John Reginald Neville, CM, OBE (2 May 1925 – 19 November 2011) was an English theatre and film actor, who moved to Canada in 1972. He enjoyed a resurgence of international attention in the 1980s as a result of his starring role in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988).
Neville and Claire Bloom in Romeo and Juliet (1957)
Emily of New Moon (TV series, 1998-2000) – Uncle Malcolm
Oscar Wilde (1960) – Lord Alfred Douglas
Mr. Topaze (1961) – Roger de Bersac
Billy Budd (1962) – Julian Radcliffe, Second Lieutenant
Unearthly Stranger (1963) – Dr. Mark Davidson
A Study in Terror (1965) – Sherlock Holmes
The Adventures of Gerard (1970) – Duke of Wellington
Boswell’s Life of Johnson (TV – 1973) – David Garrick
Reil (TV – 1979) – General Wolseley
Münchausen báró kalandjai – The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) – Hieronymus Karl Frederick Baron von Munchausen
Journey to the Center of the Earth (TV – 1993) – Dr. Cecil Chambers
Star Trek – The Next Generation (1993 – Season six, episode 26 – “Descent”) – Sir Isaac Newton
Dieppe (TV – 1993) – Gen. Sir Alan Brooke
Stark (1993) – De Quincy
Baby’s Day Out (1994) – Mr. Andrews
The Road to Wellville (1994) – Endymion Hart-Jones
Little Women (1994) – Mr. Laurence
Dangerous Minds (1995) – Waiter
The Song Spinner (TV – 1995) – Frilo, the Magnificent
Swann (1996) – Cruzzi
Adventures of Smoke Bellew (TV – 1996) – Dwight Sanderson
High School High (1996) – Thaddeus Clark
Sabotage (1996) – Prof. Follenfant
The Fifth Element (1997) – General Staedert
Regeneration (1997) – Dr. Yealland
Time to Say Goodbye? (1997) – Michigan Judge
Dinner at Fred’s (1997) – Uncle Henrick
My Teacher Ate My Homework (1997) – Shopkeeper
Johnny 2.0 (TV – 1997) – Bosch
Goodbye Lover (1998) – Bradley
The X-Files (1998) – The Well-Manicured Man
Urban Legend (1998) – Dean Adams
Water Damage (1999) – Jock Beale
A napfény íze (Sunshine) (1999) – Gustave Sors
The Duke (1999) – the Duke
Custody of the Heart (TV – 2000) – Judge H. Chadwick
Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace (2000) – Bishop George Bell
Harvard Man (2001) – Dr. Reese
The Stork Derby (TV – 2002) – Mr. Cunningham
Trudeau (TV – 2002) – British High Commisioner
Time of the Wolf (2002) – Preacher
Escape from the Newsroom (TV – 2002) – George’s Father
Spider (2002) – Terrence
Crime and Punishment (2002) – Marmeladov, Sonia’s alcoholic father
Between Strangers (2002) – Orson Stewart
Moving Malcolm (2003) – Malcolm Woodward
Hollywood North (2003) – Henry Neville
Control Factor (TV – 2003) – Director
The Statement (2003) – Old Man
White Knuckles (2004) – Narrator (voice)
Separate Lies (2005) – Lord Rawston
Early life and education
Neville was born in Willesden, London, the son of Mabel Lillian (née Fry) and Reginald Daniel Neville, a lorry driver. He was educated at Willesden and Chiswick County Schools for Boys, and after service in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before starting his professional career as a member of the Trent Players.
Neville was a West End idol of the 1950s, hailed as “one of the most potent classical actors of the Richard Burton-Peter O’Toole generation”.A leading member of London’s Old Vic Company, he played many classical leading roles, including Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (a role he repeated on American television for the anthology series Producers’ Showcase), and an acclaimed Richard in Richard II, with Virginia McKenna as Queen Anne. He also alternated with Richard Burton the parts of Othello and Iago in Othello.He was a frequent visiting player at the Bristol Old Vic. He received good reviews in the musical adaptation of Lolita, called Lolita, My Love, which closed in Boston.
Noted for his classical good looks and mellifluous voice, the young Neville was frequently described as the young John Gielgud’s natural successor. For a while, he took over the leading role of Nestor Le Fripé from Keith Michell in the original West End production of the musical Irma La Douce, with Elizabeth Seal as Irma. He returned to the London stage for a brief period in 1963, playing the title role in Alfie by Bill Naughton, but by then his theatrical commitment lay outside London.
In 1961, his weekly pay declining from £200 to £50, he joined the Nottingham Playhouse, becoming joint artistic director with Frank Dunlop and Peter Ustinov when the current building in Nottingham opened in 1963. It became one of Britain’s leading provincial repertory theatres.Though Dunlop and Ustinov soon left, Neville remained at the theatre until 1967, when he resigned over funding disputes with the local authority and the Arts Council.
Neville starred as the Duke of Marlborough in the 1969 BBC2 serial The First Churchills, a major television role which also maintained his international profile when the show was broadcast as the very first Masterpiece Theatre series in the United States in 1971.
With his family, he left Britain in 1972 and devoted his later career to the Canadian theatre, taking up the post of artistic director at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta (1973–78). He later took similar positions with the Neptune Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia (1978–83) and other Canadian theatre companies, including as artistic director of the Stratford Festival of Canada from 1985 to 1989, as well as continuing his acting career.On top of his artistic decisions, Neville helped eliminate the Neptune’s deficit with canny promotions, such as giving free tickets to the local taxi drivers and their families, correctly anticipating the recipients to enthusiastically discuss the theatre to passengers and tourists.
In 1988, Terry Gilliam cast him as the lead in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. In the film, Neville plays the character at three different stages of his life; in his 30s, his 50s and his 70s. From 1995 to 1998, Neville had a prominent recurring role in The X-Files television series as The Well Manicured Man, and in 1998, he reprised the role in the feature film The X-Files. Although he made numerous other television appearances and occasional film roles, the main focus of Neville’s career was always the theatre.
In his later years, Neville had numerous cameo appearances in films, including primate of the Anglican Church in Australia in The Man Who Sued God and an admiral in the Earth Space Navy in The Fifth Element. He had a small role as Terrence in David Cronenberg’s 2002 Spider. In the same year, he appeared with Vanessa Redgrave in the 2002 film adaptation of Crime and Punishment.
In 2003, Neville performed a stage reading of John Milton’s Samson Agonistes, with Claire Bloom at Bryn Mawr College at the behest of poet Karl Kirchwey.
He was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2006.
According to publicists at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Neville died “peacefully surrounded by family” on 19 November 2011, aged 86. Neville suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his later years. He is survived by his wife Caroline (née Hopper), and their six children. His grandson is actor Joe Dinicol.