John Thaw ('Inspector Morse'/'Sweeney!')
John Thaw was one of Britain's most versatile actors of stage, screen, and television, before his untimely death on February 21st 2002 at the age of 60 after a battle with cancer of the oesophagus. His portrayal of Chief Inspector Morse won him a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Best Actor Award in 1990 and 1993; the ITV Personality of the Year Award in 1991; and the TV Times Favorite Actor Award in 1991.
For many years, Thaw played the lead role in 'The Sweeney!', one of the most successful series on British television, collecting several awards. He starred in two feature films as the same character, for which he won the Evening Standard Best Film Actor of the Year Award in 1977.
Thaw went on to appear opposite mystery-host Diana Rigg in Tom Stoppard's play 'Night and Day' in the West End. His wide range of stage roles included Sergeant Musgrave in 'Sgt. Musgrave's Dance' at the National Theater; Wolsey in 'Henry VIII' and Sir Toby Belch in 'Twelfth Night' at Stratford. Other plays included 'Charles Dyer's Staircase'; 'Two into One' at the Shaftsbury Theater; and Authur Miller's 'All My Sons'. In 1993, he returned to the Royal National Theater in 'The Absence of War,' part of a trilogy by playwright David Hare.
Thaw's feature films included 'The Grass is Singing,' with Karen Black; 'We'll Support You Ever More'; 'Business as Usual', with Glenda Jackson; and two Richard Attenborough films: 'Cry Freedom' and 'Chaplin: The Biography of Charlie Chaplin', in which he portrayed Fred Karno. Other TV appearances included 'Stanley and the Women' and 12 episodes of Peter Mayle's 'A Year in Provence' for the BBC. In 1994 and 1995 he filmed episodes of 'Kavanagh QC', in which he played a counsellor of the Queen, and in 2000 came back to TV in 'Monsignor Renard.' Later in 2000 he finally said goodbye to his signature role of 'Inspector Morse' and in 2001 he was seen in the ITV production. 'The Glass.'
Chatting with John back in June of 2001, I first asked him how his treatment was going with regard his publicly-admitted illness. "Well, I am receiving treatment for cancer of the oesophagus," he said calmly. "As soon as this has been completed, I intend to return to work. Sheila (Hancock) and I appreciate everyone's support and understanding, but would now be very grateful if our privacy as a family could be respected."
Is it hard to look at that final day of shooting on 'Inspector Morse: The Remorseful Day' and see yourself dead? "Well, seeing yourself on a mortuary slab pulls you up," he says with a wry,yet painfully truthful smile. "I'd done a past Morse when he was in hospital and you think, 'this could be me tomorrow or in six months time', and 'I could be here as John Thaw'."
With regard your role as Inspector Morse, was it easy saying goodbye to him after all these years? "I really have mixed feelings about it," he says, his right hand coming up to gently rub his chin. "It's sad since I'm losing one of my favorite characters. I've enjoyed doing it very much, and I feel very proud to have created a character that is so respected. On the other hand, as an actor and a human being, it gave me more freedom to concentrate on other things."
After all this time, what still do you miss most about playing the character? "I still miss working with Kevin [Whately]. I think we had a great rapport together. I miss that contact with him as an actor. Parts like Morse don't grow on trees. He's so complex and there are so many sides to him which, for an actor, is a joy. In one scene he'll be churlish, as he's not exactly the kindest person in the world, he wryly smiles again, and yet in the very next scene he'll be a sensitive, caring man in a totally different situation."
Do you have a favorite episode? "I have two or three. For sentimental reasons, I like the very first one we did: 'The Dead of Jericho.' There, we were laying down the roots for all the years to come. I like the one called 'Masonic Mysteries,' which was quite different. For other reasons I like the one we shot in Australia - 'Promised Land' - which finishes with Morse walking up the steps of the Sydney Opera House to the strains of Der Rosenkavalier, the Strauss opera. I thought that was very touching. That was shot by John Madden who also did 'Shakespeare in Love'."
And, finally, what are your memories of working with Dennis Waterman on 'The Sweeney!'? "Good times,' he now brightly smiles. "Great times. I loved working with Dennis. We had so much fun. So much fun. Of course, I was much younger and more rough with the criminals back then," he now chuckles, 'But I daresay they all got what they deserved."
Interviewed by Gary Stevenson for Exclusive Magazine
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