John Shrapnel was playing a stocky but spirited Hamlet at the age of 16 at City of London school when I first saw him. Then, while studying at Cambridge, he played Oedipus at the Guildhall and was a wonderfully funny and tragic Jamie Tyrone with Miriam Margolyes in the production of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night that I directed in 1962.
After a year at the Royal Shakespeare Company with Trevor Nunn, who had also directed him at Cambridge, he spent 1969 in Manchester at the Stables Theatre Company, which I created for Granada TV. He played Tom Paine in Paul Foster’s play of that name, Bracchiano in Webster’s The White Devil and roles in new plays by the resident writer, Carey Harrison. He also starred with Maureen Lipman in the Stables production for Granada TV of Israel Horovitz’s It’s Called the Sugar Plum. At its climax – the realisation that he has run over not only her boyfriend but also his dog – he was not allowed by the ITA (forerunner of the IBA) to exclaim: “Shit!”
In 2012 he was a powerful and deeply moving King Lear for the Bristol Tobacco Factory, his shortness of stature only adding force to the wilful excess of passion and blindness.