Joseph O'Conor

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Not to be confused with Joseph O'Connor. ‹See Tfd›
Joseph O'Conor
Born Joseph Desmond O'Conor
14 February 1916
Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland
Died 21 January 2001 (aged 84)
London, England
Occupation Actor

Joseph O'Conor (14 February 1916 – 21 January 2001) was an Anglo-Irish actor and playwright.

Early years[edit]

O'Conor was born in Dublin[1][2] (or perhaps Seattle)[3] on 14 February 1916, the son of Frances (née Call) and Daniel O'Conor.[2] His family moved to London, where he attended the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, the University of London and RADA.[1][3] He made his professional stage debut in 1939 playing Flavius, Trebonius, and Titinius in a modern-dress production of Julius Caesar at the Embassy Theatre, and subsequently at His Majesty's Theatre.[2] Also in 1939 he married Naita Moore; they had two children.[1]

After the war[edit]

Returning to the stage in 1946 he played a wide variety of roles in London, but with an emphasis on Shakespeare.[1][2] He spent a season under Donald Wolfit at the Bedford, Camden Town, alternating Iago and Othello with him in Othello (1949) and taking the title role in Hamlet (1949), with Wolfit as the Gravedigger.[1][3]

O'Conor had a strong spiritual side which most eloquently found expression in a series of productions at religious-drama festivals and, unforgettably, as Christ in the York Mystery Plays (1951 and 1954).[1] A prohibition on the representation of God or Christ still existed in England at that time, so his name for the 1951 production was kept a secret.[4]

Seeking a change from London he played two seasons at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow where his roles included Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing (1954).[1] This he followed with three seasons (1956–1958) at the Bristol Old Vic. Bristol acted in several Bernard Shaw classics. O'Conor played Higgins in Pygmalion and Undershaft in Major Barbara.[1] There was also a production of his own early play, The Iron Harp, set in his Ireland. O'Conor wrote five others.[3]

He continued his theatre work, including major roles in several productions at the Old Vic, but meanwhile he had been building up his television and film activities. In 1967 he played Old Jolyon Forsyte in the television series The Forsyte Saga[2][5] and in 1968 Mr Brownlow in the film Oliver![2]

He spent a season with the National Theatre under Peter Hall for The Tempest (1974) playing Alonso to John Gielgud's Prospero and, with a frightening sense of moral rectitude, Herr Gabor in Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening (1974).[1] In a season in Greenwich (1975) under Jonathan Miller, he played the King of France in All's Well That Ends Well. The played the Duke in Measure for Measure, set in Freud's Vienna.

Later life[edit]

Following his wife's death in 1977, he married the much younger actress Lizann Rodger. They had two children.[1] He continued to take part in numerous plays, particularly Shakespeare, in the theatre and for television. In 1982 he took the part of the narrator and the character Urskeks in the Muppet film The Dark Crystal.[6]

In the 1990s he appeared in several cinema productions. A highlight was the role of J. C. Sullivan in The Forbidden Quest (1993), directed by Peter Delpeut, which gave O'Conor a role as a polar survivor.[3] His subsequent work included the Bishop of Oxford in the film of Tom & Viv (1994) and Mr. Nancarrow in The Wisdom of Crocodiles (1998).[2]

Today he is remembered chiefly by younger viewers for his appearance as Mr. Brownlow in Oliver!

As well as his extensive work as an actor, he also directed, and wrote six plays. He died in London on 21 January 2001.[1]

Selected filmography[edit]


  • The Iron Harp, 1955 (published by Penguin in Three Irish Plays, 1959)
  • Inca, 1961 (play, published by Hutchinson, 1968)
  • The Tumble Stone, 1962
  • A Lion Trap, 1963 (historical adventure, based on the life of Sir Walter Raleigh, published Hutchinson 1969)
  • The Third Picture, 1964
  • The Heiress, 1971
  • King Canoodlum and the Great Horned Cheese (children's story, published BBC 1979)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Alan Strachan, Obituary, The Independent, 2 February 2001
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Full credits at
  3. ^ a b c d e Stephen Gilbert, Obituary, The Guardian, 25 January 2001
  4. ^ York Mystery Plays website
  5. ^ Forsyte Saga at IMDB
  6. ^ The Dark Crystal at IMDb

External links[edit]

Joseph O'Conor at the Internet Movie Database