Guest Actor Biography
Page 116 of 127


John Thaw

Captain Trench, Esprit de Corps

by Pete Stampede with Alan Hayes

With his terse, naturalistic style of acting, perfectly suited to conveying world-weary integrity, John Thaw was a key British television actor for four decades. Born 3 January 1942, his involvement in Esprit de Corps is quite unique, as he rarely if ever did guest appearances: he consistently starred in series, most notably Redcap in the mid-60s (also made for ABC; recently, the Radio Times printed a publicity photo of the time, showing him with Diana Rigg in Emma Peel guise), The Sweeney in the 70s, Inspector Morse in the 80s, and Kavanagh Q.C. in the 90s. A Year in Provence (1993), set in France, and Plastic Man (1999) have been his only miscalculations to date. He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but was born in Manchester; in fact, at one point in this episode his Scots accent slips and his natural northern accent can be heard (mind you, he was understandably distracted as he was grappling with Honor Blackman at the time!). Thaw has several film credits to his name - Cry Freedom (1987), Chaplin (1992) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972, written and directed by Avengers director, Robert Fuest) - though it would be fair to say that television was very much his kingdom. He regularly demonstrated his versatility throughout his career, appearing in Shakespeare adaptations, and even turning his hand occasionally to situation comedy, notably Thick As Thieves (1974) and Home to Roost (1985).

It could be argued that the rough, tough Sweeney was as characteristic of the 70s as The Avengers had been of the 60s, and that its huge success influenced the more realistic tone of The New Avengers and led to the end of the glossy ITC series: it featured endless car chases and realistic fighting, now-hilarious wardrobes and so much slang it almost had its own language: "Get yer trousers on, you're nicked!" was Thaw and sidekick Dennis Waterman's standard line when (constantly) bursting in on couples in bed, while a request for silence was "Shut it!" It certainly left its mark on Brian Clemens' next series, The Professionals. Inspector Morse has been Thaw's biggest international success, although to a part-time Oxford resident like myself, the series is full of geographical errors. This series of television movies drew to a close in November 2000, with Morse's death in The Remorseful Day

Thaw married actress Sheila Hancock in 1973. In May 2001, he was awarded a fellowship by BAFTA - the screen body's highest accolade. Sadly, Thaw's recent battle with cancer of the esophagus - a condition with a pitifully low recovery rate - ended in his death, aged 60, on Thursday 21st February 2002.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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