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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: Scotland julian_craster's Avatar
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    The Independent

    3 August 2007

    John Normington

    Distinguished RSC and National Theatre actor at his consummate best as Billy Rice in 'The Entertainer'

    John Normington, actor: born Dukinfield, Cheshire 28 January 1937; died London 26 July 2007.

    One of the most respected actors of his generation within his profession - loved by contemporaries and young actors alike - John Normington had a markedly crowded career covering key periods with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s and with the National Theatre from the 1970s until recently, alongside notable Royal Court appearances and equally distinguished work in the West End.

    Surprisingly, given his background and rich voice, he only rarely had the chance to use his musical gifts. Born and educated in Cheshire, he trained for the operatic stage at the Northern School of Music in Manchester but had already taken to a theatrical career following his first teenage professional appearance as a larky pupil, Hopcroft Minor, in John Dighton's public-school comedy The Happiest Days of Your Life (Oldham, 1950).

    After a valuable period with the Manchester Library Theatre - then a prestigious regional rep training ground - he made a strong impression with his first London appearance in a controversial new play, Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger (Arts, 1962), part of an adventurous Arts Theatre new-writing policy under the producer Michael Codron. Normington's promise was confirmed by his success in a revival of Shaw's Misalliance (Criterion, 1963) as the downtrodden would-be anarchist Gunner, memorably emerging from a Turkish bath in the Surrey mansion of an underwear tycoon to proclaim: "Rome fell. Babylon fell. Hindhead's turn will come!"

    The early 1960s made for exciting times in a changing British theatrical landscape, and Normington enthusiastically made up part of a legendary company - Peggy Ashcroft, Donald Sinden, David Warner et al - for Peter Hall's recently formed Royal Shakespeare Company, giving vivid studies in a range of roles including Mortimer and Young Clifford in the mould- shattering The Wars of the Roses (Stratford and Aldwych, 1962 and 1963). He made an even stronger impact as a gleefully sozzled Bardolph in both parts of Henry IV (Stratford and Aldwych, 1964).

    These vibrant early RSC years saw other fine performances from Normington, notable a spring-heeled Antipholus in Clifford Williams's evergreen version of The Comedy of Errors (1965); his blissfully pompous creation of Oblong Fitz Oblong in Robert Bolt's Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew (1965); and, outstandingly, his queasily unsettling Sam in the premiere of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming (Aldwych, 1965 and Music Box, New York, 1967). He was only 27 at the time but Normington was utterly convincing as a senior figure in the play's gallery of males ferally circling the sole, intrusive female.

    Moving to Sloane Square, Normington was a strong feature, playing Feste in an uneven Twelfth Night (Royal Court, 1968); by way of contrast he considerably enlivened David Cregan's Houses by the Green (Royal Court, 1969) as a peppery Commander.

    Back in the West End he had a good part in Jack Pulman's deft comedy of the advertising world, The Happy Apple (Apollo, 1970) with Pauline Collins. In Edward Bond's The Fool (Royal Court, 1975), based on the life of the poet John Clare (Tom Courtenay), Normington was especially fine as a country parson, in one searing scene vilified and stripped of his finery to display the corruption of the church.

    Another cleric - the very different, cheerfully camp Sainsbury - in the first production of Michael Frayn's academic comedy Donkey's Years (Bath and tour, 1976) was another juicy role, giving him a rare opportunity to sing when the bibulous divine launches into a risqu� old university revue number.

    For much of the next two decades Normington's career centred round the South Bank, his early National Theatre performances including Dzershinsky in Robert Bolt's State of Revolution (1977) and one of his most fizzing comedy performances in Feydeau's Lady from Maxim's (1977). He was part of a strong cast in Richard III (1979) with John Wood, but the production was dismal, seeing even such actors as Jeremy Kemp and Normington (playing Clarence) valiantly go under.

    Much happier were his periods in the triumph of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (1979), as the glorious ninny of Joseph II, in John Dexter's lovingly detailed scrutiny of Dekker's Shoemaker's Holiday (1981) and, a personal delight for him, as the Salvation Army colonel in Richard Eyre's joyous Guys and Dolls (1982), ineffably moving as he gently sang "More I Cannot Wish You" to Julie Covington's Sarah Brown. Repeating his performance for the NT's 1997 revival, Normington was again in vintage form.

    Opposite Penelope Keith in a revival of Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea (Haymarket, 1988) Normington was widely praised for a fascinating performance of great finesse as Mr Miller, the somewhat mysterious "doctor" inhabiting the same boarding-house as the play's suicidal heroine. Quietly but urgently persuading Hester to survive despair, Normington magnetically conveyed a past freighted with profound inner conflict without a scruple of sentimentality. Also in the commercial theatre, following its original Chichester Festival run, he played an endearing Waffles in a starry Uncle Vanya (Albery, 1966) with Derek Jacobi and Alec McCowen.

    Returning to the National, Normington had a rewarding time in a revival of one of the company's biggest successes, playing a decidedly varied run of parts in The Mysteries (1999-2000). More recently, he shone even in an unusually powerful ensemble in Peter Gill's scrupulous revival of Granville Barker's The Voysey Inheritance (2006).

    It was fitting that Normington's valedictory performance was one of his very finest. In the revival of John Osborne's The Entertainer (Old Vic, 2007) alongside Robert Lindsay and Pam Ferris, Normington was at his consummate best as Archie Rice's father, in his day himself a music-hall headliner; dapper still in his well-sponged suit, toupee only slightly awry and carriage poker-backed, he was wonderfully funny and deeply affecting as the one-time gentleman Billy Rice, now seeing out his last days in seedy seaside digs.

    Normington's film career gave him fewer good opportunities, although he played some excellent stage roles on screen - Maples in Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence (1968) and Flute in Peter Hall's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1969) - even if in less than magnificent movie versions. He had a sharp cameo as a venal solicitor in A Private Function (1985), Alan Bennett's beady-eyed comedy of small-town corruption, but was less well-served in the limp movie version of Tom Sharpe's Wilt (1990).

    On the smaller screen Normington seemed to be rarely out of work. He appeared in virtually every major series of his era - Softly, Softly and The Villains in the 1960s, Nearest and Dearest, Hadleigh, New Scotland Yard in the 1970s, Inspector Morse, Poirot, Yes, Prime Minister (1980s) and, more recently, Peak Practice, The New Statesman, The Bill, Casualty and Midsomer Murders.

    Much to his own pleasure, if only for a single episode, he appeared in Coronation Street (1997) and in a fondly remembered series of Doctor Who, playing Morgus in several episodes (1984-88) of "The Caves of Androzani". Some of his most memorable television work would have to include a chilling Himmler in Hitler's S.S. (1985) and vivid cameos as Dr Chillip in David Copperfield (1999) and as a suave Shadow Minister in The Deal (2003).

    Illness circumscribed Normington's final years - his cancer was diagnosed several years ago - but he survived even its deepest troughs with humour and courage. His last days were much eased by the devoted care of John Anderson, his partner of almost 40 years.

    Alan Strachan

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: UK
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    I always felt that John Normington was one of those 'old school' actors who got on and did the job, i.e. learnt his lines, didn't bump into the furniture and always giving 110%.

    There are so many who have been there for as long as I can remember and all are always worth watching. Why did so few of them become the big stars that they should have done? The sad thing is that a great majority of these actors are still in great demand and constantly working and greatly admired by their fellow actors and audiences alike.

    I recently saw John in 'Torchwood' and 'Casualty' and, whilst I thought he looked quite poorly, he still delivered faultless performances.

    Another one who will be sadly missed.

    RIP, John.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: England cornershop15's Avatar
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    John Normington in 'Murder Most English: Hopjoy Was Here, Part 1 ... Part 1

    John is another actor whose many appearances somehow passed me by over the years. Supporting roles in (to me) largely unfamiliar programmes must be the reason. Even Public Eye was a dim memory of childhood until I bought the DVDs. His cameo in the Christmas 1972 episode Horse and Carriage is what first brought him to my attention, staying the night as a guest in Pat Heywood's house.

    That was all I knew the actor from until he turned up in my DVD viewing of Murder Most English a few months ago. John played tobacconist Gordon Periam, who detective Anton Rodgers interviews following the disappearance of the title character, last seen shortly before Periam's wedding to Doreen (Lynn Farleigh). A drunken Hopjoy requested his company and he reluctantly accepted, without wanting the future wife to know about it:

    "She's very sweet ... and she's very loyal."

    With Anton Rodgers as Detective Inspector Purbright:

    "Can you think why any of your neighbours ahould bear you a grudge, Mr. Periam?" - "No. They're quite decent old sticks most of the time."

    Already puzzled by an anonymous letter sent to him, Periam is reeling with shock when the detective says he believes Hopjoy was murdered:

    R.I.P., John Normington

    Part 2 of this tribute to follow, but it could be weeks, even months (other commitments). Any other memories of this 'Unmentioned' actor'?
    Last edited by cornershop15; 08-06-11 at 10:55 AM. Reason: Trouble trying to get the second paragraph right.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: Australia wadsy's Avatar
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    John Normington was from my hometown of Dukinfield in Cheshire. My mum knew his family!

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: UK
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    I saw him in Guys and Dolls at the National, he was excellent

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: UK didi-5's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Azanti View Post
    I saw him in Guys and Dolls at the National, he was excellent
    Me too. That was thirty years ago! I met him briefly too as a family friend was in the cast and we got taken back stage. Nice chap. Good actor. RIP.

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