Born 11 July 1936

Died 20 April 2018

The actor John Stride, who has died aged 81, was a distinguished member of the National Theatre in its heyday under Laurence Olivier.

He notably played Romeo opposite Judi Dench’s Juliet in a famous 1960 production by Franco Zefferelli of the Shakespeare play. He made a considerable impact in the role and toured the production both throughout the UK and worldwide.

He was an actor of much style and relaxed elegance. Along with his handsome appearance he had, latterly, a fine main of grey hair which ensured he made a strong impact on stage and screen.

His career has a fascinating connection with Scotland. In 1964 the playwright Tom Stoppard spent a holiday in Scotland researching Hamlet as he, “ felt he might find it amusing to write something around Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.”

After many false starts (including the Royal Shakespeare Company) his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was given its world premiere by the Oxford Theatre Group at the Cranston Street Hall at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1966. The Observer critic wrote it was “an erudite comedy, leaping from depth to dizziness.”

The play was snapped up by the National Theatre in London and produced the following year with Mr Stride giving an outstanding performance as the bluff and garrulous Rosencrantz. It is now one of the accepted classics of contemporary theatre.

John Edward Stride was born in South Norwood and won a scholarship to Alleyn’s School where he showed an enthusiasm for acting, then studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He made his west end debut in 1959 in Peter Schaffer’s first play, Five Finger Exercise. It was directed by John Gielgud and Mr Stride made a strong impression as the bemused teenager.

Later in 1959 he joined Olivier’s National Theatre at the Old Vic and was in many memorable productions: notably the Zefferelli. Mr Stride’s while sword fight with Alec McCowen’s Mercutio was one of the highlights and Zefferelli instructed Mr Stride to play the balcony scene, “like a dog seeing a bitch for the first time.” One critic wrote his Romeo was “like an eager puppy dog with a death wish.”

Further appearances at the NT included Fortinbras to Peter O’Toole’s Hamlet in 1965 and Cassio opposite Olivier’s Othello – in London, Moscow and Berlin. Two years later he was in the epic production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in which one critic considered he was, “masterly”.

His film appearances were more rare (notably, The Omen and an officer in A Bridge Too Far) but Mr Stride was seen in several ITV dramas including The Main Chance (1969-75) with Bob Hoskins, in an adaptation of Fay Weldon’s Growing Rich (1992) and a forlorn figure in the BBC’s account of Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils.

Other television credits included the title role in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII (1979), the guilt-ridden manufacturer in Diamonds (1981) and The Trial of Klaus Barbie in 1987.

His first marriage to the actress Virginia Thomas was dissolved. In 1972 he married the actress April Wilding, who predeceased him in 2003. He is survived by two daughters from his first marriage and one from his second.

Alasdair Steven