Skip to main content

Coming to visit? Ticketed entry is in place to safely manage your visit so please book ahead. Need to cancel or rejig? Email bookings@npg.gov.au

Menu

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

John Bell

In their own words

Recorded 1973

John Bell
Audio: 2 minutes

I’ve always, I suppose, liked Shakespeare more than anything else about the theatre. It was Shakespeare that first got me involved in the theatre at all. I remember a couple of rather tatty Arts Council touring companies taking Twelfth Night around the schools and that was my first impression of live drama, apart from the odd pantomime or whatever. And I found that fairly exciting. But when I went with the school at the age of fifteen to see Olivier’s films of Henry V and Hamlet that was when I was really hooked. I couldn’t believe that words could be so exciting, that a play could be so overpowering, and from that moment on I became a slavish imitator of Olivier, at least for some years, and I wanted nothing more than to become part of the same world that he had made, created from the text of Shakespeare.

I think still that Shakespeare is my greatest love in the theatre and that eventually, I don’t know what the future holds, but I can’t think of anything that would please me more than a more or less permanent Shakespearian company of my own, not just playing Shakespeare but making that the basis of our work.

In fact my respect for Shakespeare is so great that I don’t mind seeing him knocked about and put in modern dress or cut or changed or whatever. I think if I thought less of him I might be worried by that but after all, the text is always there to go and look up afterwards and the important thing is not to do it the way the scholars think it should be done but to make it come alive for whatever audience you happen to be playing to, whether it’s schoolchildren or if you’re playing in the suburbs or whatever, you have to bring it alive for that particular audience and that particular occasion.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of John Bell is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Related people

John Bell AO OBE

Related information

John Bell as King Lear oil on Belgian linen, 2001 by Nicholas Harding
John Bell as King Lear oil on Belgian linen, 2001 by Nicholas Harding
John Bell as King Lear oil on Belgian linen, 2001 by Nicholas Harding
John Bell as King Lear oil on Belgian linen, 2001 by Nicholas Harding

Lear unbuttoned

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2011

Sarah Engledow steps up to the footlights and applauds the storyline behind Nicholas Harding's portraits of actor John Bell.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

The Gallery

Visit us, learn with us, support us or work with us! Here’s a range of information about planning your visit, our history and more!

The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night

Support your Portrait Gallery

We depend on your support to keep creating our programs, exhibitions, publications and building the amazing portrait collection!

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency