Before settling down to a tea of sandwiches and cake at the Cumberland Hotel, around 100 Friends were entertained by their newest Patron, John Hester, with stories about his life as a “jobbing” actor.

The programme for our archives

 

 

John is well known to audiences at the Devonshire Park Theatre in recent years for his appearances in numerous Talking Scarlet plays – in which he made the role of the police inspector his own – and he is currently touring with their production of The Sound of Murder, which he is also directing.  As a memento, John handed over a programme for the show inscribed with personal messages from the cast – all well-loved visitors to our theatre: Michelle Morris, Kim Tiddy, Marcus Hutton, Ben Roddy and Jolyon Young (apologies for any omissions).  This will be kept for posterity in our archives.

 

 

Like so many of us, John’s love of the theatre stems from his very early childhood and he is not alone in his first experience being watching pantomime at Leatherhead Theatre.  The small John would want to sit in the front row – eager to be in prime position for any opportunity to go on stage!  He was also inspired by childhood holidays spent on the Isle of Wight when the theatre played a big part. Not only would John be fascinated by observing the actors leaving the theatre at the stage door, the three-play repertory system with each play starting on a Thursday meant that during a fortnight’s holiday it was possible to see all three productions.  He had hugely supportive and indulgent parents!

After school – where he admits the young John Hester was not encouraged to take up an acting career – at the early age of eighteen he started his training in 1976 at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London; a seedbed for many now famous actors of both stage and screen. Our own Chris Jordan and his wife Natasha are fellow alumni, along with other household names such as Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Keith, Sir Antony Sher, Julian Fellowes, Minnie Driver and Terence Stamp to name but a few.  John recalls it was a tough and strict regime, but he survived the eight term course unscathed and launched himself into his acting career.

His first job was in Chesterfield in two week rep and after eighteen months he joined Newpalm Productions as an Acting ASM in Tonbridge Wells.  He first worked at the Devonshire Park Theatre during the summer season of 1982 as the DSM and Company Manager when he was understudy for the late John Inman in My Fat Friend.

John’s career path then took him into Theatre in Education (TIE) with more than three years of touring the country bringing theatre to young people in schools and other organisations.  A spell with Vanessa Ford Productions followed when he worked mainly as Acting ASM.  He admits that it probably brought him one of his proudest moments of his career when, at the Westminster Theatre,  he ended up – thanks to the step-up understudy system and probably his own diligence – playing three roles in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  from the Chronicles of Narnia!  Spells with Adrian Lloyd-James’ Tabs Productions followed and, of course, more recently his work with Talking Scarlet.

What John did not mention during his talk was that he has also been a speech and drama teacher for around 20 years and was Head of Drama at Newlands School in Seaford for three years, where he taught GCSE and A Level drama. He is a LAMDA examiner, an adjudicator for The British and International Federation of Festivals and has written a number of books on theatre craft.   He also runs his own very successful SPATS theatre school in Carshalton which focuses on bringing high quality professionally based acting tuition to children and young people.

A hugely talented man whom we are proud to have as a Patron!