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Knighted Sir John Hurt 'responding well to cancer treatment'

Published 17/07/2015

Actor Sir John Hurt, who is to receive his knighthood from the Queen at Windsor Castle
Actor Sir John Hurt, who is to receive his knighthood from the Queen at Windsor Castle

One of the nation's leading actors, Sir John Hurt, has described how he is responding well to cancer treatment as he was knighted by the Queen for a glittering career.

Sir John said he was "feeling good" after completing half a course of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, and has continued to work.

The actor was made a knight by the Queen for a distinguished career that has featured a series of mesmerising performances, from the title role in The Elephant Man to the inspiring TV portrayal of Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant.

He has found new fans with parts in the special 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who and the Harry Potter series of films.

Speaking after the Windsor Castle Investiture ceremony he said: "I'm half-way through my chemotherapy and I've got a whole load of tests next week.

"I'm not feeling any of the side effects you're suppose to feel, or at least you can feel, as everybody's different I'm told.

"It's extraordinary, I haven't lost weight or anything and I'm feeling good - it's crazy.

"My oncologist is extremely optimistic, as indeed I am, so everything is going really well."

Sir John, 75, arrived at Windsor Castle looking dapper in a three-piece brown linen suit and matching hat, and was joined by his wife Anwen for the ceremony.

Speaking about receiving the honour he said: "It's so unexpected in a sense, I never thought of it when I started out.

"I suppose the only thing I really rather regret is that my parents aren't alive to see this, I'm sure that's not a sentiment that's new by any means, a lot of people say the same. But it does make one inordinately proud."

The son of a clergyman, Hurt developed an interest in acting at school but was discouraged by his parents and headteacher, and instead went to art college with an eye to becoming a teacher.

However, he went on to land a scholarship for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) and picked up TV and film roles until he had his major breakthrough, appearing in A Man For All Seasons as Richard Rich.

Sir John achieved further prominence in the film 10 Rillington Place as Timothy Evans who was wrongly executed for the crimes of serial killer John Christie (played by Richard Attenborough), and as Caligula in the celebrated BBC drama I, Claudius.

Other notable roles include the heart-stopping moment when Sir John met his end in the film Alien, or his role as Winston Smith in 1984.

His distinctive voice graced a chilling Aids awareness ad campaign in the 1980s, the character of Hazel in the animated film Watership Down and Kilgharrah the dragon in the BBC series Merlin. Other roles have included occasional appearances as wand-maker Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter films, his performance as Stephen Ward - a key figure in the Profumo affair - in Scandal and a reprisal of his role as Crisp for An Englishman In New York in 2009, 34 years after his original portrayal of the flamboyant figure.

Asked about his favourite role he replied: "That's always impossible because it's like saying 'who's your favourite child?'

"They all have different qualities, but I suppose something which changes your life in so far as it changes an audience's perception of you and the business's perception of you, then I think I'd have to say The Naked Civil Servant, followed by The Elephant Man.

"I look for something that I think I can do something personally with, the difficulty is until you work on something you do not know what you can do with something."

Despite receiving treatment for cancer Sir John has just finished a BBC Radio 4 version of the Keith Waterhouse play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, a production about the infamous Fleet Street reporter he knew well.

He is following in the footsteps of Peter O'Toole who gave the definitive stage performance of Bernard.

Sir John said: "Mine will be different because I knew Jeffrey so well - he was part of my life."

During the investiture ceremony, Major Laura Nicholson became only the second female military pilot - and the first for operations in Afghanistan - to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

She was a flight lieutenant in the RAF when her calmness under pressure and bravery captaining a Chinook helicopter earned her the award.

Tasked with picking up a critically-injured US Marine in December 2013, she piloted the helicopter to an Afghan site where American forces were involved in a fierce gun battle with insurgents.

With bullets and rocket-propelled grenades being fired at the Chinook, her crew managed to get the injured serviceman on board and ferry him away for treatment but they were soon told to return to the area to pick up critically-injured civilians who had been caught up in a Taliban ambush.

The Chinook was targeted again and one of the crew was struck in the leg by a bullet before they managed to take off.

Maj Nicholson was joined at Windsor Castle by her crew at the time, co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Max Card, Flight Sergeant Daniel Baxter and Sergeant Chris Purkiss, who has recovered from his leg injury.

She said: "This is a huge, huge honour. I'm very conscious, because Max and I share the duties as captain and we rotated on a weekly basis, if he had been captain that day he would be getting this award and not me.

"It's very humbling but I see it very much as something we achieved as a crew. Sadly it is only the captain for the day who gets singled out for the award but it was very much all of us working together."

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