John Edward Thaw
3 January 1942
Gorton, Manchester, England
|Died||21 February 2002 (aged 60)|
Luckington, Wiltshire, England
|Children||3, including Abigail Thaw|
John Edward Thaw,(3 January 1942 – 21 February 2002) was an English actor who appeared in a range of television, stage, and cinema roles. He starred in the television series Inspector Morse as title character Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse, Redcap as Sergeant John Mann, The Sweeney as Detective Inspector Jack Regan, Home to Roost as Henry Willows, and Kavanagh QC as title character James Kavanagh.
Thaw was born in Gorton, Manchester, to working-class parents John Edward ("Jack") Thaw (died 1997), a tool-setter at the Fairey Aviation Company aircraft factory, later a long-distance lorry driver, and Dorothy (née Ablott). Thaw had a difficult childhood as his mother left when he was seven years old. 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.
Soon after leaving RADA, Thaw 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 adaptation of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) 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. 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 Bat Out of Hell. 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 the son of an elderly prostitute Budgie is "noncing" for: an effeminate failed playwright with a full beard and a Welsh accent.
Thaw will perhaps be best remembered for two television roles: the hard-bitten, tough-talking Flying Squad detective Jack Regan in The Sweeney (1975–1978), and the quietly spoken, introspective, well-educated and bitter Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse in Inspector Morse (1987–93, with later specials until 2000). His role as Regan in the Thames Television/ITV series, along with two film spin-offs, established him as a major star in the United Kingdom. Thaw was only 32 when he was cast in The Sweeney, although many viewers thought he was older.
Alongside his put-upon Detective Sergeant Robert "Robbie" Lewis (Kevin Whately), Morse became a high-profile character—"a cognitive curmudgeon with his love of classical music, his drinking, his classic Jaguar and spates of melancholy". According to The Guardian, "Thaw was the definitive Morse, grumpy, crossword-fixated, drunk, slightly anti-feminist, and pedantic about grammar." 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 (1995–99, and a special in 2001). Thaw also appeared in two sitcoms—Thick as Thieves (London Weekend/ITV, 1974) with Bob Hoskins and Home to Roost (Yorkshire/ITV, 1985–90). Thaw is mainly known in America for the Morse series, as well as the BBC series A Year in Provence (1993) with Lindsay Duncan.
He appeared in a number of films for director Richard Attenborough, 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.
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.
During the 1970s and '80s, Thaw appeared in productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1981 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in the foyer of the National Theatre in London.
In the summer of 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. Following 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).
He 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. His granddaughter Molly Whitmey made a cameo in the Endeavour episode Oracle (series 7, episode 1, broadcast 1 February 2020) as the younger version of her grandmother Sally Alexander.
Thaw was a committed socialist and lifelong supporter of the Labour Party. He 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.
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 had appeared to respond well to the treatment. However, just before Christmas 2001 he was informed that the cancer had spread and the prognosis was terminal.
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 in Westerleigh, near Yate in South 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 the Prince of Wales, Richard Attenborough, Tom Courtenay and Cherie Blair.
A memorial bench is dedicated to Thaw within the grounds of St Paul's Covent Garden.