Memories of the late, great John Hurt

Sir John
Sir John

Don Boyd is specific: it is a very personal view of the late John Hurt he will be offering at this year’s Chichester International Film Festival.

He knew Sir John as an actor he directed and as an actor he produced, but he also knew him as a close friend for many years – until the actor’s death on January 27 this year.

This year’s festival will feature a John Hurt retrospective including The Naked Civil Servant, The Shout, Elephant Man, The Hit, Scandal, The Field, Englishman In New York and That Good Night.

It will also feature Don’s own East of Elephant Rock, after which Don will offer an illustrated talk (August 22, 9pm).

“The thing about John from my perspective is that it is very complex. Not only did I work with him, but I became very close friends with him. He has lived in our home in Los Angeles and in London and I have seen him over endless Christmases and parties.

“As a friend and as a human being, he was this extraordinary mix between being phenomenally loyal and a very, very straightforward man. He always stated his opinion.

“You never felt he was going to tell you something he didn’t believe in. He was also a very perceptive man and a very sensitive man. When he saw our children in certain situations, he would be very understanding and very caring.

“But he could be equally irascible and heavily critical towards anybody he felt was being in any way phoney. Hopefully I was never phoney to him, but he disliked people not coming up with what they believed in or being slightly ambiguous.

“When you were with him, you had to be alert. He was very well read and had great taste and knowledge, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly.

“Was it difficult being with someone who drank a great deal? Yes, it was very difficult.

“But John was still a total delight. You could not help but like him from the moment he appeared, and when he was in his most vulnerable situations, you felt very protective towards him.

“He was always huge fun to talk about plays and books and films and art.

“He was very knowledgeable about art. He was a very good artist. He was a walking encyclopaedia, and he had great taste with the people he worked with.

“He worked with people he felt had something to offer creatively and culturally. Going to his parties or having an evening with him in a social set-up was huge fun.

“You would always meet people who shared his passions.”

Inevitably, his last year was a very sad year.

“But he had fallen ill before. I will tell you a story that is strikingly indicative about John. A good 25 years ago, John was told that he could not have another drink or another cigarette by his doctor who was a friend. John outlived his doctor by 22 years!”

John was a survivor: “But the last year was very difficult.

“His fourth wife Anwen was amazing in quite a spectacular way in the way she looked after him. John was very fond of my wife, Hilary Boyd, the novelist, and there was a sense that there wasn’t going to be an end with John.

“We were there on Christmas Eve with John. We took him a picnic, and he was eating quails’ eggs like they were going out of existence! John was a phenomenal survivor.

He was part of that post-war generation that had quite tough post-war lives and learnt to survive…”

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