John Bell (Australian actor)

John Anthony Bell, AO, OBE (born 1 November 1940) is an Australian actor, theatre director and theatre manager. He has been a major influence on the development of Australian theatre in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Early life

Bell was born 1 November 1940 in Newcastle, New South Wales, and at age 9 or 10 moved with his family to the town of Maitland, New South Wales[1] where he was educated at the Marist Brothers.


While at High School, he developed and performed one-man shows. He worked with Old Tote Theatre Company. He spent five years with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Great Britain In the 1970s he taught at National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). He directed the first production of The Legend of King O'Malley (a musical play based on the life of King O'Malley by Bob Ellis and Michael Boddy ) in 1970. The production featured Robyn Nevin and Kate Fitzpatrick.

He was in major state theatre companies as actor and/or director. He was co-founder of the Nimrod Theatre Company in Sydney. He was Producer/presenter for David Williamson's Travelling North, The Club, The Removalists and Peter Kenna's A Hard God. In 2009 Bell directed the opera Madama Butterfly for Oz Opera; this production toured throughout Australia.[2]

Bell Shakespeare

In 1990, Bell founded the theatre company Bell Shakespeare and has produced, among others, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Richard III, Pericles, Henry IV, Henry V, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, The Comedy of Errors, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, King Lear, and Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters.

His roles for the company include Shylock, Richard III, Macbeth, Malvolio, Coriolanus, Leontes, Prospero, King Lear and Ulysses.

In 2011, Bell published the book On Shakespeare, his thoughts and reminiscences of playing Shakespeare for more than 50 years.[3]

Personal life

Bell attended the University of Sydney with Clive James and Germaine Greer. He is a contemporary and friend of Bruce Beresford (film director, with whom he shared a house and for whom he did some film acting), Ken Horler, Mungo McCallum, Bob Ellis, Richard Wherrett, John Gaden, Laurie Oakes (journalist), and Les Murray (poet). His brother is the artist Michael Bell. Bell is married to actress Anna Volska and has two daughters, Grass Roots actress Lucy Bell and playwright Hilary Bell.


In the New Year's Honours of 1978 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). In the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1987, he was named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). In the Australia Day Honours of 2009, he was named an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).


His achievements in theatre have been acknowledged by the Universities of Newcastle (1994), Sydney (1996) and New South Wales, all of whom have awarded him honorary Doctor of Letters degrees.

In 2001 a painting of Bell by artist Nicholas Harding won the Archibald Prize.[4]

In 2002, Bell's performance of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in Richard III earned him a Helpmann Award for Best Male Actor in a Play.

In 2003 the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, presented Bell with the Cultural Leader of the Year Award.

In 2009 he received the JC Williamson Award for his life's work in the live performance industry.[5]

In 2016 he was name by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies, as Humanist Of The Year. [6]

He has been named an Australian Living Treasure.

Selected credits


  • Bell, John (2002). John Bell: The Time of my Life. Sydney: Currency Press. ISBN 1-86508-640-1.
  • Meyrick, Julian (2002). See How It Runs: Nimrod and the New Wave. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-86819-651-7.
  • Parsons, Philip (1995). Victoria Chance (ed.). Companion to Theatre in Australia. Sydney: Currency Press in association with Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-86819-357-7.
  1. ABC: Talking Heads. Retrieved 18 February 2017
  2. Oz Opera 2009 Regional Tour
  3. Bell, John (October 2011). On Shakespeare. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-74237-193-1.
  4. The 2001 Archibal Winner Archived 22 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Higson, Rosalie (28 July 2009). "Helpmanns honour guest for final role". The Australian. News Limited (News Corporation). Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  6. "Humanist of the Year awards for 2016 Announced". Council of Australian Humanist Societies. 8 May 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
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