The Wimbledon-born screen actor Oliver Reed would have celebrated his 74th birthday this week on Monday, February 13.

As it was, after appearing in well over 60 films, he died suddenly on 2nd May 1999 while making his last one, Gladiator. It was completed without him - using special effects.

Reed’s whole life was a special effect. Born at No 9 Durrington Park Road, near Raynes Park, his family background was spectacular.

He was a grandson of the famous Victorian actor-producer Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree by his mistress Beatrice May Pinney. She changed her name to Reed because she felt she was “a broken reed at the foot of the mighty Tree”.

In later life she lived at 12 Lingfield Road, Wimbledon Village, and two of her illegitimate children were Oliver Reed’s father, Peter, a well known sports journalist, and the film director Sir Carol Reed.

After being expelled from 13 other schools, Oliver Reed succeeded in becoming captain of athletics and junior cross-country champion at Ewell Castle School.

He left age 17 and worked as a strip club bouncer, fairground boxer and mortuary attendant before National Service where he was rejected for an officer’s commission while serving in the Army Medical Corps.

Afterwards he drifted into acting as a film extra in 1958. Carol Reed offered him a small part and advised him to enroll at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but he refused to work for his uncle before achieving star status.

He rejected RADA too - curious perhaps, as his grandfather had been its founder in 1904.

In 1959, Oliver Reed married his first wife, Katie. He lived in various Wimbledon flats in Marryatt Road, Woodside, Homefield Road and Arterberry Road but by the late 1960s had become one of Britain's highest paid actors and moved into a large house in Ellerton Road, off Copse Hill.

He became a keen horse-rider on the Common and the lounge was said to resemble that of a country squire with military and hunting prints, a gun collection, and of course a well stocked bar.

He was also well known at the Hand in Hand pub and developed a reputation for drinking with companions on a monumental scale as well as chasing women. Not surprisingly he and Katie were divorced in 1969.

He had already appeared in several Hammer horror films and many other pictures before playing Bill Sykes in the musical Oliver in 1968 which made him an international star.

In 1971 he left Wimbledon for good, moving to a gigantic house in Dorking. He became even more of a household name by starring in several of director Ken Russell’s most controversial films including Women in Love, The Devils and Tommy.

From then on his career was always associated with an off-screen lifestyle as wild as that of anyone in show business.

He was 61 when – fittingly enough – his last role was in a film about fighting. The night before he suffered a fatal heart attack he was drinking heavily as usual and arm wrestling five sailors.

Russell Crowe was the star of the film but Gladiator was dedicated to Reed. He was posthumously nominated for two screen awards.

The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.

For more information, visit and

Click here for more fascinating articles about Wimbledon's heritage