British Actor

A versatile and successful British actor, John Thaw has worked in television, theatre and cinema. But the small screen has guaranteed him almost continual employment throughout his exceptional career.

After training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and a 1960 stage debut, he was "discovered" and promoted by Granada TV. His first TV outing was in 1961, since when he has taken the lead role in an impressive array of series. He had parts ranging from The Avengers to Z Cars, and the lead in the series Redcap before his big break in The Sweeney (1974-78), a landmark in the police-action genre. Thaw played rough-mannered detective Jack Regan of the Flying Squad. The Sweeney was described as a U.S.-influenced imitation of West Coast shows and was prominent in debates about the levels of violence and bad language on television, criticised for glamorising guns and car chases. Its superiority over standard violent fare, however, owed much to Thaw's performance, along with the growing rapport between his and Dennis Waterman's characters and the show's constant originality.

For years after The Sweeney, Thaw found it difficult to throw off the Jack Regan image, but in 1987 he began another long-running detective series for which he is perhaps best known. Inspector Morse was remarkably popular with critics and audiences internationally. Its ITV ratings in Britain were second only to those of Coronation Street. Again, the show owed much of its success to Thaw's central BAFTA-winning performance. He holds together Morse's eccentricities--the irascible, world-weary and introspective crossword and classical music lover. Julian Mitchell, writer of several episodes of Morse, sees Thaw as the consummate TV actor: "his technique is perfect, and by seeming to do very little he conveys so much". In this way he suggests hidden depths to Morse, and conveys his troubled morality. The tranquility and gentle English manner associated with Morse are a far cry from The Sweeney. It has gained fans as an antidote to violent American TV, and has established Thaw as the thinking woman's crumpet.

Audiences are accustomed to Thaw's down-beat manner in gloomy roles, but he claims to prefer doing comedy. He played the lead in the sitcom Home to Roost, appeared with Sweeney partner Waterman in the 1976 Morcambe and Wise Christmas Show, and starred in the widely derided A Year in Provence--which lost a record ten million viewers during one series.

Despite this hiccup, Thaw remained a very bankable star. Kavanagh QC, a part written especially for him after Provence, is another big hit. He is back on familiar territory as a barrister reconciling principle and his working-class roots with a lucrative law practice.

He sees himself as a "jobbing actor, no different from a plumber". Part of his success may be his ability to play Everyman roles that people can relate to easily. Despite a distinctly unclassical career he has continued to act on stage whenever his busy TV career has allowed, latterly in "special guest star" roles. He has appeared in several feature films, including two Sweeney films, and Cry Freedom.

-Guy Jowett


John Thaw

JOHN THAW. Born in Manchester, Lancashire, England, 3 January 1942. Attended Dulcie Technical High School, Manchester; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Vanbrugh Award, Liverpool Playhouse Award). Married: 1) Sally Alexander (divorced); child: Abigail; 2) Sheila Hancock, 1973; children: Joanna and stepdaughter Melanie. Stage debut, Liverpool Playhouse, 1960; London debut, Royal Court Theatre, 1961; became widely familiar to television audiences in The Sweeney and subsequently as star of the Inspector Morse series. Companion of the Order of the British Empire, 1993. Recipient: British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Television Actor, 1993. Address: John Redway Associates, 5 Denmark Street, London WC2H 8LP, England.


1965-66 Redcap
1974 Thick As Thieves
1974-78 The Sweeney
1983 Mitch
1985-89 Home to Roost
1987-93 Inspector Morse
1991 Stanley and the Women
1992 A Year in Provence
1995- Kavanagh QC


1981 Drake's Venture


1974 Regan
1984 The Life and Death of King John
1992 Bomber Harris
1993 The Mystery of Morse
1994 The Absence of War


Nil Carborundum, 1962; The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, 1962; Five to One, 1963; Dead Man's Chest, 1965; The Bofors Gun, 1968; Praise Marx and Pass the Ammunition, 1970; The Last Grenade, 1970; The Abominable Dr Phibes, 1971; Dr Phibes Rises Again, 1972; The Sensible Action of Lieutenant Holst, 1976; The Sweeney, 1977; The Sweeney II, 1978; Dinner at the Sporting Club, 1978; The Grass is Singing, 1981; Asking for Trouble, 1987; Business As Usual, 1987; Cry Freedom, 1987; Charlie, 1992.


A Shred of Evidence, 1960; The Fire Raisers, 1961; Women Beware Women, 1962; Semi-Detached, 1962; So What About Love?, 1969; Random Happenings in the Hebrides, 1970; The Lady from the Sea, 1971; Collaborators, 1973; Absurd Person Singular, 1976; Night and Day, 1978; Sergeant Musgrave's Dance, 1982; Twelfth Night, 1983; The Time of Your Life, 1983; Henry VIII, 1983; Pygmalion, 1984; All My Sons, 1988; The Absence of War, 1993.


See also Sweeny