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Bernard Hill

Manchester School of Theatre alumnus, the late Bernard Hill

Tribute to Bernard Hill, Manchester School of Theatre alumnus

8 May 2024

Manchester Metropolitan University is saddened to hear of the death at the age of 79 of renowned actor and alumnus of its School of Theatre, Bernard Hill.

Manchester Metropolitan University is saddened to hear of the death at the age of 79 of renowned actor and alumnus of its School of Theatre, Bernard Hill.

Hill studied at the then Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre, gaining a diploma in Speech and Drama in 1971. He went on to star in many major film and tv productions, including appearing in two of the only three films to win 11 Oscars – as the captain in James Cameron’s Titanic and as Theoden, King of Rohan, in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

But he is perhaps still best known for his role and as Yozzer Hughes in Alan Bleasdale’s seminal Boys from the Blackstuff - an iconic role which brought him to prominence and which saw him working alongside fellow alumnus, Dame Julie Walters.

The role earned him a BAFTA nomination, followed by a second nomination some years later for playing the former Home Secretary David Blunkett in the BBC drama A Very Social Secretary.

Hill was born in Blackley, Manchester in 1944.  After attending Xaverian College in Rusholme, he began training as a teacher before a fellow student, future acclaimed writer and director Mike Leigh, persuaded him to pursue acting. He then went on to study at Manchester Polytechnic’s School of Theatre.

His extensive career saw him take on many roles associated with Liverpool, including Willy Russell’s  Shirley Valentine and playing John Lennon in Russell’s “John, Paul, George, Ringo…..and Bert” at the Everyman Theatre. He is currently posthumously appearing in BBC police drama, The Responder, set in the city.

He took on roles in major films including Gandhi, The Scorpion King, True Crime and Gothika, as well as TV series such as Dennis Potter’s Lipstick on your Collar and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

Lord of the Rings producer, Peter Jackson, said in a tribute on social media:”His performance as Theoden, King of Rohan, is beloved by millions and stands testament to his brilliance as an actor. But we will remember him as a deeply loyal and loving friend. Our hearts go out to his partner Alison, and son Gabriel during this time…”

Martin Freeman, who acts with Hill in the second series of The Responder, said:”Working with Bernard on The Responder was such a fantastic treat for all of us. He was unassuming, funny and, of course, ridiculously talented.

“A Mancunian lad who was Liverpool royalty, it was a privilege for us all to have shared in his last brilliant performance.”

Manchester School of Theatre today continues to train the next generation of aspiring young actors from its new facilities at Grosvenor East which includes an impressive 180-seat auditorium at the heart of the campus.

Other prominent alumni from the school include Steve Coogan, Richard Griffiths, David Threlfall, Zawe Ashton, Amanda Burton and John Thomson.