Burly character actor Bruce Purchase was a founder member of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company where he made a name for himself in productions such as Saint Joan, The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Peter O’Toole’s Hamlet.
He toured with the National Theatre Company, playing David Bliss in Hay Fever, Edward IV in Richard III and he was Balthazar in Much Ado About Nothing.
He later gained international fame with his acclaimed one-man show Johnson is Leaving Stratford, based on the biography of Samuel Johnson by John Wain. The show was originally presented for the RSC at Stratford Upon Avon in 2003 and then toured the world.
Born in Thames, New Zealand, on October 2, 1938, he won a scholarship to study acting in England. He trained at RADA and on graduating worked in repertory at the Liverpool Playhouse.
He successfully auditioned for Laurence Olivier and joined the new National Theatre Company, then based at the Old Vic. He went on to join the RSC appearing in productions of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Troilus and Cressida. In 1970 he appeared in Jonathan Miller’s production of The Tempest.
He played Othello at the Mermaid opposite Bernard Miles’ Iago and Macbeth at the Theatre Clwyd. He was also Alfred Dolittle opposite Richard Chamberlain’s Professor Higgins on a European tour.
Purchase was a very prolific television actor appearing in character roles in series such as A Horseman Riding By, Play for Today, Quatermass, Blake’s 7, Doctor Who, The First Churchills, The Ruth Rendell Mysteries and many more.
His films included Mary, Queen of Scots with Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave, and Richard III with Ian McKellen.
His last stage appearance was in the Vatican-set drama The Last Confession (Haymarket 2007) in which he appeared opposite David Suchet. Purchase, who played a cardinal, was taken ill during the production. He was also an acclaimed artist who had exhibited in this country and abroad. He recently wrote an autobiography, Changing Skies, which was published before his death.
He was married for 15 years to the writer Elspeth Sandys but for the last five years his partner was Sara Hebblewhite. He died of cancer on June 8, aged 69.
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.