Skip to main content

John Shrapnel - An Obituary

John Shrapnel – actor

Born April 27, 1942; died February 14, 2020

John Shrapnel, who has died aged 77, was an intense and imposing presence as an actor. Onstage, he played numerous classical roles from his early days in Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre company. He cut an equally powerful dash on film, where he played assorted lords, admirals, generals and statesmen. He also appeared in Gladiator and Notting Hill, with his last TV role coming in 2017 as an Archbishop in the small-screen version of Mike Bartlett’s play, King Charles III.

Shrapnel’s surname was indicative of his steely approach, after his ancestor, Lieutenant General Henry Shrapnel, invented the exploding cannonball, giving his name to the shards of metal produced by the blast.

John Morley Shrapnel was born in Birmingham, the eldest of two sons to Norman, who was the Guardian’s parliamentary correspondent, and Mary Lillian Myfanwy (nee Edwards). Shrapnel attended Mile End School in Stockport, Greater Manchester, where he joined the school drama society; then, when the family moved south, the City of London school, where he played Hamlet. He also joined the National Youth Theatre. After studying at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, he made his professional acting debut in 1965, when he played Claudio in Much Ado Nothing at Nottingham Playhouse.

This led to a huge range of stage and screen roles, from stints with the National Theatre working with Jonathan Miller on The School for Scandal (1968), and, in the early 1970s, playing Banquo in Macbeth and Orsino in Twelfth Night. Other notable early roles included Andrey in Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and playing opposite Janet Suzman as Tesman in Hedda Gabler in 1977. He doubled up as Agamemnon and Apollo in John Barton’s ten-play epic, The Greeks, in 1980, the same year he played Brutus in Julius Caesar, and made a stately Claudius in Hamlet at the Donmar in 1982.

He transposed his onstage power in three television productions of Shakespeare throughout the 1980s, and gave King Creon a fresh aura of gravitas in The Theban Plays (1986). On TV, he was the Earl of Sussex opposite Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R (1971), Sir Percival Glyde alongside Ian Richardson and Diana Quick in The Woman in White (1982). For Tony Palmer, he played  Semper in Wagner (1983), with Richard Burton in the title role, and was Samuel Pepys in England, My England (1995), Palmer’s TV film of Charles Wood and John Osborne's script.

In Notting Hill (1999), he was Julia Roberts’ press agent, and in 2007, was Lord Howard to Cate Blanchett’s Gloriana in Elizabeth: The Golen Age. Onstage, Shrapnel played the title role in Deborah Warner's 2005 production of Julius Caesar, and in 2013, played Duncan in Kenneth Branagh’s production of Macbeth at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Two years later he played opposite his son Lex in Caryl Churchill’s play, A Number, which looked at cloning and parenthood. The same year, Shrapnel played what turned out to be his final role as Camillo in The Winter’s Tale. Shrapnel carried both roles with the same sense of authority which had defined his huge body of work over the previous fifty years.

He is survived by his wife, Francesca Bartley, their three sons, Joe, Lex and Thomas, and his younger brother, Hugh.

The Herald, March 11th 2020



Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1
1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77)
3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77)
4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77)
5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77)
6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77)
7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77)
8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78)
9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78)
10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79) 
11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79)
12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79) 
13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79)
14. JOLT See Saw (6/79)
15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79)
16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79)
17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79)
18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79)
19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79)
20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79)
21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79)
22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79)
23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79)
24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80)
25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980)

1. THE REZILLOS I Can’t Stand My Baby (Sensible FAB 18/77) If it wasn’t for T…

Clybourne Park

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy Four Stars
It’s a case of whoops, there goes the neighbourhood twice over in Rapture Theatre’s revival of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opens in 1959 in the same Chicago suburb where Lorraine Hansberry’s drama, A Raisin in the Sun, which appeared that year, is set. Here, Robin Kingsland’s Russ and his wife Bev, played by Jackie Morrison, are preparing to move out of their now almost empty des-res following a family tragedy.
Unknown to them, the bargain basement price tag has enabled a black family to move in, with Jack Lord’s uptight Karl a self-appointed spokesperson for the entire ‘hood. Russ and Bev’s black maid Francine (Adelaide Obeng) and her husband Albert (Vinta Morgan), meanwhile, bear witness to a barrage of everyday racism. Fast forward half a century, and a white family are trying to buy the same house, albeit with a heap of proposed changes which the black couple representing the block’s now much more diverse community aren’t…

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

1. THE STONE ROSES  - Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3  - Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART  - Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS  - Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY - Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!  - Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS - I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS - In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES  - Everso 10. THE SEERS  - Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND - You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS - We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE  - Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS  - Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND - In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES - Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS  - Justice In Freedom (12" Version)

1. THE STONE ROSES Don’t Stop ( SilvertoneORE1989)
The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds like it. Vocalist Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire met in 1980 at Altrincham Grammar School. With bassist …