformity, there is freedom of choice, but nothing to choose from.
    • As quoted in Morrow's International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations (1982) by Jonathon Green
  • Playwrights are like men who have been dining for a month in an Indian restaurant. After eating curry night after night, they deny the existence of asparagus.
    • As quoted in Contemporary Quotations (1988) by James Beasley Simpson
  • Unfortunately, the balance of nature decrees that a super-abundance of dreams is paid for by a growing potential for nightmares.
    • As quoted in The Independent (25 February 1989)
  • The truth is really an ambition which is beyond us.
    • As quoted in International Herald Tribune (12 March 1990)
  • There is no question but that if Jesus Christ, or a great prophet from another religion, were to come back today, he would find it virtually impossible to convince anyone of his credentials despite the fact that the vast evangelical machine on American television is predicated on His imminent return among us sinners.
    • As quoted in The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993) edited by Robert Andrews, p. 742
  • It is unfortunate for all that no moral issue has ever been clearer. Any attempt to plea-bargain with outlaws and renegades will only be at the expense of honor, decency and self-respect. The Serbs, are two-dimensional people with a craving for simplicity and an ideology so basic it can be understood without effort. They need enemies, not friends, to focus their two-dimensional ideas. Life for them is a simple tune, never an orchestration, or even a pleasant harmony. Animals make use of their resources with far greater felicity than these retorted creatures, whose subscription to the human race is well in arrears.
  • Pavarotti is not vain, but conscious of being unique.
    • As quoted in The Independent (12 September 1993)
  • Beliefs are what divide people. Doubt unites them.
    • 2000 Years of Disbelief : Famous People with the Courage to Doubt (1996) by James A. Haught
  • Sex is a conversation carried out by other means.
    • As quoted in Marriages and Families (1997) by Mary Ann Lamanna, p. 69
  • Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.
    • Achtung! Vorurteile (2003); original German: "Der Terrorismus, der im furchtbaren 11. September kulminierte, ist ein Krieg der Armen gegen die Reichen. Der Krieg ist ein Terrorismus der Reichen gegen die Armen." typically cited in short: "Terrorismus ist der Krieg der Armen und der Krieg ist der Terrorismus der Reichen."
  • I have Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, French and Ethiopian blood in my veins.
  • The only reason I made a commercial for American Express was to pay for my American Express bill.
    • As quoted in The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners (2004) by Geoff Tibballs
  • Corruption is nature's way of restoring our faith in democracy.
    • As quoted in Backstabbing for Beginners : My Crash Course in International Diplomacy (2008) by Michael Soussan, p. 316
  • Children are the only form of immortality that we can be sure of.
    • As quoted in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Great Quotes for All Occasions (2008) by Elaine Bernstein Partnow, p. 12

Romanoff and Juliet (1956)[edit]

I'm Rally of Unionist Separist Extremes, sometimes known as the R.U.S.E. … It's the party at present in power.
  • The only one who's always punctual is Death … whatever the time he always strikes his knell at the first streak of dawn … and believe me, he knows what he's doing. How I hate the dawn! It's the hour of the firing squad. The last glass of brandy. The ultimate cigarette. The final wish. All the hideously calculated hypocrisy of men when they commit a murder in the name of justice. Then it's the time of death on a grander scale, the hour of the great offenses … fix your bayonets boys …gentlemen, synchronize your watches … in ten seconds time the barrage starts … a thousand men are destined to die in order to capture a farmhouse no one has lived in for years... And finally dawn is the herald of the day, our twelve hours of unimportance, when we have to cede to the pressures of the powers, smile at people we have every reason but expediency to detest … A diplomat these days is nothing but a head-waiter who's allowed to sit down occasionally.
    • Act I
  • I'm Rally of Unionist Separist Extremes, sometimes known as the R.U.S.E. … It's the party at present in power.
    • Act I
  • 2nd Soldier: Do you mean that, as a General, you're not the tiniest bit ambitious for our military future?
    General: I prefer our military past. The harm's done and there it is. As for being a General, well, at the age of four with paper hats and wooden swords, we're all Generals. Only some of us never grow out of it.
    • Act I

Billy Budd (1962)[edit]

Stageplay and film written by Ustinov, based upon Billy Budd by Herman Melville; these are a few sample quotes, the main article for this film is at Billy Budd (film)


  • Good-bye to you too ol' Rights of Man!
    • Bill Budd, as he is impressed into service aboard the warship HMS Avenger
  • It's hot. And there's a lot of it. I like everything about it except the flavor.
    • Bill Budd, on the ship's gruel.
  • Flogging. The only solution to every problem. I warrant even the culprit himself doesn't know! It was just — his turn!
    • Dansker
  • It's wrong to flog a man. It's against his being a man.
    • Billy Budd
  • The sea is calm you said. Peaceful. Calm above, but below a world of gliding monsters preying on their fellows. Murderers, all of them. Only the strongest teeth survive. And who's to tell me it's any different here on board, or yonder on dry land.
    • Master At Arms Claggert
  • You know Seymour, there are some men who cannot stand too much perfection. They see it as a disease, which must be stamped out at its first rash showing.
    • Captain Vere
  • Lieutenant Seymour: Wyatt, we do not deal with justice here, but with the law.
    Lieutenant Wyatt: Was not the one conceived to serve the other?
  • I'd rather be buried at sea than on the shore when I come to die. Will you stand by the plank, mates, so I can shake a friendly hand before I sink?
    • Billy Budd
  • Claggert: We must serve the law, sir, or give up the right and privilege of service. It is only within that law that we may use our discretions according to our rank.
    Captain Vere: You're so intelligent and so lucid for the rank you hold, Master At Arms.
    Claggert: I thank you, sir.
    Captain Vere: Yes, that's no flattery, Mr. Claggart. It's a melancholy fact. It's sad to see such qualities of mind bent to such a sorry purpose. What's the reason for it?
    Claggert: I am what I am, sir. And what the world has made me.
    Captain Vere: The world? The world demands that behind every peacemaker there be the gun, the gallows, the jail. Do you think it will always be so?
    Claggert: I have no reason not to, sir.
    Captain Vere: You live without hope?
    Claggert: I live.
    Captain Vere: But remember, Mr. Claggart, that even the man who wields the whip cannot defy the code we must obey and not be broken by it. That will be all.
  • Billy Budd: You didn't even hate him. I think that sometimes you hate yourself. I was thinking, sir, the nights are lonely. Perhaps I could talk with you between watches when you've nothing else to do.
    Claggert: Lonely. What do you know of loneliness?
    Billy Budd: Them's alone that want to be.
    Claggert: Nights are long. Conversation helps pass the time.
    Billy Budd: Can I talk to you again, then? It would mean a lot to me.
    Claggert: Perhaps to me, too. [His expression suddenly sours] Oh, no. You would charm me too, huh? Get away.
  • I am just a man, not fit to do the work of God... or the Devil.
    • Captain Vere

Dear Me (1977)[edit]

Once we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our mind, our one duty is to furnish it well.
  • I was irrevocably betrothed to laughter, the sound of which has always seemed to me the most civilized music in the world.
  • Contrary to general belief, I do not believe that friends are necessarily the people you like best, they are merely the people who got there first.
  • Once we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our mind, our one duty is to furnish it well.
  • I am an optimist, unrepentant and militant. After all, in order not to be a fool, an optimist must know what a sad place the world can be. It is only the pessimist who finds this out anew every day.
  • The social sciences were for all those who had not yet decided what to do with their lives, and for all those whose premature frustrations led them into the sterile alleys of confrontation.

BBC obituary (2004)[edit]

Basically I'm a very serious person, but I think the form it takes with me is comedy. I see the amusing side of all potentially pompous situations.
"Ustinov's comic touch", BBC News (12 March 2004)
  • Basically I'm a very serious person, but I think the form it takes with me is comedy. I see the amusing side of all potentially pompous situations.
  • Her virtue was that she said what she thought, her vice that what she thought didn't amount to much.
  • I have four children which is not bad considering I'm not a Catholic.
  • It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously.
  • To refuse awards is another way of accepting them with more noise than is normal.
  • Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit.
  • If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done.
  • Critics search for ages for the wrong word, which, to give them credit, they eventually find.
  • The point of living, and of being an optimist, is to be foolish enough to believe the best is yet to come.

Quotes about Ustinov[edit]

  • He was a superb raconteur — never vicious, never cruel.
  • Sir Peter had a magical way with children and an inimitable way of making their problems matter to people all over the world. He was one of UNICEF’s most effective and beloved partners, a man who exemplified the idea that one person can make a world of difference. … There are few parts of the globe where Sir Peter did not travel to meet with and advocate for children, and few communities that were not made better by his attention.
  • I was walking barefoot on St. Paul's bridge
    When I saw a man talking to God
    He was round and handsome
    Anachronistically
    A little odd
    I overheard his conversation
    He said, "I can't live in a world devoid of love."
    And the voice, the voice was so familiar
    It was the voice of Peter Ustinov
    "Peter," I whispered from the shadows
    "We've all been damaged by the 20th century
    A man like you can talk to God
    But can you spare a word for me?
    For I have loved you since the time
    I saw you in The Mouse that Roared."
    "That was Peter Sellers, my dear.
    Go away," he implored.
    • Lauren Christy, in "The Night I Saved Peter Ustinov" on Breed (1997)
  • Then he lifted his body up
    To throw himself to a watery grave
    "Peter," I yelled
    "What about Billy Budd
    The innocent no one could save?"
    • Lauren Christy, in "The Night I Saved Peter Ustinov" on Breed (1997)
  • It was as if all the world's wit were rolled into one portly fellow. ... He spoke six languages, and a few others of his own comic invention. With gifts too wide-ranging to be contained in one art form, he wrote hit plays (Romanoff and Juliet) and books of nonfiction and short stories. ... His spirit was essentially impish (as on a comedy album for which he provided all the voices and sound effects); his greatest role was Peter Ustinov, inexhaustible raconteur. The title of his 1977 autobiography summed up the world's opinion of this engaging, capacious talent: Dear Me.
  • He was a man for all seasons, perhaps the true renaissance man.
  • I think he'd just get bored doing one thing. He would go from one thing to another I think because to him it was all one. That's what I loved about him. He was a very lovable man. I hardly knew him, I only met him two or three times, but each time was ingrained in my memory like being like some superb intellectual circus.
    • Clive James, in "TV host pays tribute to Sir Peter" at BBC News (29 March 2004)
  • The day had to come when he'd be gone. Thank God it was a long time coming. But he's a big thing to do without.
    • Clive James, in "TV host pays tribute to Sir Peter" at BBC News (29 March 2004)
  • He would always see the bright side of something, even something that would be very annoying to him or to all of us around him. He would get over it and he would always find that there was something positive to be gained from it. He was a giver, throughout everything, and a wonderful warm person.
    • Steve Kenis, in "Tributes to 'wonderful' Ustinov" at BBC News (29 March 2004)
  • Jack of all trades, master of none — but what a jack! … In the end he was a disappointed man … He wanted to be a great playwright or a great author. He never quite made that.
    • Derek Malcolm, in in "Tributes to 'wonderful' Ustinov" at BBC News (29 March 2004)
  • He had an extraordinarily varied career. He had enough careers for about six other men. He was an actor, director, writer, screenwriter, novelist, playwright, did all that work for the United Nations as well. ... He always said that he acted for a living and wrote because he must, but I am convinced that he also performed because he must.
    • Jonathan Miller (Ustinov's biographer) in "Tributes to 'wonderful' Ustinov" at BBC News (29 March 2004)
  • He was one of the great story tellers of modern times. The biggest shame is that we have so few people left these days who really tell stories.
    • David Soul, in "Tributes to 'wonderful' Ustinov" at BBC News (29 March 2004)
  • Peter's most outstanding achievement was to be Peter Ustinov ... and he was an all-round wonderful person. I'm very glad to have known him, I shall miss him greatly.
    • Michael Winner, in "Tributes to 'wonderful' Ustinov" at BBC News (29 March 2004)

External links[edit]

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