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John Neville (actor)

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John Neville (actor)

John Neville
Born John Reginald Neville
(1925-05-02)2 May 1925
Willesden, London, England, UK
Died 19 November 2011(2011-11-19) (aged 86)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Cause of death
Alzheimer's disease
Nationality British
Education Chiswick County School for Boys
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts
Occupation Actor
Years active 1949 – 2006
Spouse(s) Caroline Hopper
(m. 1949–2011; his death)
Children 6
Family Joe Dinicol (Grandson)

John Reginald Neville, CM, OBE (2 May 1925 – 19 November 2011)[1] was an English theatre and film actor who moved to Canada in 1972. He enjoyed a resurgence of international attention in the 1980s as a result of his starring role in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988).

Early life and education

Neville was born in Willesden, London, the son of Mabel Lillian (née Fry) and Reginald Daniel Neville, a lorry driver.[2] He was educated at Willesden and Chiswick County Schools for Boys, and after war service in the Royal Navy trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art,[3] before starting his professional career as a member of the Trent Players.


United Kingdom

Neville was a West End idol of the 1950s, hailed as "one of the most potent classical actors of the Burton-O'Toole generation".[4] A leading member of London's Old Vic Company, he played many classical leading roles, including Romeo in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (a role he repeated on American television for the anthology series Producers' Showcase), and an acclaimed Richard in Richard II, with Virginia McKenna as Queen Anne. He also alternated with Richard Burton the parts of Othello and Iago in Othello.[5] He was a frequent visiting player at the Bristol Old Vic. He received good reviews in the musical adaptation of Lolita, called Lolita, My Love, which closed in Boston en route to Broadway.

Noted for his classical good looks and mellifluous voice, the young Neville was frequently described as the young John Gielgud's natural successor. For a while, he took over the leading role of Nestor Le Fripé from Keith Michell in the original West End production of the musical Irma La Douce, playing opposite Elizabeth Seal as Irma. For a brief period in 1963, he returned to the London stage, playing Alfie in the stage version of the play by Bill Naughton,[3] but by then his theatrical commitment lay outside London.

In 1961, his weekly pay declining from £200 to £50,[3] he joined the Nottingham Playhouse, becoming joint artistic director with Frank Dunlop and Peter Ustinov when the current building in Nottingham opened in 1963.[3] It became one of Britain's leading provincial repertory theatres.[4] Though Dunlop and Ustinov soon left, Neville remained at the theatre until 1967.[5] He resigned over funding disputes with the local authority[5] and the Arts Council.[3][6]

Neville starred as the Duke of Marlborough in the 1969 BBC2 serial The First Churchills, a major television role which also maintained his international profile when the show was broadcast as the very first Masterpiece Theatre series in the United States in 1971.[7][8][9]


With his family, he left Britain in 1972 and devoted his later career to the Canadian theatre, taking up the post of artistic director at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta (1973–78).[6] He later took similar positions with the Neptune Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia (1978–83)[6] and other Canadian theatre companies, including as artistic director of the Stratford Festival of Canada from 1985–89,[6] as well as continuing his acting career. On top of his artistic decisions, Neville distinguished himself such as when he helped eliminate the Neptune's deficit with canny promotions such as giving free tickets to the local taxi drivers and their families, correctly anticipating the recipients to enthusiastically discuss the theatre to passengers and tourists.[10]

In 1988 he was cast as Baron Münchhausen by Terry Gilliam. In the film, Neville plays the character at three different stages of his life; in his 30s, his 50s and his 70s. From 1995-98, Neville had a prominent recurring role in The X-Files television series as the Well-Manicured Man, and in 1998, he reprised his role in the feature film The X-Files: Fight The Future. Although he made numerous other television appearances and occasional film roles, the main focus of Neville's career was always the theatre.

In his later years, Neville had numerous cameo appearances in films, including Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia in The Man Who Sued God and an Admiral in the Earth Space Navy in The Fifth Element. He had a small role as "Terrence" in David Cronenberg's 2002 Spider. In the same year he also appeared alongside Vanessa Redgrave in the 2002 film adaptation of Crime and Punishment.

In 2003, Neville did a stage reading of John Milton's Samson Agonistes, opposite Claire Bloom at Bryn Mawr College at the behest of poet Karl Kirchwey.[11]

He was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2006.[12]


According to publicists at Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Neville died "peacefully surrounded by family" on 19 November 2011, aged 86.[13] Neville suffered with Alzheimer's disease in his latter years.[14] He is survived by his wife, Caroline (née Hopper), and their six children. His grandson is actor Joe Dinicol. He was added in In Memoriam at the 18th Screen Actors Guild Awards.



  1. ^ "Actor John Neville dies at 86", CBC News/Canada Press, 21 November 2011
  2. ^ "Neville profile at Film". Retrieved 2013-05-28. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Anthony Hayward "John Neville: Shakespearean actor and director who became a theatrical force in Canada ", The Independent, 26 November 2011
  4. ^ a b Jeremy Lewis, "A Real Class Act", Nottingham Evening Post, 5 March 1999
  5. ^ a b c Daily TelegraphObituary for Neville in the , 21 November 2011
  6. ^ a b c d Michael Coveney The GuardianJohn Neville obituary in , 21 November 2011
  7. ^ Nancy Pomerene McMillan, "A 10th Birthday for Masterpiece Theatre of John Neville and Susan Hampshire in 'The First Churchills'", The New York Times (21 September 1980), p. 35
  8. ^ Susan King, "British exports now a staple on U.S. TV", Austin American-Statesman (13 January 1991), p. 37.
  9. ^ Susan King, "'Buccaneers' Kicks Off 'Masterpiece' Anniversary", Chicago Sun-Times (8 October 1995), p.11
  10. ^ O'Reilly, Terry (20 April 2013). "Loss Leaders: How Companies Profit By Losing Money". CBC Radio: Under the Influence. Retrieved 20 April 2013. 
  11. ^ Karen Heller (1 May 2003). "Bryn Mawr shows creative side as it makes way for arts". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 15 October 2010. 
  12. ^ "Governor General to Invest 41 Recipients Into the Order of Canada". 2 May 2007. Retrieved 21 November 2011. 
  13. ^ "Passing of John Neville"
  14. ^ "John Neville obituary", The Guardian, 21 November 2011.

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