Vladek Sheybal Online
Home Page and Biography
This site is dedicated to the late Actor and Director, Vladek Sheybal, it has been set up to house as complete a listing of his numerous film, television, theatre and radio appearances as possible.
It will eventually house complete listings of every other production he was involved with - be it as an actor or producer, director etc - in his native Polish as well as in English.
In addition to his many talents, Mr Sheybal was also an accomplished artist, playwright and composer.
Wladyslaw Rudolf Sheybal was born on 12 March in Zgierz, near Lodz Poland in 1923 (there are other listings showing dates for 1927, 1928, 1933 and 1935), he was the younger son of university professor Stanislaw-Jozef Sheybal [1891-1976] and Bronislawa, born Kotula [1891-1979], a grandson of Franciszek-Xavery Sheybal [1859-1928] and Wilhelmina, born Skibinska and a great grandson of Jozef (Jan) Sheybal and Teresa, born Piasecka[¤] The ancestry of the Sheybal family can be traced back as far as the 18th century - where the father of Vladek's grandmother - Kazimierz Skibinksi [1786-1858] was also a well known Polish actor and director [i] he was also a writer and his "Memoirs of an Actor" were published in 1912 and 1963 [¤] Further genealogical data can be found in the "Polish Biographical Dictionary" by
the Polish Academy of Sciences in volume XXXVI, Krakow (Cracow) Poland [1995-96][¤]
The Sheybal family was of Scottish origin, being descendants of Andriks Sheybal, a Scot who left Scotland in 1511 as a result of religious persecution. He settled in Pardubice in Bohemia and although some of his descendants later returned to Scotland, one branch of the family settled in Southern Poland which at that time was under Austrian occupation [¤]
In the 1980's Vladek went on to reaffirm his Polish roots - of which he was immensely proud - by adding the full family name to his own and, in his own words he says "Vladek Sheybal-Skibinski is my full private name, as an actor I'm Vladek Sheybal" [*] and although Vladek was born in Poland, he considered himself to be more Armenian than Polish.
Bitten by the acting bug quite early, Vladek Sheybal secured his first role while he was at primary school in Poland - as a mushroom in the school play!. He began his exceptional career proper by spending six
months at the Stanislavsky School of Acting in Warsaw; the course at the time was being run by Stanislavsky's brother. Vladek then spent a further 4 years at the Drama Director's High School in Poland. Once his studies were complete in both subjects he secured Polish Diplomas in both Drama and Drama Directing and he went on to become one of Poland's most famous stars; well known in Polish Television and Theatre (where he was for a time the country's leading actor at the National Theatre in Warsaw[i]. In 1957, he moved on to film and made the ground breaking war drama "Kanal" with Polish Director Andrzej Wajda, a film as poignant and thought provoking now as it was then. Shortly after completing this film, Vladek won a scholarship to enable him to study his craft in France and England. The trip was meant to be a two week sojourn for the actor but he managed to remain in Paris for a few months and then came to England. Vladek later went on to have a home in Fulham, London and Paris, France while at the same time remaining steadfastly loyal to his home country.
First Film Role
The events of the second world war conspired to strip Vladek of his ambitions of becoming an actor but he defied the pressure. Becoming strong willed from an early age he fought in the Polish resistance against the nazi invasion of his homeland. He was captured twice by the Germans and interred in concentration
camps where he immediately escaped on both occasions. After the war ended, Vladek went back into acting and the rest is history. In his professional life as an actor he took the stage name of Vladek Sheybal, although he would be cast as Vladets Shebal in "Avalanche Express" and Wladyslaw Sheybal in "Kanal."
In the early 1960's Vladek Sheybal arrived in England not knowing anyone here and unable to speak English. He supported himself by working in menial jobs in a Polish delicatessen and then in an artifical jewellery shop in Brick Lane, London. The year was 1959, and when he finished his job at the jewellery shop, he took a train from Paddington station to Oxford with all his worldy goods in a small suitcase, and the only money he had in the world - ten English pounds. Soon after Vladek arrived in Oxford, the typical English weather turned sour and it began to rain. Taking refuge in a coffee shop, he was recognised and later befriended by drama students who had seen Wajda's film "Kanal" the night before at their local cinema. Eventually, Vladek became a recognised student of English Literature at Merton College, Oxford after being taken under the wing of Professor Neville Coghill. He then went on to teach acting for a while (one of his students was a young would be actress by the name of Gabrielle Drake) - with whom he
would later work in the TV series "UFO."
After successfully staging Mussorgsky's "Khovanshchina" for the Oxford UniversityClub he secured a position with the BBC as a director and was for a time the joint director of The Little Theatre in Bromley. The very first production he staged there, an adaptation of the Donald Howarth play "All Good Children," was so successful it was later promoted to The Hampstead Theatre Group. He then spent time under contract as a director for Granada and Anglia Television. Moving on to immerse himself in the theatre, he was seen in numerous productions on the stage; his final theatre appearance being "The Eagle and The Serpent." In 1963, Vladek was offered a small part in the second James Bond film "From Russia
with Love" but was reluctant to take the part and turned it down. Eventually he was persuaded by Sean Connery (who was by now a close friend) to take the role of the villanous chess master "Kronsteen." Vladek played the part as usual, to perfection; creating a character so elegantly arrogant that "Kronsteen" is one of the more memorable Bond villains of the entire genre to date.
In the late 60's/early 70's Vladek appeared in a television commercial for 'Mannequin' cigars [**]
Vladek's career in films went from strength to strength as he went on to star and play in over 60 films. His final film appearance was in: "Double X: The Name Of The Game," and his final TV appearance was in the UK TV Drama series "The Bill" in an episode called "Sympathy For The Devil" - this episode was made exactly one month before his death in September 1992.
His good friend Bette Davis told him to: "Always play the bitch darling, you'll never be out of work" and Vladek himself retold the tale of how he asked her "How do I play the villain?" to which she responded: "Narrow your eyes, lower your voice and make long pauses" - the rest is history - Vladek Sheybal went on to have a truly incredible international career.
Of course, he played many diverse characters during his career and not always as the villain - Director Ken Russell was keen to have Vladek in his productions, one of which was "Women in Love" where he was cast as the sculptor "Loerke." Other Russell films included; "The Debussy Film" and the musical "The Boyfriend," co-starring in the latter with another actress from "UFO" - Antonia Ellis.
In 1980 Vladek Sheybal starred in a film called "The Apple" which takes a futuristic look at how the world would be controlled by music and the power of rock in 1994! Most critics who have seen the film agree that for them it is simply the worst film ever made but to those of us who suspend our disbelief, and watch it simply for Vladek, it is a triumph. He is absolutely marvellous in it, singing and dancing.
Also in 1980 he wrote a movie called: "All about a Prima Ballerina" in which he starred (as Marcus) with Gabrielle Drake (as Barbara - for whom he wrote the part). Vladek also wrote the lyrics, the screenplay and the music, he also directed the film. The movie was filmed in 10 days and financed on an entirely co-operative basis by the cast and crew alike - under the name of Vladek's production company: Chestnut Tree Productions (so called because there was a chestnut tree directly outside Vladek's house in Fulham) [**].
The film has been shown once in the UK at the London Film Festival in 1980 and subsequently at the Berlin Film Festival in 1981 [æ]
Immediately afterwards, Vladek and his production company worked on their next film: 'Notre Dame at Noon, Harrods at 11.' But this project was never completed as everyone moved on with their careers when the option to proceed was never taken up [**]
London Film Festival
Vladek was also involved with Medical Aid for Poland with Rula Lenska and Steve Thomas-Emberson. More details will be posted when they become available, but the production was originally performed in London, and later in Oxford [**]
Vladek Sheybal's television appearances were also many and varied, including the enigmatic and mysterious Dr Doug Jackson in "UFO." Vladek had previously worked for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson on the film "Doppelganger" seen by many as the forerunner to "UFO." He also played guest roles in "The New Avengers", "The Saint", "Danger Man", "The Baron", and "The Champions" - to name but a few, and in 1988 he was awarded best supporting actor for his role as the French Diplomat, Le Comte Plasky in "Champagne Charlie" by the Canadian Academy of Cinema and TV[i].
Vladek Sheybal was also a gifted playwright, composer and lyricist; he was also an accomplished artist.
Like all Pisceans, he was blessed with the most hauntingly beautiful eyes. His voice was an inspiration. Those gentle inflections of the French, Polish, German and Italian languages in which he was fluent were uniquely interwoven into this rich almost hypnotic quality he had in his voice when he spoke; he was a truly unique man, a gentle humanitarian, tolerant and kind.
Instantly recognisable to those of us who appreciated him and his work, Vladek Sheybal was a consummate professional and a true master of his art. It is such a shame we had to lose him in 1992 but by continuing to enjoy his work and career we will keep his memory alive.
On October 16th 1992 Vladek Sheybal passed away suddenly at his home in London from a ruptured aortic aneurysm. He is very much missed by those who knew him personally, and the rest of us who knew him purely through his WORK.
He is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery, London.
On October 25th 1993, a memorial service was held for Vladek
at St Paul's Church , Covent Garden, London.
Acknowledgements and Grateful Thanks to:-
Brian Lamb ± for his very kind help and permission to use photographs from his collection [two shown above] and on other pages of this site.
Artur Patek [i] - Dzieje jednej kariery. Wladyslaw Sheybal (1923-1992), in: "Kwartalnik Filmowy" (Institute of Art Polish Academy of Science.Warsaw, Poland), No 37/38, Warsaw 2002, pp. 296-314. For his kind permission to reproduce parts of this article, and also for his help with some of the translation and Polish research.
Andre Dzierzynski [¤] for his kind permission to reproduce this information.
Jan Jakub [Kuba] for his exceptional kindness in providing the slides of Vladek's paintings for publishing on the new paintings page.
Stefan Sas-Korczynski for his kind permission to reproduce the picture of Vladek as Jinnah on TV/Theatre page.
Andrew Visnevski - The Cherub Company, London - for his kind permission to reproduce Vladek's letter to them following the failure of critics to review their excellent 'Duchess of Malfi' production.
James Killian [*] for this information.
Chris Bentley & Fanderson for their kind permission to incorporate parts of their obituary from the club magazine FAB 8 into the above biography.
Rafal Dajbor  for corrections to Filmography and help with translation.
Agnieszka Maria Kula for assistance with Polish research.
Iain Fisher and David del Valle for their kind permission to reproduce information regarding the school play!
Joanne Furlong, Andy Lovie and Christian for their contributions.
Simon Farquhar [>] for his help and information.
Alex Lewczuk for his kind help.
Marie-France Vienne of The Official Sir Roger Moore Website for permission to reproduce Sir Roger's comments for our Recollections Page.
Ed Bishop: 1932-2005 [¥] for this information.
Steve Thomas-Emberson [**] for this information.
George Bekes [æ] for this information.
To the following people who have been kind enough to share their memories of working with Vladek. Their comments can be read on the Recollections Page.
Sir Roger Moore OBE
Gerry Anderson MBE
Ed Bishop: 1932-2005
This site has been set up purely to honour the life, works and memory of Vladek Sheybal, and as such it is non profit making.
It is not intended to infringe upon copyright in any way whatsoever but to garner interest and encourage conversation about a gentleman whose life and works have been inspirational to people around the world.
Copyright is acknowledged where available and all copyright is of course maintained by the original owners. However, if you are an owner of any of the copyrighted material used anywhere on the site and feel the material is being used inappropriately, please contact me immediately on the link below and I will take whatever action is necessary to protect your interests.
Some of the photographs here are from my own collection. Should you be the owner of any other photographs and do not want them used on this site then please mail me on the link below and they will be removed.
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23 Jun 16
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