- Category : Actor
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Split - Small (1,7,25,59)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Tension 4
John Edward Thaw, CBE (3 January 1942 – 21 February 2002) was an English actor, who appeared in a range of television, stage and cinema roles, his most popular being television series such as Redcap, The Sweeney, Home to Roost, Inspector Morse and Kavanagh QC.
Thaw was born in Longsight, Manchester, to working class parents Dorothy (née Ablott) and John, a long-distance lorry driver. Thaw had a difficult childhood as his mother left when he was seven years old and he didn't see her again for 12 years. His younger brother, Raymond Stuart "Ray" emigrated to Australia in the mid-1960s.
Thaw grew up in Gorton and Burnage, attending the Ducie Technical High School for Boys. He entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) at the age of 16, where he was a contemporary of Tom Courtenay.
Soon after leaving RADA he made his formal stage début in A Shred of Evidence at the Liverpool Playhouse and was awarded a contract with the theatre. His first film role was a bit part in the 1962 adaptation of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner starring Tom Courtenay and he also acted on-stage opposite Sir Laurence Olivier in Semi-Detached (1962) by David Turner. He appeared in several episodes of the BBC police series Z-Cars in 1963–64 as a detective constable who left the force because of an unusual drink problem, he couldn't take the alcohol so often part of the policeman's work. Between 1964 and 1966, he starred in two series of the ABC Weekend Television/ITV production Redcap, playing the hard-nosed military policeman, Sergeant John Mann. He was also a guest star in an early episode of The Avengers. In 1967 he appeared in the Granada TV/ITV series, Inheritance, alongside James Bolam and Michael Goodliffe, as well as appearing in TV plays such as The Talking Head and episodes of series such as Budgie, where he played against type (opposite Adam Faith) as an effeminate failed playwright with a full beard and a Welsh accent.
Thaw will perhaps be best remembered for two roles: the hard-bitten Flying Squad detective Jack Regan in the Thames Television/ITV series (and two films) The Sweeney (1974–1978), which established him as a major star in the United Kingdom, and as the quietly spoken, introspective, well-educated and bitter detective Inspector Morse (1987 – 1993, with specials from 1995 – 1998 and 2000). Thaw was only 32 when he was cast in The Sweeney, although many viewers thought he was older. Starring alongside Kevin Whately as the put upon Detective Sergeant Lewis, Morse became a cult character—"a cognitive curmudgeon with his love of classical music, his classic Jaguar and spates of melancholy". Inspector Morse became one of the UK's most loved TV series; the final three episodes, shown in 2000, were seen by 18 million people, about one third of the British population. He won "Most Popular Actor" at the 1999 National Television Awards and won two BAFTA awards for his role as Morse.
He subsequently played liberal working class Lancastrian barrister James Kavanagh in Kavanagh QC (1995 – 1999, and a special in 2001). Thaw also tried his hand at comedy with two sitcoms—Thick as Thieves (London Weekend/ITV, 1974) with Bob Hoskins and Home to Roost (Yorkshire/ITV, 1985 – 1990). Thaw is best known in America for the Morse series, as well as the BBC series A Year in Provence with Lindsay Duncan.
During the 1970s and '80s, Thaw frequently appeared in productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal National Theatre. He appeared in a number of films, including Cry Freedom, where he portrayed the conservative South African justice minister Jimmy Kruger, for which he received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and Chaplin alongside Robert Downey Jr. for director Richard Attenborough.
Thaw also appeared in the TV adaptation of the Michelle Magorian book Goodnight Mister Tom (Carlton Television/ITV). It won "Most Popular Drama" at the National Television Awards, 1999. In September 2006, Thaw was voted by the general public as number 3 in a poll of TV's Greatest Stars.
On 27 June 1964, Thaw married Sally Alexander, a feminist activist and theatre stage manager, and now professor of history at Goldsmiths, University of London). They divorced four years later. He met actress Sheila Hancock in 1969 on the set of a London comedy So What About Love?. She was married to fellow actor Alexander "Alec" Ross, and after Thaw professed his love to Hancock, she told him that she would not have an affair. After the death of her husband (from oesophageal cancer) in 1971, Thaw and Hancock married on 24 December 1973 in Cirencester, and he remained with her until his death in 2002 (also from oesophageal cancer).
Thaw had three daughters (all of whom are actresses): Abigail from his first marriage to Sally Alexander, Joanna from his second marriage to Sheila Hancock, and he also adopted Sheila Hancock's daughter Melanie Jane, from Hancock's first marriage to Alec Ross. Melanie Jane legally changed her surname from Ross to Thaw.
Thaw was a committed socialist and a lifelong supporter of the Labour Party. Thaw was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in March 1993 by Queen Elizabeth II. In September 2006, Thaw was voted by the general public as number 3, after David Jason and Morecambe and Wise, in a poll of TV's 50 Greatest Stars for the past 50 years.
Illness and death
A heavy drinker until going teetotal in 1995, and a heavy smoker from the age of 12, Thaw was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus in June 2001. He underwent chemotherapy in hope of overcoming the illness, and at first seemed to be responding well to the treatment, but on 5 January 2002, he was told that the cancer had spread.
He died on 21 February 2002, seven weeks after his 60th birthday, the day after he signed a new contract with ITV, and the day before his wife's birthday. At the time of his death he was living at his country home, near the villages of Luckington and Sherston in Wiltshire, and was cremated at Westerleigh Crematorium in Gloucestershire in a private service. A memorial service was held on 4 September 2002 at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, attended by 800 people including Prince Charles and Cherie Blair.