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It Has Been an Honour and a Privilege

Obituary: Sir John Hurt


Sir John Hurt was one of Britain's

best-known and most versatile actors.

Over six decades, his distinctive voice and towering presence saw him much in demand for a variety of roles.

He successfully combined classical theatre with television and Hollywood blockbusters.

The death of his character in the film Alien has often been voted as one of cinema's most memorable moments.

John Vincent Hurt was born on 22 January 1940 in the town of Chesterfield in Derbyshire.

His father, originally a mathematician, had taken holy orders and when Hurt was five, became parish priest at Woodville on the Derbyshire-Leicestershire border.

His parents were reluctant to let him mix with local children, thinking them common, and although the family lived close to a cinema he was not allowed to go to see films.


His small role in The Wild and the Willing earned him £75 a week during shooting - RONALD GRANT ARCHIVE

His first taste of acting came at his prep school in Kent, an establishment Hurt later described as "so high Anglo-Catholic it was flying".

He played the part of a girl in a production of Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird, a tale of two children seeking happiness with the aid of a fairy.

"I felt an extraordinary feeling that I was in the place that I was meant to be," he recalled.

Hurt later revealed that he had been sexually abused by the school's headmaster.


When he was 12 his father was appointed to a church in Grimsby, and the family moved to Lincolnshire.

His parents, keen to see him in what they considered a respectable job, suggested he become an art teacher and he spent a short time at St Martin's School of Art in London

Money was a constant problem and on occasion, he persuaded some of his friends to pose nude and sold the portraits.


Hurt (c) with Derek Jacobi and George Baker in I, Claudius

One of his subjects, then completely unknown to him, was Quentin Crisp, whom Hurt would later portray.

In 1960 he gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, a move that finally won his parents round and set him off on an acting career.

He fell in love with French cinema while studying in London, once going to see Jules et Jim every Sunday for seven weeks.

His somewhat bohemian existence persuaded him to become an agnostic, something that shocked his parents.

London Stage

However, his brother's almost simultaneous announcement that he was becoming a Catholic rather took the sting from his parents' concerns over Hurt's lack of belief.

"That was the blackest day in the family history ever; that was my brother joining the antichrist."

When he finally graduated, he walked straight into a small role in a 1962 film, The Wild and the Willing, which earned him the princely sum of £75 a week.