Tributes to Hollywood star Sir John Hurt who fully embraced Norfolk

Actor John Hurt in Cromer.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Actor John Hurt in Cromer. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

'He really adopted Norfolk and Norfolk adopted him.'

Cromer Christmas lights switch on. Actor John Hurt and Ollie Robinson press the button.
PHOTO: ANTO

Cromer Christmas lights switch on. Actor John Hurt and Ollie Robinson press the button. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

This was one of the many tributes which have poured in for the Oscar-nominated star Sir John Hurt who has died aged 77.

Widely accepted as one of Britain's best-known and most versatile actors, he became a popular figure in Norfolk after making it his home in 2009.

He lived in north Norfolk and was a staunch supporter of Sheringham Little Theatre, appeared in productions made by Holt-based Capriol Films, was patron of Cinema City in Norwich and became the first chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts.

Sir John also performed at local arts festivals including Holt and Voewood, supported and inspired budding actors and art students and even turned on the Cromer Christmas lights in 2013.


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Such was his talent, he was knighted by the Queen for services to drama in 2015.

His wife, Anwen Hurt, said her husband died on Wednesday at his Norfolk home from pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed in 2015.

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She said it will be a 'strange world' without her husband.

In a statement, she said: 'John was the most sublime of actors and the most gentlemanly of gentlemen with the greatest of hearts and the most generosity of spirit. He touched all our lives with joy and magic and it will be a strange world without him.'

John Hurt recording the Voice of the Mirror with director Simon Thompson at Sheringham Little Theatr

John Hurt recording the Voice of the Mirror with director Simon Thompson at Sheringham Little Theatre. Photo: Bill Smith

TRIBUTE FROM CLOSE FRIEND

Friend and work colleague Tony Britten, film producer and director of Capriol Films, said: 'He really adopted Norfolk and Norfolk adopted him. He really loved Norfolk and was very comfortable here. He settled very quickly. He spent as much time as possible in the county.'

Sir John worked with Mr Britten as a master of ceremonies on Cromer Pier in the 2011 In Love with Alma Cogan film and an agent in the Norfolk-based film ChickLit, which came out last year.

Mr Britten said: 'He was one of the greatest actors of his generation and was a dear friend of mine. He was a man of enormous generosity. It is a sad loss.

'Whatever he took on, he took it seriously. He always had a sense of pride and would never shortchange you.

'His CV includes such a lot of iconic films.'

John Hurt launches a £50,000 appeal for the creation of a new accessible education facility at Cinem

John Hurt launches a £50,000 appeal for the creation of a new accessible education facility at Cinema City which will benefit local people like Ruth Cordle from Equal Lives Youth Forum. Photo by Simon Finlay. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

The film producer added Sir John did not believe in being a 'star'.

'John's feeling was, you have to earn it.'

Mr Britten said the actor could be 'wonderfully naughty', 'delightful' and 'fun'.

But despite his fame, he was always happy to speak to people who approached him as well as give advice to young actors.

Speaking about how he dealt with pancreatic cancer, Mr Britten said Sir John was 'as tough as nails' and carried on working as an actor.

'He was absolutely positive about it. He was a pretty special guy. He dealt with it with a great sense of dignity.'

Sir John will return to screens as Ralph, a successful screenwriter who is facing terminal illness in That Good Night.

He also appears as a Catholic priest in the Hollywood biopic Jackie, which is showing in cinemas.

Tony Britten on set with John Hurt during the filming of ChickLit

Tony Britten on set with John Hurt during the filming of ChickLit - Credit: Andrew Midgley

Sir John was also well known for roles including Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, the title role in The Elephant Man and wand merchant Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter films.

CINEMA CITY PATRON

He became a patron of Cinema City in Norwich in 2013 and the venue's screen heritage and film education centre, which opened in September last year, was called the John Hurt Studio in honour of Sir John's great support of the project.

In a tribute to the film star, a Cinema City spokesman said: 'Sir John was a legend of British cinema and his roles were diverse and many.

'We feel honoured to have known and worked with him, the John Hurt Centre will continue Sir John's legacy by making film and cinema in its physical and theoretical forms an art form to be enjoyed by all.'

Students celebrate and enjoy the graduation ceremony for Norwich University of the Arts at St Andrew

Students celebrate and enjoy the graduation ceremony for Norwich University of the Arts at St Andrews Hall where John Hurt presented the honours. Photo by Simon Finlay. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

FRIEND OF SHERINGHAM LITTLE THEATRE

Another arts venue Sir John was heavily involved with was Sheringham Little Theatre.

Debbie Thompson, Sheringham Little Theatre director, said: 'I have been lucky enough to get to know him in his later life and he was such a kind and generous man. He supported the arts and was such a strong role model for everyone.

'He was unassuming, down to earth, approachable and a really nice guy. If you didn't know who Sir John was and you were sat next to him you would have thought he was normal man from north Norfolk not a Hollywood god.'

As well as being a regular theatre-goer, he opened the venue's refurbished café and launched its digital film projector.

He was the voice of the magic mirror in the theatre's 2013 Snow White pantomime and a strong supporter of Sheringham Little Theatre professional summer rep season.

But it was not only performing arts in Norfolk he supported, it was the visual arts.

NORWICH UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS CHANCELLOR

After being made the first chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) in 2013, Sir John, who went to art college, attended every graduation ceremony and art show possible as well as taking the time to speak to students.

Prof John Last, vice-chancellor of NUA, said: 'Sir John was an exceptionally charismatic chancellor. He understood the DNA of creative students and championed them, as well as being an inspiration. He raised the profile of the arts in Norfolk and showed how vibrant places like NUA are.'

FORMER NEWSPAPER EDITOR REMEMBERS HOLLYWOOD ACTOR

Former EDP Cromer community editor Richard Batson recalls his memories of Sir John Hurt.

It's not often a legend sits in your office. So Sir John Hurt's visit to the EDP at Cromer for a chat caused a bit of a stir.

Colleagues pretended to work, but in reality earwigged our interview almost five years ago, during my spell as local editor, ahead of him collecting a lifetime achievement award from Bafta.

Drinking 'office coffee' he shared thoughts on his stellar CV of roles, in his distinctive warm rich 'voice-over' voice, happy to share his big screen glory with a mere mortal, and only bristled slightly at my temerity at asking how on earth he did it.

'You journalists always want to know that.' Yes, because we are amazed at how he trans-formed into such a diverse range of characters. The answer was through a 'leap of imagination.'

After that we met through shared links with Sheringham Little Theatre, and he even gave us some plants from his pond during an unforgettable, almost surreal, afternoon sipping champagne by his fireside talking gardens, dogs and everyday things. Sir John was a screen legend, but also an adoptive north Norfolker who supported the arts and community events in his new found home. He told me he enjoyed 'the space'. And that made him a neighbour, not an alien.

TRIBUTE FROM CROMER COUNCILLOR

Cromer town councillor David Pritchard speaks about the news of Sir John Hurt's death.

I have woken in the middle of the night to find out that one of the world's greatest actors, Sir John Hurt has lost his brave battle against cancer.

John became a friend of me and my family when he read an excerpt from Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales during my Mayoral Civic and Community Carol Service in 2013.

I will never forget how excited I was to receive a phone call from the man himself confirming his attendance.

I originally asked him to read a passage from Cider with Rosie but as far as I was concerned I told him he could read whatever he wanted.

The service was the same weekend as the Doctor Who 50th anniversary episode in which he played the War Doctor.

My daughter Bethan was an enormous fan of Doctor Who and Merlin (in which he voiced the dragon) so I made sure that she sat next to him for the service.

Every one of the 700 people who attended the service will remember his kindness and patience after the service when he stayed for over two hours signing autographs and speaking to people from all generations.

He was an absolute pleasure.

A beautifully talented light has been extinguished from Cromer and across the entire world where he has been known by so many for so long.

John, rest in peace and to Anwen and his family, my thoughts over the coming days shall truly be with you.

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