Initially, I didn’t think I had anything worth saying. I’ve seen John Hurt in many things, and I’ve been aware of his name since he burst into prominence in The Naked Civil Servant, though I didn’t watch it then (there was no way that was going to be on my mother’s television set) and I have seen nothing but clips and quotes from it since.
But from that point onwards, John Hurt was a serious name, and his presence in something, anything, even Alien (one of the few roles of his that I actually have seen, and in the cinema too) was a sign of seriousness, of purpose, of a level of quality.
The John Hurts of this world don’t appear in any old kind of tat.
Of all his roles, the one with which I am most familiar is that of the War Doctor in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special, in which he was brilliant. You can say that it was beneath his talents, and despite my affection and admiration for the time when Stephen Moffat still had it, and in spades, I wouldn’t argue strenuously with you, but I can’t think of anyone else who could so effectively have conveyed the ranges of emotion that the role demanded. Without Hurt, it could and probably would have been a mess.
So as I read about his career, it strikes me that for the very limited amount of insight and appreciation I can bring, John Hurt is one of those whose passing simply must be marked, as one more loss to a world growing steadily blacker. One less figure whose very presence meant Here Be Quality. I don’t believe in Knighthoods and Knights, but he was a Knight of Quality, a Knight with Honour.