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Obituary: William Hoyland

William Hoyland in A Month of Sundays in 2016. Photo: Mark Sepple William Hoyland in A Month of Sundays in 2016. Photo: Mark Sepple

William Hoyland was a distinctive and forceful actor whose career ranged across 50 years, first as a member of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre in the late 1960s at the Old Vic, then at the Royal Court and later as a core member of Nicolas Kent’s company for the extraordinary series of verbatim tribunal plays at the Tricycle Theatre, London, between 1994 and 2012.

The first of these, most of them edited from courtroom transcripts by the Guardian’s defence and security correspondent, Richard Norton-Taylor, was Half the Picture, about the Scott inquiry; Hoyland as John Major wondered why, in following the guidelines restricting arms-related exports to Iraq, anyone should assume that he necessarily knew what he was doing merely because he had been chancellor, foreign secretary and prime minister.

Over the next decade at the Tricycle, Hoyland was commander of the Dutch peace-keeping force in Srebrenica during the war crimes trial in The Hague; a defence intelligence expert deeply unhappy with the “dodgy dossier” at the Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly; Donald Rumsfeld in Guantanamo; a senior British army officer in Bloody Sunday, Scenes from the Saville Inquiry; and another intelligence big-wig in the “arraignment” of an absentee Tony Blair in Called to Account.

Hoyland was a typical, independently minded product of the radically inclined Drama Centre, formed by renegade teachers and students at Central School when Yat Malmgren was sacked in 1963. A handful of students forsook their grants and followed Malmgren and his colleagues, John Blatchley and Christopher Fettes, to a disused Methodist chapel in Chalk Farm and started over with Stanislavski-derived and Vieux Colombier training and a repertoire of Ostrovsky, Lope de Vega, Wedekind, Schnitzler and the Greeks.

These young actors – others were Alison Fiske, Ian Hogg, Deborah Norton, Frances de la Tour, Marty Cruickshank, David Leland and Jack Shepherd – drifted naturally towards the Royal Court, where Hoyland appeared in Heathcote Williams’s The Local Stigmatic in 1966, directed by Peter Gill. After small roles with Olivier at the Old Vic, he subsequently made a mark at the Court in world premieres of Christopher Hampton’s Total Eclipse (1968), Howard Brenton’s Christie in Love (1969), Edward Bond’s Lear (1971) and Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine (1979).

There was hardly a television series he didn’t appear in, from Coronation Street to The Bill, Casualty, The Thick of It and Call the Midwife, and he made brief contributions to many fine movies: Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, David Hare’s Plenty, Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy, Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart and Star Wars – Return of the Jedi.

At the National on the South Bank he was in Hare and Brenton’s Pravda (1985), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 1989, Pirandello’s Man, Beast and Virtue in the same year, and Trevor Nunn’s 2002 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, escorting Glenn Close as the doctor in the last act.

He was acclaimed as the Elizabethan magician John Dee in Stephen Lowe’s The Alchemical Wedding (Salisbury Playhouse,1998) and, last October, in Bob Larbey’s care home comedy, A Month of Sundays (Queen’s, Hornchurch).

William Hoyland was born on November 10, 1943. Diagnosed with stomach cancer earlier this year, he died on July 15, aged 73. He is survived by his third wife, the artist Carole de Jong, and by two sons, Martin and Thomas, both musicians, from his first marriage.

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