I was saddened to hear that actor John Normington has passed away at the age of 70. He was one of those actors I was always pleased to see on television. His death will no doubt go unmentioned on the television news, which says more about what society reveres than it does the brilliance of John’s acting. Only last week, my Mum was watching an episode of “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” and I pointed him out to her. He was playing Colonel Clapperton in a story called “Problem at Sea”! By coincidence, I found a really nice picture of him yesterday evening in the role for which I, and every other fan of “Doctor Who”, will always remember him. He appeared in the series twice, as Trevor Sigma in the first episode of “The Happiness Patrol” supporting Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, but it was as Trau Morgus, in the earlier Peter Davison story “The Caves of Androzani”, that he really stunned audiences in what is a truly superlative piece of work. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, in the Robert Holmes-written, Graeme Harper-directed, Roger Limb-composed masterpiece, John’s character is the embodiment of an ambitious, ruthless, corrupt politician best-remembered for turning to camera and exclaiming, “The spineless cretins”!
It was a pleasant surprise, last year, when John Normington popped up on our screens again playing a character called Tom Flanagan in “Ghost Machine”, the third episode of the “Doctor Who” spin-off “Torchwood”. Yes, it was only a small cameo, as a mild-mannered ageing evacuee gently interrogated by Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper, but he stole the episode, even from the excellent Gareth Thomas! Not only that, the warmth with which he imbued his scene made his one of the standout performances of the entire series. I’ve subsequently seen him as a District Judge in Lynda La Plante’s “Trial and Retribution XIV: Mirror Image” in which he was also excellent. One of his best-known film appearances was as Frank Lockwood the Solicitor in the 1984 adaptation of Alan Bennett’s “A Private Function” alongside a galaxy of fine actors including Michael Palin, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Richard Griffiths, Bill Paterson, Liz Smith, Alison Steadman, Jim Carter and Pete Postlethwaite. Ten years earlier, he appeared in my all-time favourite rock movie “Stardust” together with David Essex and Adam Faith. Although it may sound clichéd, I’ve never seen him give a bad performance even in a sub-standard production. I’ve only touched on his screen work and yet John was probably even more highly-regarded as a stage actor. Kevin Spacey, artistic director of the Old Vic, endearingly paid tribute in saying “They don’t make them like him anymore”! I agree. Mr Normington was an actor of rare quality.