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Obituary: James Sharkey

James Sharkey

When The Stage published its first edition of The Stage 100 list in 1997, James Sharkey was one of only two agents to be included among the most influential figures in British theatre.

By then his own agency, James Sharkey Associates, was securely established with  Sharkey himself described as “the eminence grise of entertainment agents”.

Born in Philadelphia to Irish immigrant parents, he spent most of his childhood in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, where the nearby studios of the nascent British film industry instilled in him an ambition to become an actor.

Without formal training, he made his professional debut in pantomime at the Palace Theatre, Watford in 1948 and spent the next few years in regional reps and in London with the Royal Artillery Players, Woolwich and at the Q Theatre before its closure in 1958.

In 1954, he was seen in John Dighton’s Who Goes There? at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, his West End debut following two  years later at the Globe Theatre in Alan  Melville’s Mrs Willie.

He returned to the West End in two comedies: Basil Thomas’ The Lovebirds alongside Ronald Shiner and Dora Bryan (Adelphi Theatre, 1957) and Frederick Lonsdale’s Let Them Eat Cake with Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray (Cambridge Theatre, 1959). And, as Emile La Flamme, he provided “the only thoroughly convincing performance”, The Stage observed, in an otherwise lacklustre revival of the musical Rose Marie at the Victoria Palace Theatre in 1960.

After his television debut in 1953, notable small-screen appearances included The Firm of Girdlestone (1958), The Moonstone (1959) and Laertes to Barry Foster’s Hamlet in a 10-part adaptation in 1961.

When work dried up during the actors’ strike in late 1961, he accepted an offer of a temporary job with Al Parker’s agency. Soon afterwards he gave up performing and remained with Parker until the mid-1970s (by which time he was also acting as secretary to the Personal Managers’ Association) when he joined Fraser and Dunlop as its managing director.

In 1983, he launched his own eponymous agency, managing it until his retirement in 1998. Throughout his career as an agent, he nurtured and managed the careers of many theatre and film luminaries, including James Mason, Christopher Lee, Vanessa Redgrave, Ian McKellen, Maggie Smith, Timothy West, Elaine Paige and Michael Ball.

Robert James Sharkey was born on  January 5, 1930, and died on October 13, aged 87. He is survived by his wife, the actor Isabel George, and three children: former International Creative Management agent Kate,  Hat Trick Productions’ head of production Jessica and Simon, who runs the Sharkey  and Co agency.