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John Wood

Wood as Dr. Stephen Falken
in WarGames (1983)
Born(1930-07-05)5 July 1930
Derbyshire, England
Died6 August 2011(2011-08-06) (aged 81)
Alma materJesus College, Oxford
Years active1952–2008
  • Gillian Neason (m. 1957; div. 19??)
Sylvia Vaughan
(m. 1977)

John Wood CBE (5 July 1930 – 6 August 2011) was an English actor, known for his performances in Shakespeare and his lasting association with Tom Stoppard. In 1976, he received a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in Stoppard's Travesties. He was nominated for two other Tony Awards for his roles in Sherlock Holmes (1975) and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1968). In 2007, Wood was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's New Year Honours List. Wood also appeared in WarGames, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Orlando, Shadowlands, The Madness of King George, Richard III, Sabrina, and Chocolat.

Early life

Wood was born on 5 July 1930 in Derbyshire. He was educated at Bedford School. He did his national service as a lieutenant with the Royal Artillery. During his time of service, he was invalided out after being accidentally shot in the back. Later during his service, he was almost killed during a Jeep accident.

He studied law at Jesus College, Oxford where he was president of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. He had seen John Gielgud as Angelo in Peter Brook's (1950) and Stratford-Upon-Avon production of Measure for Measure. After seeing the productions Wood stated, "and suddenly knew what I wanted to do". During the Mansfield College Gardens production of Twelfth Night he played the role of Malvolio alongside Maggie Smith starring as Viola. Oxford Mail described his performance as "looking as lean, lanky and statuesque as Don Quixote."

He directed and starred in a student production of Richard III where he invited one of the leading critics of the time, Harold Hobson, to the performance. He told Hobson that he would be "wanting in his duties" to ignore a Richard III that was "finer than Olivier's". Out of curiosity, Hobson went to the performance and reported that he had seen "something not to be missed." Hobson described Wood's performance saying, "He had a sardonic, amused condescension and visible superiority complex", and the critic foresaw "a considerable future". Wood graduated from Oxford in 1953.


In 1954, he joined the Old Vic company performing a number of small roles over the span of two years as the company staged the complete First Folio of Shakespeare plays. Wood dismissively described these roles as "the cheapest way of getting a Shakespearean costume on stage", although Kenneth Tynan thought his Lennox to Paul Rogers' Macbeth "cut like a razor through the stubble of fustian". Other roles included Bushy and Exton in Richard II, Sir Oliver Martext in As You Like It, Pistol in The Merry Wives of Windsor , and Helenus in Troilus and Cressida .

Wood made his West End debut as Don Quixote in Peter Hall's staging of Tennessee Williams's Camino Real (Phoenix, 1957). He then joined George Devine's English Stage Company, which at the time was about to change the course of new British drama at the Royal Court. Wood read scripts, co-directed a Sunday production, and appeared in Nigel Dennis's The Making of Moo (1957). Wood returned to the West End in Peter Hall's production of The Brouhaha (Aldwych, 1958), in which he had only a small part; but as Peter Sellers's understudy he played a leading role 15 times.

Despairing of a successful career, he rejected several offers from Hall in the early 1960s to join the newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company, where he chose to appear on television in A Tale of Two Cities and Barnaby Rudge, along with other production. He returned to the West End in 1961 as Henry Albertson in the whimsical off-Broadway musical, The Fantasticks, at the Apollo. Most of the next six years were spent in a variety of films and TV programs. His last TV performances were in short plays written by Tom Stoppard for Thirty Minute Theatre: "Teeth" (February 1967) and "Another Moon Called Earth" (28 June 1967). He also appeared in "The Bird Who Knew Too Much" (February 1967), an episode of The Avengers (Wood also appeared in the ill-fated film version of the series thirty years later).

His association with Stoppard brought him back to the stage. In his New York debut Wood played Guildenstern in the Broadway premiere of Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Wood's performance as Guildenstern earned a Tony nomination. While in America, he starred in two Jerry Lewis films, One More Time and Which Way to the Front?. Wood recalled of Lewis: "He taught me never to be afraid to take a risk. There was only one response, laughter, to the most horrific, cruel thing you can imagine."

He returned to England to play Frederick the Great in Romulus Linney's The Sorrows of Frederick at the Birmingham Rep in 1970. The same year he had his first real London success in Harold Pinter's revival of James Joyce's Exiles. His performance as Richard Rowan, a self-tortured author with a need to be deceived by his wife, won the Bancroft Gold Medal award in 1970 for Most Promising Actor.

Wood joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre in 1971 under Peter Hall, where he remained for several seasons. In 1971, he played Yakov Bardin in Maxim Gorky's Enemies. His 1972 performance as Brutus in Julius Caesar was his breakthrough performance. At the RSC he also played Sir Fopling Flutter in George Etherege's Restoration comedy The Man of Mode, Mark in Jean Genet's The Balcony, and a narcissistic Saturninus in Titus Andronicus. After the two Roman plays, Wood was acclaimed "the most intellectually exciting actor in Britain" by Sheridan Morley.

He made a "spindly, lecherous and slightly manic husband" in John Mortimer's Collaborators (Garrick, 1973) alongside Glenda Jackson. Returning to the RSC he took the title role in William Gillette's 1899 drama Sherlock Holmes. The RSC took the production to Broadway in late 1974, attracting his second Tony nomination in 1975. It was the start of a seven year period alternating between London and New York City.

Before transferring to America, Wood took on the role of the diplomat Henry Carr in the 1974 premiere of Tom Stoppard's Travesties. Stoppard wrote the part of Carr specifically for Wood, meaning Trevor Nunn was able to secure Travesties for the RSC. As Carr, Wood alternated between the dual roles of a querulous geriatric and his younger snobbish self remembering his encounters with James Joyce, Tristan Tzara, and Lenin in 1917 Zurich. Wood was awarded the Evening Standard Best Actor award. Travesties transferred to Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 1975, and Wood won a Tony Award in 1976 and a Drama Desk Award for his performance.

At the RSC in 1976 with Tom Conti, Bob Hoskins, T.P. McKenna, and Zoë Wanamaker, he took the lead as General Bugoyne, in George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple. He also had the title role in "the ideal midlife crisis play", as Chekhov's Ivanov. In 1977, he took the role of the lunatic Ivanov, who imagines he owns an orchestra, in Tom Stoppard and André Previn's political oratorio Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, directed by Trevor Nunn at the Royal Festival Hall. In autumn 1977 he played the title role in a Broadway production of Tartuffe (translated by Richard Wilbur) at Circle in the Square Theatre. In 1978, Wood was in the Broadway success, Deathtrap in which he originated the role of Sidney Bruhl, a murderous playwright. Explaining his decision to take the part (a more commercial and contemporary venture than he was normally associated with), Wood told Newsweek, "I just wanted to get onstage in ordinary pants and do one-liners." His performance won the 1978 Outer Critics Circle Outstanding Actor in a Play award. Wood returned to London as Richard III in a 1979 National Theatre production of the Shakespeare play, but his performance received mixed reviews. At the National Theatre at the same time he was also in Arthur Schnitzler's Undiscovered Country. Wood returned to Broadway in November 1981, taking over for Ian McKellen as Salieri in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus until spring 1982.

From 1983 and 1986, he acted in a variety of Hollywood films, including WarGames (1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1984), Ladyhawke (1985), and Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986). He then played the Player in the 1987 New York revival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Wood then returned to England and the RSC for three towering roles over the next three years. In 1988 he played an acclaimed a successful Prospero in Nicholas Hyner's production of The Tempest. The critic Irving Wardle said that Wood, "lit up the text like an electric storm, and simply had no rival as a source of nervous energy on a stage." Michael Billington wrote that Wood's Prospero "struck me as the best I had ever seen". His Solness in Adrian Noble's 1989 production of Ibsen's The Master Builder was as critically lauded. In the same 1989 RSC season he played Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner directed by Gene Saks.

His King Lear in Nicholas Hytner's 1990 production was called his "crowning achievement" with one of his most compelling performances, in which Michael Billington claimed, "No actor has also brought out King Lear's emotional anarchy: I've never forgotten how Wood, having issued the most terrifying threats to Goneril, suddenly rushed up to embrace her.".[1] His performance won the Evening Standard award for Best Actor of 1991. In that RSC season, he also played Don Armado in Terry Hands production of Love's Labour's Lost.

Thereafter, Wood appeared in far fewer plays but returned to playing character roles in films and television. This included Shadowlands (1993), Nicholas Hytner's The Madness of King George (1994), Sabrina (1995), and Ian McKellen's fascist-themed Richard III (1995). He also played Baron de Charlus in the 1997 radio adaptation of Harold Pinter's screenplay of Marcel Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu.

In 1994, he played the East End gangster in Philip Ridley's Ghost from a Perfect Place at the Hampstead theatre. Wood returned to the National Theatre in 1997 for Richard Eyre's production of The Invention of Love by Tom Stoppard. Wood played the aging classical scholar and poet A.E. Housman in a role written specifically for him by Stoppard, and for which he received a nomination for an Olivier Award.[2]

He played Spooner at the National Theatre in 2001 in Harold Pinter's, No Man's Land. He last appeared on stage in 2005 at the National Theatre in both parts of Henry IV. He was supposed to appear in the Robert Altman-directed Resurrection Blues by Arthur Miller at the Old Vic but had to withdraw because of illness.[3] Wood made his last television appearance guesting on Lewis in 2007.


Wood died of natural causes on 6 August 2011 in Gloucestershire at the age of 81.[4][5]



Year Title Role Notes
1953 Salome Sword Dancer Uncredited
1959 Idol on Parade Jeremy
1960 Two-Way Stretch Captain
1960 Let's Get Married Ice Cream Man
1960 The Challenge School Inspector
1961 Gorgo Sandwich board man Uncredited
1961 The Rebel Poet
1961 Wings of Death Photographer Short
1961 Invasion Quartet Duty Officer - War Office
1962 Postman's Knock P.C. Woods John Woods
1962 Live Now, Pay Later Curate
1963 Just for Fun Official
1963 Love Is a Ball Julian Soames
1963 The Mouse on the Moon Countryman
1963 That Kind of Girl Doctor
1965 Lady L Photographer Uncredited
1967 Just like a Woman John Martin
1970 One More Time Figg
1970 The Engagement Penciller
1970 Which Way to the Front? Finkel
1971 Nicholas and Alexandra Colonel Kobylinsky
1972 Slaughterhouse-Five English Officer Tom Wood
1978 Somebody Killed Her Husband Ernest Van Santen
1983 Agent 000 and the Deadly Curves Agent 009
1983 WarGames Dr. Stephen Falken
1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo Jason
1985 Ladyhawke Bishop of Aquila
1986 Lady Jane John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland
1986 Heartburn British Moderator
1986 Jumpin' Jack Flash Jeremy Talbott
1992 Orlando Archduke Harry
1993 The Young Americans Richard Donnelly
1993 Shadowlands Christopher Riley
1994 Uncovered Cesar
1994 The Madness of King George Thurlow
1995 Richard III King Edward IV
1995 Sabrina Tom Fairchild
1996 Jane Eyre Mr. Brocklehurst
1997 Metroland The Retired Commuter
1997 The Gambler The General
1998 Sweet Revenge Col. Marcus
1998 The Avengers Trubshaw
1999 An Ideal Husband Lord Caversham
1999 The Venice Project The Viscount
1999 Mad Cows Alistair
2000 The Little Vampire Lord McAshton
2000 Chocolat Guillaume Blerot
2001 The Body Cardinal Pesci
2003 Imagining Argentina Amos Sternberg
2004 The Rocket Post Sir Wilson Ramsay
2005 The White Countess Prince Peter Belinsky


Year Title Role Notes
1960 Barnaby Rudge Barnaby Rudge 12 episodes
1962 Saki Mr. Blenkinthrope 1 episode
1964 Espionage Douglas Episode: "A Free Agent"
1964 And Benbow Was His Name Captain Kirby TV movie
1965 A Tale of Two Cities Sydney Carton 8 episodes
1966 Out of the Unknown Brenner Episode: "Too Many Cooks"
1967 The Avengers Edgar Twitter Episode: "The Bird Who Knew Too Much"
1967 Hondo Goya Episode: "Hondo and the Gladiators"
1967 Armchair Theatre Brian Episode: "Poor Cherry"
1971 Doomwatch Nigel Waring Episode: "No Room for Error"
1991 Thatcher: The Final Days Michael Heseltine TV movie
1993 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Charles Webster Leadbeater Episode: "Benares, January 1910 "
1995 Citizen X Prosecutor Gorbunov TV movie
1997 Kavanagh QC Mr. Justice Way Episode: "Mute of Malice"
2000 Longitude Sir Edmond Halley TV movie
2000 The Canterbury Tales The Knight Voice, 2 episodes
2001 Love in a Cold Climate Lord Merlin TV Mini-Series
2001 Victoria and Albert The Duke of Wellington TV movie
2002 Napoleon Pope Pius VII Episode: "1800-1807"
2004 The Return of the Dancing Master Jonas Andersson TV movie
2004 Foyle's War Sir Michael Waterford Episode: "Enemy Fire"
2007 Lewis Edward Le Plassiter Episode: "Expiation"

Awards and honours

Commander of the Order of the British Empire

Tony Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result Ref(s)
1968 Best Featured Actor in a Play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Nominated [7]
1975 Best Actor in a Play Sherlock Holmes Nominated [7]
1976 Best Actor in a Play Travesties Won [7]

Screen Actors Guild Award

Year Category Nominated work Result Ref(s)
2001 Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture Chocolat Nominated [8]


  1. ^ "John Wood: an actor who made us see things anew | Michael Billington". The Guardian. 11 August 2011. Retrieved 20 June 2021.
  2. ^ "John Wood LAMDA | US-UK Fulbright Commission". Retrieved 20 June 2021.
  3. ^ "john wood obituary". Retrieved 20 June 2021.
  4. ^ Smilgis, Martha (4 September 1978). "Why Did Broadway's Leading Man, John Wood, Do a Movie with Farrah Fawcett-Majors? 'Money'". People. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  5. ^ "Actor John Wood dies at 81: Tony winner known for Shakespeare, Stoppard plays". Variety. 11 August 2011. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  6. ^ "British actor John Wood dies at 81". BBC News. 9 August 2011. Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  7. ^ a b c "John Wood Tony Awards Info". Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  8. ^ "John Wood – Awards". IMDb. Retrieved 27 April 2021.