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John Hurt - Famous Derbyshire-born actor

Posted Thursday, May 31, 2007

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John Hurt - Famous Derbyshire-born actor:

Captain Corelli's Mandolin'

Set like a jewel in the Ionian Sea the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia may seem like a million miles away from the former pit village of Shirebrook - but in actual fact it is a journey of some two thousand one hundred and forty two miles from the Derbyshire village to the exotic and picturesque setting of the blockbusting movie adaption of Louis de Bernieres best selling novel “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”.

Film-star actor John Hurt knows the route well, for it is a journey which has taken the veteran actor almost 62 years to complete. Along the way Hurt, the son of a Church of England clergyman has made excursions into more than one hundred films and has established himself as one of the world’s most accomplished and well-travelled actors, equally at home on both stage and screen.

For over forty years John Hurt’s characters have taken centre-stage in some of film’s finest moments, from `A Man for All Seasons’ to `I Claudius’ and `The Naked Civil Servant’; from `Midnight Express’ and `The Elephant Man’ to `Wild Bill’, `Alien’ and `Rob Roy’, through to “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” beautifully set in Kefalonia in which he stars alongside Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz.

Potted Biography

The well-documented switchback, roller-coaster ride that became the journey through life and marked the colourful career of John Vincent Hurt began on January 22nd 1940 in Shirebrook, Derbyshire where his father was the local vicar. John was the third child of the marriage, having an elder brother and sister.

The Rev. Arnould Herbert Hurt had arrived in Derbyshire from a curacy at St.John’s, Sunderland in 1937, and ministered to the faithful as Perpetual Curate of Holy Trinity Church on Main Street, Shirebrook until 1945.

When John was 5 years old his father removed to the parish of Woodville near Swadlincote in South Derbyshire, where he was vicar until 1953 and where the young John Hurt spent a very unhappy and socially repressed childhood.

He describes himself as “an unhappy,solitary and negative child”. His rigorously middle-class parents refused to allow him to play with other children in the village because they were “too common”; the same reason was given for not allowing him to go to the local cinema - which was directly opposite the vicarage and John spent many hours enviously watching the queue form across the road. Consequently, he says, he felt “trapped in a world of sham and convention”.

School provided no escape either and he hated it, finding it “bizarre and painful” - but it was at prep.school when he was nine years old that John decided to become an actor. He explains: “I was at a very bizarre prep. school at the time; to say it was high Anglo-Catholic would be a real English understatement. It was so high it was flying. So I already had an enormous sense of theatre from an early age. If you see what I mean,” he adds, drily. Drama was his only enjoyment at school and he recalls a school play: “The first part I ever played was the girl in Maeterlinck’s `The Bluebird’ and I felt an extraordinary feeling that I was in the place I was meant to be”, he said.

In 1953 Rev. A.H.Hurt took the curacy at St. Aidan’s in New Cleethorpes and John was sent to board at Lincoln School, which he hated with equal venom as his previous school. “But, he recalls, “it was better than home where the one good thing was my mother, being a keen theatre-goer, would regularly take me to Cleethorpes Rep”, and almost as an afterthought he adds, “ on Tuesday nights of course, when it was cheaper”¼¼

His decision to become an actor was met with scorn. “My parents felt that acting was far too insecure and wanted me to become an art teacher¼and the headmaster at Lincoln School, Mr. Franklin, in that dreaded interview asked me, “What are you going to do with your life?”¼ and I said: “Well, I’d really like to be an actor.” And he just laughed and said: “Well, you may be alright in school plays – but you wouldn’t stand a chance in the profession.”

At 17 John went to a local art school to train as a painter and in 1959 won a scholarship to study at St. Martin’s School of Art in London for an Art Teacher’s Diploma. He remarks pointedly that he had no help, “either financial or otherwise” from home. He rented his own studio for 30 shillings a week and persuaded his new friends to pose nude for him - supplementing his meagre income by selling the resulting portraits!

He won another scholarship, this time to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) where he spent two years devouring the films denied him in his childhood and began earning a small income from occasional t.v. parts.

1962 was a pivotal year in John Hurt’s life and career. His elder brother had already dropped out of Cambridge to dedicate himself to the life of a Catholic monk - and his sister had gone off to teach in Australia. Now his father departed his parish in Grimsby and went off to South America to become Headmaster of St. Michael’s College in Belize – and John made his London stage debut, also his international screen debut (in `The Wild & The Willing”) – and married his first wife, Annette Peacock!

He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and spent a couple of years committed to stage work until the legendary Fred Zinneman cast him in the oscar winning `A Man for All Seasons’ in 1966. Film offers followed quickly and during the next ten years John Hurt starred in 14 more films including `10 Rillington Place’ (1971) and `The Naked Civil Servant’ (1975) - the film that made him a household name for his brilliant portrayal of the vulnerable and defiant Quentin Crisp. John Hurt had finally arrived as a world-famous actor and over the next quarter of a century starred in an astonishing 85 more films! His ability to portray flawed, brave and suffering characters is perhaps reflected in, and fuelled by his private life.

Following that unhappy and tortured childhood John Hurts life and lifestyle has been as volatile and volcanic as the earthquake which wiped out Kefalonia in 1953. His marriage to Anne Peacock lasted only from 1962 to 1964. His longest relationship, with Marie-Lise Volpeliere-Pierrot ended after 16 years when she was tragically killed in a riding accident. Two further marriages, first of six years to Donna Peacock, and another to Jo Dalton (with whom he had sons Nicolas and Alexander) both ended unhappily due to his excessive drinking. Now he claims to have reformed, and is happily esconced with Sarah Owen.

With over a century of films to his credit John Hurt, the vicar’s son from Shirebrook can say he’s pretty much done it all – and like the island of Kefalonia, has risen like a phoenix from the ashes to dance across the screens of the world to the romantic and melodius strains of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

 
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