John Hurt Recalls “Louche, Creative” Contemporaries

You’ll be pleased to know that Sir John Hurt, praised for his turn as Doctor Who‘s War Doctor, of course, says his “treatment is going terrifically well” and that he remains ‘optimistic’ about his recovery. The 75-year-old may have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June but he told Radio Times although he may think about death, he does not fear it; “I can’t say I worry about mortality,” Hurt said. “But it’s impossible to get to my age and not have a little contemplation of it. We’re all just passing time, and occupy our chair very briefly.”

Hurt also spoke about his latest project, a rendition of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell for BBC Radio 4; Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell tells the real life story of a columnist, locked in his favorite pub overnight, musing about anecdotes from his life. Jeffrey Bernard was a real life drinking companion of John Hurt. Hurt would add that drinking at the time, although he may have drank to excess at times, was really about heightened conversation, saying:

“I had endless conversations with Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Jeff and others. People go out today with the intention of getting smashed. We never had that intention, although it might happen. We hated binge drinkers. They were boring and if you slipped into it, you’d be told to pull yourself together. We wanted to seek, to find, to be interested, heighten awareness, talk.”

Bernard was apart of what Hurt called a culture of “louche, creative people.”

Today’s world simply isn’t as free as the story’s setting of 1951, Hurt finds, arguing “Society is much more homogenised, and we’re all supposed to conform.” An interesting argument to make of a pre-sexual revolution, pre-civil rights, pre-Stonewall world, but he continues, rejecting ‘political correctness’ especially, saying:

“People are censorious but the pendulum will swing back, as it always does. There were difficulties in those days obviously, but life was more fun.”

Part of this fun and freedom for Hurt that’s been lost surrounds alcohol, despite alcohol-related cases costing the NHS over £3.5bn a year according to an agency of the UK Department of Health, he argues, “We’ve become obsessed with the dangers of alcohol – you get newspaper articles that are entirely over the top,” but Hurt also decries political correctness, saying “I wonder what instigated that. Where does it come from, and who says what is or is not politically correct?”

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell plays on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday at 14:30.


Richard Forbes graduated from the University of Waterloo, receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Philosophy. When asked (usually by confused old women) what ‘does one do exactly’ with said degree, he laughs and politely declines to answer. A perfect night for him involves a relaxing cup of Lady Grey, some writing and a re-run of ‘Yes Minister’. His favourite Doctor Who episode, provided he’s coerced to answer at gunpoint, is Series 1’s acclaimed ‘The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances’.

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