Lester [right] with Greer Garson, Olivier and Maureen O'Sullivan in Pride and Prejudice
Actor who made his name in British B-movies during the 1930s but moved to Hollywood, where stardom eluded him
Bruce Lester, who died on June 13 aged 96, began his acting career playing handsome, fresh-faced Englishmen in London during the mid-1930s, then moved to Hollywood, where he found roles as wartime servicemen and district officers in tales of the Empire; he also appeared in a variety of costume dramas.
Born Bruce Somerset Lister in Johannesburg on June 6 1912, he was educated at Brighton College, where he showed promise as a tennis player but was told by a friend that he would earn more as an actor.
At first he found work on the London stage. Then, thanks to the British public's growing thirst for "quota quickie" B-pictures, he made his screen debut in The Girl in the Flat (1934), with Belle Crystall. He was in To Be a Lady with the British "It Girl" Chilli Bouchier, and then played an assistant producer in Death at Broadcasting House (1934). Three years later he appeared in Crime Over London, a moderately successful gangster tale with René Ray and Googie Withers.
He appeared in Mayfair Melody (1937), the story of a car mechanic who wants to be a singer (played by the baritone Keith Falkner). He was then put under contract in 1938 to Teddington Studios, Warner Bros's British production arm, and was Lord James Dunfoyle in Arthur Woods's Thistledown that year. On being sent to Hollywood his name was changed to Lester, and he embarked on a love affair with Bette Davis.
He was given a role in Boy Meets Girl (1938), whose star James Cagney is said to have urged Warner Bros to put him on a three-year contract.
Lester showed himself to advantage as Mr Bingley, the hero's dapper and charming friend in MGM's Pride and Prejudice (1940), which starred Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. In later years he recalled how Greer Garson was too old for the lead, and the production was as over-the-top as one would expect from a studio bent on creating dreams over reality: "It was the biggest budget of my career and one that brought with it my own dresser, a bungalow on the lot and lunches where one could spot Greta Garbo, Salvador Dalí, Cary Grant and dozens of Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz."
Warner Bros lent him to Universal for The Invisible Man Returns, and called him back for The Letter, directed by William Wyler and based on the Somerset Maugham short story, and for British Intelligence, with Boris Karloff.
Lester returned home to join the Army, but was soon persuaded that he could be of more use to the Allied cause in America, where he appeared in such morale-boosting tales as A Yank in the RAF, with Tyrone Power; Eagle Squadron, with Robert Stack; and Desperate Journey, with Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan.
With the return of peace he started screenwriting. But he cropped up in Without Reservations (1946), opposite John Wayne and Claudette Colbert, Golden Earrings (1947) and The Sinister Affair of Poor Aunt Nora (1949).
By the 1950s Lester was working as a story analyst for Paramount Pictures and Columbia, bowing out before the cameras as a villain in Tarzan and the Trappers, an unused television series which was unwisely put out as a film in the early 1960s.
If he never became a star, Lester drew satisfaction from the knowledge that if a film failed it was the star who was blamed. He and his wife Jane divided their later years between homes in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, which enabled him to play tennis and enjoy the Hollywood Cricket Club.