The lasting legacy of a Liberal lion

Amongst the worries about the pandemic, despite the concerns of the present, beyond the developments in our politics, there is the personal. Whether an individual can make a difference, and that he or she ought to and should, there is the essence of a Liberalism we can favour.

This year has been the centenary of the birth of Sir Peter Ustinov. This is a man who made a difference. As a performer versatile enough to be an actor and an entertainer, he delighted in numerous productions on stage and screen. As a creator, he was a writer and director, who was often a force behind those numerous productions. And then there was Peter Ustinov the inspirer, an ambassador and campaigner.

As a man of social conscience and charitable disposition, he was a natural and lifelong Liberal. He voted for the Liberal party and then the Liberal Democrats, throughout his life. His autobiographical and other biographical appraisals record his liberalism from his precocious school years, in debates and activities. Throughout his travels, he extolled the virtues and values of Liberalism. Even in the US during the height of the McCarthy witch  hunt,  he noted:

… the different meaning for that noble word “liberal,” which in America has become dissociated from its essential humanism and sense of equity, and now apparently means a kind of embryonic commie, a nuisance who asks embarrassing and subversive questions.

For reasons of natural individuality and cross party unity, he never joined the party, but he openly supported it. As recently as the 1990’s during an election, as I wrote some while ago on the Ustinov Forum, he described himself as “an Ashdown man!”

I have always been a Liberal, but, a militant Liberal, I don’t see why the central position should be reticent, just because it is central. The position in the centre is always the most difficult to defend.The truth is often in the middle of things. It is there I look for it and never at the extremes.

This quote reveals his political stance and his personal attitude. His centre ground was a broad one, his journey on it a progressive one, but though open to radical ideas, it was the farther extremes that he disliked  intensely.

No extreme fascinates me. I think it’s all wrong because it’s all so easy…there’s nothing more exhilarating for a certain clot-like mentality than the sounds of boots marching all together and you’re all part of the machine…it’s the isolated voice which can’t even be heard in the crowd which is the most vital of all.

Ustinov’s voice was regularly used with great effect and significant results in the political, social, and charitable fields. The second UNICEF Ambassador, after the great American entertainer Danny Kaye, and before the great actress Audrey Hepburn, Ustinov worked in a voluntary capacity for that organisation for several decades, in all continents. He is honoured on their website even now.

It was his internationalism that was at the heart of his Liberalism. President of the World Federalist Movement, he believed the world’s shared problems, required, often, shared solutions. He would have had much to say and contribute during this pandemic! Indeed many of his efforts as a Goodwill Ambassador were dealing with such, more local versions of viruses as well as hunger and poverty.

We think of the phrase a “liberal lion,” and utilise it in our language. I do myself where merited.

It is merited with the life and work of Sir Peter Ustinov. At Christmas time we can enjoy his performances in lighter films. Disney comes to mind. He made three for that much loved studio; Blackbeard’s Ghost is perhaps the best known. But it was in the cartoon Robin Hood, as the voices of the lions, Prince John and Richard, that he excelled.

I have for a few years, since its early foundation, been a member and writer at the Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum which he inspired, and which has been formed online by his son, artist Igor Ustinov, who with dedication continues his legacy. The Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum is part of the wider Ustinov Network that works in several countries. Sir Peter began this aspect, originally as a project to study and understand prejudice, at Durham University where he was Chancellor. As a man with multiple countries in his lineage it was a project dear to him. I am now co-ordinating activities, and am devising new ideas and projects, for the Forum and working for them with enthusiasm in this cause. It is one worth donating to.

Sir Peter Ustinov ought to be remembered, and the causes he espoused continued. Not least by Liberals, and all who are politically, socially and charitably minded!


* Lorenzo Cherin is an actor, writer, and regular contributor to politics as a member of the Liberal Democrats. He is based in Nottingham.

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  • Nigel Hunter 23rd Dec '21 - 11:26am

    Yes the McCarthy era started labelling liberalism as a nasty thing.It suited the US right to build up that fear/hate to make the country the unequal one it has become.To maintain power and riches for some but not others.That behaviour is echoed in the UK by the existing organs of this ancient country.From private school elites to media barons and political parties drunk on power and riches who fear the ordinary man.

  • Brad Barrows 23rd Dec '21 - 1:38pm

    @Nigel Hunter
    Just an observation on one minor point from your post. You comment on the USA and then describe the UK as “this ancient country”. The USA declared independence in 1776 and the United Kingdom first came into existence in 1707 – I don’t think either would qualify as an ‘ancient’ country.

  • Actually, Brad, I think you’ll find as presently constituted it was 1922.

    Yes, Peter Ustinov was a generally ‘good thing’, but one hesitates to apply the same label to Walt Disney.

  • @ Brad Barrows

    Sorry for being pedantic, but it’s even more recent than that. The 1707 Act of Union declared that England and Scotland were “United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain”.

    The term “United Kingdom” only became the name after the union between Great Britain and Ireland was established in 1800 (enacted in 1801). So the USA is older than the United Kingdom.

  • John Marriott 23rd Dec '21 - 3:37pm

    Since when has the United Kingdon ever been UNITED? A visit to Murrayfield or the Millennium (now Principality) Stadium and Cardiff Arms Park before that, not forgetting of course Landsdowne Road when England are playing will soon disabuse you of that fact!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Dec '21 - 5:24pm

    On these hidtorical issues, colleagues refer here to, Peter Ustinov no doubt would engage happily, ever one who utilised history as satire or drama.

    Unity in diversity, is an oft used phrase, but one that the subject herein made his life’s work on the social, charitable front, and even in the political, by his reaching across divides.

    War as a solution was not his favoured way. He was vocal against many, unnecessary in his opinion. As a federalist he was a supporter of the UN, EU, but as a Liberal he was not a lover of institutions, and , as he said, not a natural, “joiner.” He did see the UK, and our people as interestingly, a romantic place, and people, his awareness of this, mixed with and perhaps added to by his lack of actual British lineage! Conceived abroad, to Russian, German, etc… parents, born, bred in Lodon, and coincidentally, in Swiss Cottage!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Dec '21 - 5:27pm

    David Raw

    For sure, yes I understand your comment. I purposely did say, “much loved studio” reference that is to Disney, the man,Walt Disney very complicated and worthy of consideration. Personally kind often, politically reactionary, had a moustache but loathed facial hair!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 23rd Dec '21 - 7:03pm

    Lorenzo, I am interested to hear about your role with the Ustinov forum. Sir Peter Ustinov should indeed be remembered, and “the causes he espoused, continued”.
    I was interested to read the quote where Ustinov mentioned that, in America, a liberal is though of “a nuisance who asks embarrassing and subversive questions”. Actually, I would have thought that was not necessarily a negative description. Liberals should be prepared to be “a nuisance”, and if necessary, to ask “embarrassing and subversive questions”!

  • Lorenzo, much worse than politically reactionary. An active supporter of Joe McCarthy, and an often cruel employer.

    What were the effects of the McCarthy Witch-hunts in the 1950s? › usa › mccarthy
    400 Americans went to jail – not having a fair trial – what lawyers would risk his career defending suspected communists? McCarthy bullied, threatened and …………

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Dec '21 - 10:00pm

    The role, Catherine, presents me with the opportunity, to help make the Forum have the possibility, to become what is deserves, which is more widely known and appreciated. Igor Ustinov, who, as I refer to him in the article, started it as an internet forum, is very enthusiastic in his support of my wanting to not only help maintain the knowledge, of his father , but extend it. It is the values we share, he, me, you, colleagues here, those who care about these issues, that we need to promolgate and utilise.

    I have, as known here, for many years , shared reference to this Forum before, in links. But now I shall do so also, from the perspective of building it up further, and doing more for it. Great if anyone can visit and engage. There are two websites now. Both are mentioned in the link in the piece, if any read it fully. I shall put them here again.

    As to the comments of David, here, agreed. The Mc Carthy witch hunt was part of my diditation for my History/ Politics Degree at London University. But Disney was a rather odder figure than your otherwise acurate comments, reflect. Many do speak of his huge talent and frequent kindness. But all the down sides of his politics and attitude does rather put me or you or many off him a lot! I find him of real interest. But much prefer Sir Peter!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Dec '21 - 10:08pm
  • Brad Barrows 24th Dec '21 - 10:30am

    Sorry for also being pedantic but there were, of course, two Acts of Union required to enact the 1706 Treaty of Union – one by the Parliament of Scotland and one by the Parliament of England (which included Wales). The wording of both Acts reflected the wording of the Treaty of Union. However, if you check the Treaty of Union itself you will discover that while the Treaty states that the name of the new state will be ‘Great Britain’, it also refers to the new state in several places as ‘the United Kingdom’. Of course the case of upper case letters was common in those days even when proper names were not being implied but it is clear that the term ‘United Kingdom’ was being used commonly prior to the incorporation of Ireland to create ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’. In all likelihood, that was one of the reasons for the decision to use this title rather than ‘the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.’ Anyway, whatever the name, the point remains that the UK is not an ancient country and, as David Raw reminds us, it has only been in its present form for 100 years.

  • Duncan Brack 24th Dec '21 - 10:46am

    Lorenzo – very nice article. Could we have your permission to reprint it in the next issue of the Journal of Liberal History? Perhaps you could email me direct at [email protected]?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Dec '21 - 12:32pm


    That is a terrific comment, love to have it in that marvellous journal! Shall e mail you.

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