• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

John Fortune

Actor and satirist

Actor and satirist

Born: June 30, 1939; Died: December 31, 2013

John Fortune, who has died aged 74, was a renowned actor, satirist, writer and comedian who was most famous for appearing on the television show Bremner, Bird and Fortune with Rory Bremner and John Bird.

As the two Johns, Fortune and Bird would often act out interviews in which a bewildered interviewer would talk to a bumbling establishment figure and try to get to the bottom of a issue, crisis or problem. In the process, they would expose the idiosyncrasies, deceptions and hypocrisy of modern political life.

Fortune was born John Wood and brought up in Bristol where he was educated at the Cathedral School, from 1950 to 1957. It was there that he discovered his love of performing, appearing as Thomas Mendip in The Lady's Not For Burning, and later as Henry V.

After school, he went on to study English at King's College, Cambridge, where there was a bit of an adjustment to be made for a working class boy who had been to grammar school on a scholarship. But, adjust he did, and he even began to see the advantages of the difference. "If you were a working class boy and had an outside lavatory," he once said, "the girls at Newnham thought that was very Lawrentian and sexy"

He went on to become a leading member of the famous Cambridge Footlights theatre group, which is where he met fellow grammar school boy John Bird; the two became firm friends and remained so until the end of Fortune's life. Their contemporaries at Cambridge included some of the men and women who would become central to comedy and satire in the 1960s, 70s and beyond, including David Frost, Eleanor Bron, John Cleese, Miriam Margolyes, Clive James and Peter Cook.

After changing his name to Fortune - because there was already a John Wood in Equity - the young satirist's early work after university included contributions to Cook's Establishment club.

His first television was Not so Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, a BBC satirical show which ran from 1964 to 1965 and was a successor to That Was the Week That Was. The programme ran for 62 episodes and also featured John Bird.

The BBC could clearly see the potential of the nascent comedic relationship between Bird and Fortune and commissioned the programme A Series of Bird's featuring the pair. Fortune then wrote sketches for a series called Where was Spring? with his fellow Cambridge Footlighter Eleanor Bron.

By the 1970s, Fortune was experimenting with writing and produced a satrical novel with John Wells called A Melon for Ecstasy. He also made regular appearances on popular comedy shows including Yes Minister, Hi-de-Hi, although he also began to appear as a straight actor too. From 1983 to 1984, he played one of the prosecuting counsel in the popular daytime drama series Crown Court. He also appeared in The Bill.

However, it was in the 1990s that he became truly celebrated as a satirist for his sketches with Bird for Rory Bremner, which came to be known as The Long John skits. They almost always followed the same format, which was an interviewer attempting to get to the bottom of an issue with a public figures, who was always called George Parr.

In one of their most famous sketches, broadcast just as the financial crisis was breaking in 2008, Fortune played an interviewer grilling an investment banker. "Our boffins have thought up some very complex financial instruments," said Bird. "Do you know what a collateralised debt obligation is?" "No," said Fortune. "Do you know what a structured investment vehicle is?" "No," said Fortune. "That's a pity, neither do I."

The two programmes Fortune and Bird made with Bremner on the Iraq War were seen as some of the strongest critiques of the controversial conflict. Fortune's last appearance with Bremner was in Bremner, Bird and Fortune: Silly Money in 2008. He also made a short film The Case of Mary Ford, which was released last year.

Most of Fortune's work was in television, although he did appear in several films, including Calendar Girls, The Tailor of Panama and Match Point. He also did stage work, appearing with Stephen Fry and Paul Eddington in Alan Bennett's play, Forty Years On at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 1984.

In 1997, he won a Bafta for Best Light Entertainment Performance for his work on Rory Bremner, Who Else? alongside Bremner and Bird. He was also nominated four times for Baftas between 1999 and 2003.

He always maintained links to his home city of Bristol and, in 1999, a theatre bearing his name was opened at the Cathedral School.

He is survived by his wife Emma and three children.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.