People of Yorkshire volume 5 – Sir Patrick Stewart

Sir Patrick Stewart was born on July 13th 1940 in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. He is a world-renowned film, stage and television actor, who is best known for his roles as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Professor Charles Xavier in the “X men” series. The actor is also well-known for his Shakespearian roles, voice acting and charity work.

Stewart was inspired by his English teacher, Cecil Dormond, who once put a Shakespeare book in his hand and commanded, “get on your feet and perform.”

This led him to begin his theatrical career aged seventeen when he left his journalism job at a local newspaper because he was spending too much time at the theatre rehearsing for roles in local plays. He studied acting at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. His first stage role was in an adaptation of Treasure Island in 1959. At the age of eighteen Stewart lost all of his hair, a traumatic experience, which made him more determined to express himself on stage. After a brief move to Manchester’s Library Theatre he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966. Through the late Sixties he toured America and featured in productions of, “As You Like It,” “Much Ado about Nothing” and “King Lear.” His Broadway debut soon followed in 1970, featuring in another bard play, “A Midsummer Night’s dream.”

Patrick Stewart, Picture credit Skidmore - Wikipedia, Creative Commons
Patrick Stewart, Picture credit Skidmore – Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Despite these long tours he still had time for a cameo role in Coronation Street as a fire officer plus other British TV series, including Horatio (1967) and Kenneth Clark’s “Civilisation,” (1969) which explored the history of Western Art. Stewart continued to divide his time between stage and screen throughout the 1970s, starring in several plays, like, “Fall of Eagles (1974), in which he played Russian dictator, Vladimir Lenin and “I Claudius” in 1976.

He also started playing minor roles in large screen productions, including, “Hedda” with Glenda Jackson and “Hennessy” (1975) with Rod Steiger.

In 1979 Stewart returned to Shakespearian work in Antony and Cleopatra which landed him a Lawrence Olivier Award for “Actor of the year Award in a supporting role.”

In the early 1980s he juggled theatre, television and film work, which led Stewart to make a decent living through acting but was not well-known outside performance circles, least of all in America.

The year 1987 was to prove a turning point in Patrick Stewart’s acting career. It made a promising start when he starred as George in Edward Albee’s 1962 play, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf?” which received much acclaim and has been cited since by the actor as one of his best theatrical experiences. At the end of this four week run he headed off to the States. He’d been offered a role by Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the original 1960s Star Trek series who wished to create an updated version of this cult hit called Star Trek, The Next Generation. This second series of the franchise featured a new crew set 100 years after the first one in the year 2364. A new cast was needed and Patrick Stewart became Captain Jean Luc Picard. There was a lot of scepticism surrounding the new series and Stewart himself was so unsure that it would take off he refused to unpack his suitcase for six weeks. The American press described him as being merely an “unknown British Shakespearean Actor,” and success of the show was by no means guaranteed.

However, Star Trek the Next Generation managed to win over its old and new fans alike, with Stewart’s character taking on a life of its own, complete with his bald head, thoughtful tones and authorative air. The series ran until 1994, which spawned the feature film, “Star Trek, Generations.”

Away from the Starship Enterprise, Patrick Stewart took on other roles throughout the 1990s, including an adaptation of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” on stage and several films, including parody, “Robin Hood, Men in Tights,”(1993) amongst others. Nothing though could be compared with the runaway success of the Star Trek franchise and more films followed in the shape of, “First Contact (1996), Insurrection (1998), of which he was also an associate producer, and Nemesis (2002), resuming his role as Picard in each.
At the turn of the millennium another popular franchise landed on Stewart’s doorstep in the form of “The X Men.,” of which he starred as Professor Charles Xavier throughout its series of six movies to date. This role was a quintessential Stewart role as a deep-voiced authoritative English part.

In more recent years Patrick Stewart has turned his hand to voice work something which he started back in 1982 with “The Plague Dogs” and continued with in the fantasy adventure, “The Pagemaster (1994) ,” starring McCauley Culkin. He has provided his unique voice for some of the most popular animated films in recent times, such as William Shakespeare in Gnomeo and Juliet (2011) and Ice Age Continental Drift (2012). His voice has also appeared in associated Star Trek video games plus others such as “Forgotten realms: Demonstone and “Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos.” He has also been the voice featured on several British TV adverts, such as TSB and Domestos to name but a few.

Sir Patrick Stewart was given a knighthood in the 2001 honours list and was subsequently made a knight bachelor in 2010 for his services to drama. The actor is also the Chancellor of Huddersfield University, a post which he has held since 2004, and plays a prominent role in handing out certificates to students at their graduation ceremonies.

Stewart is also known for his charity work and has helped many causes including Amnesty International, Refuge UK, of which he is a patron and the army charity, Combat Stress, which helps soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. The latter is something that Stewart discovered his father, a World War II veteran, had suffered from during an episode of BBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”

In recent years Stewart has turned his hand to lower budget independent cinema, such as the film “Match” (2015,) where he plays a former ballet dancer and teacher, a role not always associated with him. This, in his own words, has been his attempt to try and shed the typecast of forever being known by both directors and fans as Jean-Luc Picard.

Patrick Stewart is an unmistakable actor who has used his authority, personality and talent to become one of the best known Yorkshire actors in the world.

Read about more Famous People of Yorkshire here: