John Corvin was a fine artist and actor, and one of the founding members of the Royal Shakespeare Company here in Stratford-upon-Avon…
John Corvin’s death on Good Friday saw the sad passing of one of Stratford -upon-Avon’s most gifted, loved, and respected actors and artists, whose enthusiasm, energy, hard work and talent were an extraordinary example of how to live the creative life.
I first met John some twenty years ago and was immediately overwhelmed – as many were – by the aforementioned enthusiasm. It wasn’t long before I joined him on many an adventure, whether helping him with his one-man shows, acting alongside him on the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, or getting involved as an extra on the odd film set or two, most notably a film version of the Scottish play where John played a wonderful Duncan. He was always fun, always helpful, and always generous with his time, advice, and red wine.
John was born in London, and by the time the Second World War came along he, aged fifteen, lied about his age and joined the army, only to be dragged out screaming again by his protesting mother. A year later he ran away and joined the Merchant Navy, and for the next four years or so sailed the U-boat invested waters of the North Atlantic, where, armed with only the collected works of Shakespeare kept the Nazi’s at bay, and staged the odd play or two, with one performance of the above mentioned drama using-up every bottle of tomato ketchup on board.
It was while he was in the Merchant Navy that John also discovered he could draw, a talent the Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh (who was sailing from Halifax to the UK to take that famous photograph of Churchill) encouraged him to develop and broaden.
But after the war John decided it was the acting life for him, and, as so often happens, a chance meeting was to change his life.
By the early 1950s John was working as a travelling theatrical lighting salesman who, when in London, parked his pre-war Vauxhall car on a bomb site near the Thames in Blackfriars. Then, one day, he found the site fenced-off, with a small wooden shed plonked in the middle. John knocked on the door of the shed only to be confronted by the celebrated actor Bernard Miles, who offered John a cup of tea from his flask and explained that he planned to build a theatre on the site called the Mermaid.