John Sessions, comedian and actor of ‘incredible wit’, dies aged 67

Performer best known for TV shows including Whose Line Is It Anyway and QI

John Sessions: Along with panel shows, he was known for his work on Spitting Image and cult series Stella Street. Photograph: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

John Sessions: Along with panel shows, he was known for his work on Spitting Image and cult series Stella Street. Photograph: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

 

The actor and comedian John Sessions has died at the age of 67. Sessions, best known for appearing on television shows including Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Have I Got News For You and QI, died following a heart attack at his home in south London.

Born in Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1953, Sessions trained at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada). He first gained acclaim with a series of live one-man comedy shows in the 80s, before becoming a panellist on the original radio version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? alongside Stephen Fry. He later transferred to television with the programme. In 1989, he hosted his first one-man show for TV, titled John Sessions, and filmed at London’s Donmar Warehouse.

As well as his work on panel shows, he was known for his turn in Spitting Image playing, among others, Norman Tebbit and Sir Laurence Olivier, and the cult comedy Stella Street, on which he impersonated the likes of Joe Pesci, Roger Moore and Keith Richards (who ran the corner shop with Mick Jagger, played by Phil Cornwell). Later roles included parts in Doctor Who, Victoria and Skins.

On film, he portrayed two British prime ministers, playing Harold Wilson in Made in Dagenham in 2010 and Edward Heath in the 2011 film The Iron Lady. Other film roles included Macmorris in Henry V – directed by his Rada contemporary Kenneth Branagh – and Salerio in Michael Radford’s The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons.

In a 2017 Guardian interview, Sessions – who was gay – recounted being outed by the press in 1994: “When I was in My Night with Reg at the Royal Court in 1994, it was all about homosexuality. I was interviewed by the London Evening Standard and asked very robustly: ‘Are you gay?’ I said: ‘Yes I am, but my parents don’t know and I don’t want them to find out by picking up a copy of the Evening Standard.’ The journalist said she thought I should tell them and outed me. My mother died unexpectedly six weeks later and my father quickly developed dementia. It was never mentioned.”

A Eurosceptic, Sessions spoke in support of Nigel Farage’s Ukip in 2013. He was also a critic of Scottish independence, and was among 200 celebrities who signed a letter to the Scottish people urging them to vote no in the country’s referendum in 2014.

Leading the tributes online, the writer and radio DJ Danny Baker described Sessions as “terrific company always and a true talent. His roles at the heart of [Beachcomber … By The Way], my favourite radio series, have given endless pleasure to me and will continue to do so always. Travel easy, chum...”

The team behind QI praised his “incredible wit and encyclopedic knowledge [which] played a huge part in the show’s history”.

Irish actor Chris O’Dowd said Sessions “in various forms, has made me laugh my arse off for 30 years”. The IT Crowd star added: “I was delighted to lure him into joining us on Moone Boy for a short while and he was glorious. The world may move a little slower today, without his dynamo of a mind to propel it. Thank you John.”

Actor and writer Robert Webb said: “Bobby Ball and now John Sessions! Two very different performers who both absolutely inspired and delighted me at different times. Lovely, funny men.”

The BBC also paid tribute to the late comedian. “We’re saddened to hear of the death of actor and comedian John Sessions,” a tweet from the corporation’s press office said. – Guardian

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