He looked beautiful

Sheila Hancock and John Thaw, May 1981
Photo: Mike Maloney/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

It was in 1969 that Sheila Hancock came face-to-face with fellow actor John Thaw for the first time, and her initial impressions of the “rude little bugger” soon to play opposite her in a West End play weren’t exactly positive. But with time they found common ground and grew close, and four years later they were married. A string of acclaimed roles on stage and screen over the next few decades saw them both become household names—and then, in June of 2001, Thaw was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. This diary entry of Hancock’s was written less than a year later, on the day her husband died. He was sixty.

The Diary Entry

21 February

About 5.00 a.m. he woke, not able to breathe. I was kneeling on the bed with my body supporting his back. His weight was toppling me. I said to the girls, ‘Help me, I can’t take his weight,’ and I felt this gasping, struggling, dear sweet man try to go forward to relieve me. His last panted words were not epic, comic in fact, in their denial: ‘I’ll be all right, you didn’t give me enough cough mixture, pet,’ but his last gesture was that of the selfless man he was. He went into a deep sleep. We sat in his room for the next hours, talking to him, hoping he could hear how much we adored him. The girls left me alone with him and I lay on the bed—our beautiful brass bed—and held him in my arms. Then I called the girls. With the sound of his grandchildren playing in the garden he drifted away. Thank God none of the horrors I’d been warned about happened and his death was full of grace. He died so elegantly. He did it with style. He looked beautiful. Like a Roman statue.

“Noblest of men woo’t die?

Hast thou no care of me, shall I abide

In this dull world, which in thy absence is

No better than a sty?”

Further Reading

This entry comes from Sheila Hancock’s 2004 book, The Two of Us: My Life with John Thaw, a very moving memoir of their time together (and apart) that has been written beautifully. Throughout it all can be found Hancock’s diary entries.

© Sheila Hancock, 2004, The Two of Us: My Life with John Thaw, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Reprinted by kind permission of Sheila Hancock.

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