Sir John Vincent Hurt CBE

Born 22 January 1940, is an English actor. Among other honours, he has received two Academy Award nominations, a Golden Globe Award, and four BAFTA Awards, with the fourth being a Lifetime Achievement recognition.

Hurt is known for his leading roles as deformed man John Merrick in David Lynch’s biopic The Elephant Man (1980), Winston Smith in the dystopian drama Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), Mr. Braddock in the Stephen Frears drama The Hit (1984), Stephen Ward in the drama depicting the Profumo affair, Scandal (1989), Quentin Crisp in the TV film The Naked Civil Servant (1975) and the biographical drama An Englishman in New York (2009), and Caligula in the TV series I, Claudius (1976). Recognisable for his distinctive rich voice, he has also enjoyed a successful voice acting career in films such as Watership Down (1978), the animated The Lord of the Rings (1978), and Dogville, as well as the BBC television series Merlin. He portrayed the War Doctor in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor”, following brief appearances in previous episodes.

Hurt initially came to prominence for his role as Richard Rich in the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, and has since appeared in films such as the prison drama Midnight Express (1978), the science-fiction horror film Alien (1979), the adventure film Rob Roy (1995), the political thriller V for Vendetta (2006), the sci-fi adventure film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), the Harry Potter film series (2001-2011), the Hellboy films (2004 and 2008), and the Cold War espionage film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). Hurt is one of Britain’s best-known and most prolific actors, and has had a versatile career spanning six decades. He is also known for his many Shakespearean roles. His character’s final scene in Alien has been named by a number of publications as one of the most memorable in cinematic history.

Early Life

Hurt was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, the son of Phyllis (née Massey), an amateur actress and engineer, and Arnould Herbert Hurt, a mathematician who became an Anglican clergyman and served as vicar of Shirebrook. Hurt’s father was also a vicar at St John’s Church in Sunderland. In 1937, he moved his family to Derbyshire, where he became Perpetual Curate of Holy Trinity Church. When Hurt was five, his father became the vicar of St. Stephen’s Church in Woodville, Derbyshire, and remained there until 1952.

In 1945, Hurt’s father founded 1st Woodville (St. Stephen’s) Scout Group, which is still going today. Hurt had a strict upbringing; the family lived opposite a cinema, but he was not allowed to see films there. He was also not permitted to mix with local children because his parents saw them as “too common”.

At the age of eight, Hurt was sent to the Anglican St Michael’s Preparatory School in Otford, Kent, where he eventually developed his passion for acting. He decided he wanted to become an actor, and his first role was that of a girl in a school production of The Bluebird (L’Oiseau Bleu) by Maurice Maeterlinck. While he was a pupil at the school, he was abused by Donald Cormack (now deceased), then Senior Master of the school and later Head Teacher (until his retirement in 1981). Hurt described how Cormack would remove his two false front teeth and put his tongue in the boys’ mouths, and how he would rub their faces with his stubble. Hurt said that the experience affected him hugely.

Hurt’s father moved to Old Clee Church in Grimsby, Lincolnshire. Hurt (then aged 12) became a boarder at Christ’s Hospital School (then a grammar school) in Lincoln, because he had failed the entrance exam for admission to his brother’s school. Hurt often accompanied his mother to Cleethorpes Repertory Theatre, but his parents disliked his acting ambitions and encouraged him to become an art teacher instead. His headmaster, Mr Franklin, laughed when Hurt told him he wanted to be an actor, telling him that he “wouldn’t stand a chance in the profession”.

Aged 17, Hurt enrolled in Grimsby Art School (now the East Coast School of Art & Design), where he studied art. In 1959, Hurt won a scholarship allowing him to study for an Art Teacher’s Diploma (ATD) at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. Despite the scholarship, paying for his studies was financially difficult, so he persuaded some of his friends to pose nude and sold the portraits. In 1960, he won a scholarship to RADA, where he trained for two years. He was then cast in small roles on television.

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