Vivian MacKerrell

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Vivian MacKerrell
Born Vivian Alan James MacKerrell
(1944-05-23)23 May 1944
London, England
Died 2 March 1995(1995-03-02) (aged 50)
Occupation Actor

Vivian Alan James MacKerrell (23 May 1944 – 2 March 1995) was a British actor of the 1960s and 1970s. He was the basis for Withnail, a memorable character in British cinema.

Early life[edit]

Vivian MacKerrell was the son of Janetta Mary Boyns and Scottish accountant John Alexander McKerrell. He had two brothers, Jock and David.[1] MacKerrell attended the private Trent College in Nottingham.


As a student at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, he shared a house in Albert Street, Camden, London with the musician David Dundas and film director Bruce Robinson, writer and director of Withnail & I (1987). Fellow house mate and actor Michael Feast, described MacKerrell as a "Splenetic wastrel of a fop", whilst Robinson has said he was a "Jack of all but a master of none", declaring himself a great actor but doing nothing to prove this. The Withnail creator has also claimed that MacKerrell was the funniest person he has ever met.

A biography of Mackerrell, Vivian and I, by Penzance-based author Colin Bacon was published in 2010.[2][3]


In early 1960s MacKerrell starred with Ian McKellen in "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" and "Coriolanus" with John Neville at Nottingham Playhouse. He also got the job as assistant stage manager. Later in 1970s he was the junior lead in Hadrian VII at the Mermaid Theatre.[4] MacKerrell had only a handful of television and film credits, which included the Play for Today Edna, the Inebriate Woman (1971) and Ghost Story (1974), a horror film which also starred Marianne Faithfull.

Screen roles[edit]

1967 Les Misérables Marius (four of ten episodes)
1969 Thirty-Minute Theatre - And Was Invited to Form a Government (BBC2) Kevin Croft
1971 Play for Today - Edna, the Inebriate Woman (BBC1) Tramp
1974 Ghost Story Duller
1974 Romance with a Double Bass (short) Footman

Illness and death[edit]

Mackerell's career was curtailed by heavy drinking. He suffered a premature death from throat cancer, which he contracted in his 40s.

Bruce Robinson claimed that MacKerrell drank lighter fluid.[5] This is portrayed in a notorious scene from Withnail & I; MacKerrell was reputedly unable to see for days after the incident. After a short remission in the mid-1980s, the illness returned and eventually a laryngectomy was performed. Unable to eat or drink, MacKerrell resorted to injecting alcohol directly into his stomach.[4] In his last days MacKerrell contracted pneumonia after a drunk incident and died in Gloucester Royal Infirmary. His ashes were scattered on Loch Indaal on the island of Islay.[2]



  1. ^ "The McKerrells of Islay: Information about John Alexander McKerrell". 
  2. ^ a b Brown, Annie (6 November 2010). "Tragic tale of chronic alcoholic actor who inspired cult 80s movie". Daily Record. 
  3. ^ "Unseen photographs of real 'Withnail' from cult film". SWNS. 24 September 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Walker, James (30 December 2010). "You Terrible Cult!". LeftLion. 
  5. ^ Morris, Mark (December 2002). "The Real Withnail". The REG Temple. Archived from the original on 13 February 2008. 

External links[edit]