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I Once Met John Hurt by Jennifer Florance

Blog | By Jennifer Florance | Aug 25, 2023


It’s 45 years since I met John Hurt (1940-2017) on a snowy February night in a pub in Nottingham.

John Hurt had always been a bit of an obsession for me and my best friend, Kathryn. It was 1978. While other girls obsessively worshipped Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones, we adored John Hurt.

Then we heard the wonderful news. He was appearing at Nottingham Playhouse in Sean O’Casey’s Shadow of a Gunman.

We lived in Leicester – but John Hurt was only 20 miles away, in Nottingham! Train tickets and theatre tickets were booked in record time. To be honest, I think we would have walked there.

It was a bitter cold night when we got off the train. We slipped along quite happily to the theatre and got there early. There was a warm pub not far from the Playhouse, and we went in for a drink before the performance.

We both sat facing the door and sipped away, happily talking about what it would be like to see him in the flesh on stage. We didn’t have to wait long. The pub door opened and John Hurt walked in.

We sat in silence, too stunned for words, clutching our glasses of warm shandy. ‘What shall we do?’ Kathryn said. I shook my head. All I knew was that we would regret it for ever if we let him slip out into the night without speaking to him.

He headed for a table where his fellow actors were sitting. We stood up and edged towards him. We lurked about near the jukebox and pretended to be unaware of him. But we were watching his every move and waiting to pounce.

John got up and headed to the bar to get a round of drinks. We moved in like heat-seeking missiles. At the bar, we flanked him. It was now or never.

‘Excuse me, Mr Hurt,’ I heard a voice say – and realised it was mine.

He turned, to be confronted by two beefy young women who couldn’t blink. He looked a bit alarmed. We asked him for his autograph, and he seemed relieved.

Then Kathryn simpered, ‘We loved you in I, Claudius.’

We had him backed into a corner. John Hurt was a small, slim man. Wearing four-inch heels, we loomed over him.

‘Oh, thank you so much,’ he said. To our delight, he started to tell us about all the make-up he’d had to wear as crazy Caligula and what fun he had had with the production team.

He told us he was working on ‘something at Shepperton Studios’. We later found out this something was Alien. We listened rapt and laughed in all the wrong places.

He was finally rescued by his fellow actors who were beginning to wonder where he was. He said goodbye and hoped we would enjoy the play. We shrieked thank you wildly and sat down again, flushed with success.

We can’t remember the play. We hummed with excitement. The train was late. We’d missed the last bus from the station. We walked home through the snow, not even feeling the cold. That John Hurt glow remained with us for a long time.

The day he died, I thought of that night and how much he meant to me. I watch his work again and again. Miss you, John. Jennifer Florance