Cinema City remember patron Sir John Hurt: ‘He was exceedingly generous with his time and talents.’

John Hurt at Cinema City in Norwich for a screening of The Elephant Man. Photo: Bill Smith

John Hurt at Cinema City in Norwich for a screening of The Elephant Man. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Bill Smith - Archant

The news that Sir John Hurt passed away last week has hit us all pretty hard at Cinema City. In 2012 it came to our attention that he was, by then, a resident of Norfolk. We first made contact with him due to his appearance in the Norfolk-shot film In Love with Alma Cogan – which subsequently became quite a hit with Cinema City audiences. We decided to ask if he would consider becoming patron of Cinema City and were absolutely delighted when he agreed.

In the four years that Sir John was our patron, he was exceedingly generous with his time and talents. He contributed to fundraising efforts for our charity Cinema City Education, curated and introduced a programming strand called 'John Hurt Presents', undertook a live on-stage interview, agreed to being interviewed for our Norfolk at the Pictures commemorative magazine, and narrated our documentary film, The Final Reel. He never asked for any payment for his services. Moreover he actually gave us a sketch that he had drawn of himself as the Elephant Man and an original carving of his character in the 2014 film Hercules – both of which we auctioned and which raised hundreds of pounds for our education work.

We were so impressed by his continued commitment and energy when it came to helping us fundraise and as an advocate for the work we do – especially with young film audiences. He, in fact, said: 'We need to educate that generation to support film culture so that British film remains amongst the best in the world.'

He was the voice of our film about the history of Norfolk's cinema, The Final Reel, and provided the narration in his familiar gravelly sonorous tones. It instantly elevated the film to another level of professionalism. The crew were invited to his home to record it and he and his wife, Anwen, were hospitable and welcoming.

What struck us most in the time we knew him – was his seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm whenever he helped us. 'It's my duty!' he once proclaimed to us when we expressed our gratitude after another fundraising event he had given up his time for. In fact, he went beyond his 'duty' every time and this seems to chime with the tributes that have already been paid by others around the globe who had worked with him.

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Sir John was a special guest at a fundraising screening and Q&A of The Elephant Man to mark Cinema City's 35th anniversary in 2013. It had been a very successful but long evening and we were anxious to escort him towards the dinner we had waiting for him. Nevertheless Sir John must have stopped and spoken to, signed autographs for, and posed for pictures with everyone who asked before finally sitting down to eat. One of our bar staff recalls the occasion that Sir John came in to the Cinema City café bar one afternoon. After ordering his drink, instead of going and finding a table like 90% of our customers do, he sat at the bar and kept her company as she polished glasses. He also cheerfully agreed to autograph her cuddly Alien 'chestburster'.

Sir John was, in our view, one of the world's great actors of any generation and his immense generosity with his time, his energy and passion for film was something to behold. We feel deeply honoured and privileged to have met him, worked with him, and become acquainted with the man and the legend that was Sir John Hurt.

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