John Burgess (actor)

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John Burgess (2 February 1933 – 15 November 2010)[1] was an English actor.

Early life[edit]

Burgess was born in Golders Green, North West London, the son of Edith and Bertram Bogush. He had two younger siblings, Michael and Wendy. His paternal grandfather, Morris, who arrived in the UK from Poland at the turn of the 20th century, became a successful travelling jeweler. His maternal grandparents were Hungarian. Burgess was born Jewish but had no faith. He changed his name from Bogush to Burgess after becoming an actor.

Burgess was educated at St. Paul's school in West London. Having completed his National Service in Germany – he reached the rank of officer – Burgess graduated from RADA in 1954. He spent a few years cutting his teeth in repertory theatre, including a four-year stint at the Elizabethan Theatre Company. However, disillusioned with life as an actor, Burgess left the profession and set up a menswear company. He and his partner ran it successfully for a decade or so but, by the end of the 1960s, unhappy with his conventional life, he emigrated to Canada. Following the successful completion of an English and drama degree at Queen's University in Ontario, Burgess returned to the UK.

Stage career[edit]

Burgess resumed his career in weekly rep, at Folkestone, where he ran into his old actor friend, Harry Landis, who was, at that time, artistic director of the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. Burgess joined Landis for a season there and subsequently went on tour in a production of The Tempest with the Oxford Playhouse Company. He then began a long and fruitful association with the Royal Shakespeare Company, for whom he appeared throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In both The Witch of Edmonton, in which he played Old Banks, and Richard II, as John of Gaunt, he was directed by Barry Kyle. Under Terry Hands’ directorship, Burgess played Sicinius Velutus in Coriolanus, which toured Europe to great acclaim.[2] He also played Reignier in Henry VI Part I, Simpcox in Henry VI Part II and Roman, in Children of The Sun, all for Hands.

Under Trevor Nunn's stewardship, Burgess played Lodovico and The Duke of Venice in the much lauded 1989 production of Othello, which was made into a film.[3] Also for Nunn, he performed the roles of Scroop in Henry IV, Parts I and II, Duke Frederick in As You Like It and Syringe and Sir John Friendly in The Relapse. Burgess was directed by Ron Daniels in The Lorenzaccio Story,[4] in which he played a goldsmith, The Women Pirates – Ann Bonney and Mary Read, in which he appeared as Forbes, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which he performed the role of Egeus. He also plays Vesey in Bill Alexander's production of Money and Pistol for the same director, again in Henry IV, Parts I and II. In 1978, Burgess played Vlok in David Edgar's play The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs at the Warehouse Theatre in London. It was an important piece about the treatment of the dissident white lawyer, Albie Sachs, by the apartheid regime in South Africa.[5]

Screen career[edit]

Over a period of more than thirty years, from the mid-1970s onwards, Burgess could be seen regularly on British television. He cropped up in many of the established shows, from Midsomer Murders, Lovejoy, Ruth Rendell Mysteries and Van der Valk to Grange Hill, Eastenders, Holby City, The Bill and Harry Enfield. Amongst the dramas and soap operas there were also two films: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead [6] and Give My Regards to Broad Street,[7] in which Burgess played Paul McCartney's chauffeur. He also featured in a number of TV movies, including The Dybbuk, Love's Labour's Lost and Murders Amongst Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story. Terry Hands’ Coriolanus was also filmed and shown on the small screen. Burgess appeared in an iconic 1983 British Airways advertisement in which the Manhattan Skyline floats across the screen. In the early 1990s, he played the equivalent of the "Q" character in the Bond films in one of a series of popular Barclaycard adverts in which Rowan Atkinson starred. The TV role for which Burgess became best known was that of David Crosbie, in Channel 4's long-running soap opera, Brookside. He spent six years on the show, from 1992 to 1998, and received many plaudits for his performance.

Late career[edit]

In 2000, after almost a decade away from the theatre, Burgess returned to tread the boards again and featured in Di Trevis's production of Death of a Salesman at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Thereafter, he was invited by Trevor Nunn, the then artistic director of the National Theatre, to join the company. At the National, Burgess played The Marqis de Norpois in Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Trevis again directed and collaborated with Harold Pinter in adapting his screenplay for the stage.[8] For the national, Burgess also appeared in Humble Boy, The Alchemist, Luther, The Relapse, Romeo and Juliet and, notably, in Mike Leigh's much lauded Two Thousand Years.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Burgess was married four times. With his first wife, Lana, he had three sons: Harvey, Paul and Andrew. Burgess was family orientated and loved to spend time with his sons and, especially, with Maya and Luca, his grandchildren. He loved literature and the arts, was a keen cricket fan and enjoyed both swimming and walking. Burgess succumbed to pancreatic cancer two and a half years after diagnosis.

Partial filmography[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Leigh, Mike (2 January 2011). "John Burgess obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  2. ^ Morris, Sylvia (12 December 2011). "The Shakespeare Blog". The RSC’s golden years: Terry Hands and Alan Howard. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  3. ^ Fischer, Philip (17 January 2016). "Othello". British Theatre Guide. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  4. ^ Somerville, Matthew (4 July 1977). "The Lorenzaccio Story". Theatricalia. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  5. ^ Patterson, Michael (2005). The Oxford Guide to Plays. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-19-860418-1.
  6. ^ Stoppard, Tom (Writer) (1998). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Film). United Kingdom: Cinecom Entertainment.
  7. ^ Webb, Peter (Director) (1984). Give My Regards to Broadstreet (Film). United Kingdom: 20th Century Fox.
  8. ^ "Remembrance of Things Past, Cottesloe Theatre, London, November 2000". 17 January 2016. Archived from the original on 3 July 2011. Retrieved 17 January 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  9. ^ Spencer, Charles (16 September 2005). "Terrific - this is vintage Leigh". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 January 2016.