Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Local hero John Hurt

In 2010 the acclaimed actor John Hurt told the Times:

I tend to read things about quantum physics and stuff like that — I don’t have a background in it, I try to understand it, I grapple with it. I don’t read for entertainment, I can’t see the purpose of that. 

Science is such an interesting area. It’s so fascinating to have lived in a period when religion has taken the thrashing it deserves. Not that it has entirely; we still have a few religions knocking around, doing exactly what they’ve done through the ages — which is f*** up everything.
In this cautious attitude towards religions, in his risk-taking and compassionate portrayals of controversial figures such as Joseph Merrick the "Elephant Man", and Quentin Crisp the "Naked Civil Servant", John Hurt was a Humanist.  In his zest for life and in his important patronage of local sports and arts, John Hurt was a great local Humanist.

Tribute from Craig Murray, once candidate for Norwich North:

Homosexuality was a criminal offence in the UK until I was nine years old. Attitudes towards gay people remained extremely hostile in much of society even after it was legalised for people over 21 in 1967. At school, I am sorry to say I shared to a large extent in the sneering and intolerant culture that was prevalent at that time.

In an age where there were just three television channels and nobody watched one of them, a new television play was a major event that could reach a mass audience in the way nothing can today. That is partly why Ken Loach had even more political effect with Cathy Come Home than with I, Daniel Blake. I am convinced that John Hurt’s towering performance in The Naked Civil Servant changed society. It brought the individual confrontations Quentin Crisp had engineered his entire life, and expanded them to confront half of the nation with the existence, and right to dignity, of gay people.

Of course Crisp himself was the hero, but John Hurt took a career threatening risk in taking the part and showed great courage and conviction. Hurt’s ability to manipulate the palette of courage, arch wit, and vulnerability that the role required gave the drama its impact, and propelled it with a shocking force I don’t believe any other actor could have managed.

I am not gay, but in a kind of solidarity I immediately adopted as a boy a number of Quentin Crisp’s mannerisms, including the long fingernails, hair and velvet jacket! I persisted with this for a great many years. A group of us at school adopted similar style, though I don’t recall ever discussing the Crisp influence. In 1978 I was delighted to meet Quentin Crisp, still pushing the boundaries by performing to a Dundee pub.

It was always a joy thereafter to see John Hurt appear in anything. We all have to die, and there is no point in getting maudlin about the death of celebrities. But I thought The Naked Civil Servant effect worth recording.

The EDP reported 28th January that "Norwich supporters lead a mass applause at Carrow Road in tribute to Sir John Hurt"

(This) sporting tribute to the Hollywood star was announced on the Norwich City website. It said: 
Everyone at Norwich City Football Club was saddened to hear of the passing of Sir John Hurt at the age of 77.

Sir John lived in north Norfolk and became strongly affiliated with the Canaries, often cheering on the team at Carrow Road as a fan and as a guest of the directors.

The Bafta-winning actor also developed strong links in the local community as chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts and patron of Cinema City.
John Hurt's versatility as an actor is celebrated here.  He will be missed, not least in Norfolk for his humanistic values of tolerance for human diversity and mistrust of religion, and for his important work supporting sports and championing the Arts in Norfolk.

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