His full name was Nigel Barnard Hawthorne. Already since he wanted to be an actor . He grew up in South Africa and came back to England in the 1950s. There he carried out a lot of theatre work, and appeared in numerous television series, including the series with which he was known internationally: Yes, Minister, in which he played the role of the shrewd Sir Humphrey Appleby. This series was later a sequel, Yes, Prime Minister. In the 1990s he won several awards as an actor, for his role as the mad King George III in the play ' The Madness of King George III '.
Hawthorne was a vegetarian and lived together with partner Trevor Bentham.