Stephen Jenn, Sorceror

Stephen Jenn was an actor, a hero and my friend. Yesterday I went to his funeral.

It was in the Actors’ Church, St Paul’s in Covent Garden. Inigo Jones’s lovely building, one of Stephen’s favourite places, was full of spring light.


The garden, St Paul's, Covent Garden

On his coffin there was rosemary for remembrance.   So today I am remembering.

I saw Stephen act  long before I knew him. He was Silvius, the romantic  shepherd in As You Like It  in the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. I never forget the soft summer night, the  heartbroken poetry, that wonderful voice. It got right into me, into the core and sinews of my imagination. And it’s still there.

Though, to be fair, it took me a while to realise that the Superior Being taking English Gentleman’s Tea at 4 o’clock on the dot was my heart-stopping shepherd.  Stephen scoffed when I told him I’d seen him all those years ago. So, to prove it, I dived into my precious store of  programmes of plays I really, really loved– and produced the evidence.

Stephen put aside his hot buttered toast, third cup of tea and umpty um years and turned into the young unrequited lover, telling the sophisticates around him ‘ what, ’tis to love’:  

                                                         It is to be all made of fantasy.

                                                         All made of passion, and all made of wishes

                                                        All adoration, duty, and observance,

                                                        All humbleness, all patience and impatience,

                                                        All purity, all trial, all obedience,

                                                        And so am I for Phoebe.’

And yes, the Voice was still magic.

But then, I already knew about the Voice, whether he was Chatting to the Telephone Salesman (he scored if he got them to ring off first), persuading my nervous cat to have his tummy tickled, Rebuking Radio 4 (he wasn’t usually up for the Today programme but he would have a good old argument with PM, not to mention Front Row) or reciting poetry as he went about the house. More than once I went into the kitchen to find him telling the kettle sorrowfully:

 Alas, ’tis true, I have gone here and there

And made myself a motley to the view,

Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear –


Mostly it was Shakespeare, occasionally Donne or Marvell;  often plays that I didn’t know. Then I would get not only a one-man performance but programme notes and a potted history as well. ( I’m not surprised that he was much in demand as a visiting professor in the USA; the lectures were spellbinding.) And once, fabulously, after I’d enthused about a Toccata of Galuppi’s, he seized my Collected Works and we had an impromptu evening of Robert Browning.   

Often he made me weep with laughter.  Filming Cleopatra, as  Temple Priest, he carried the basket of asps to the queen. And when she lifted the wicker lid, it was free from rubber snakes and, indeed, anything else except a card on which someone had helpfully written, ‘Hiss’.

Very soon after we met, I went to see him as Mephistopheles in Marlowe’s Faustus at the Young Vic. I knew he’d been ill and this was his first attempt at a big role since his treatment. He wasn’t sure about remembering the words. He needn’t have worried. He said them as if he had just that moment had the thought. In his hands Mephistopheles was clever, sophisticated, playful, wickedly seductive — and yet I can still hear the huge weary despair in ‘Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.’ I still feel the shock, too, as he turned from a sober student in spotless ruff, black robes and a cap, to an agonised shapeless thing, except for the arching throat and silently screaming mouth. Pure Hieronymus Bosch.



At supper afterwards — a long time afterwards, he was a hero who took his make-up off at glacial pace — he gave me a detailed explanation of how he effected the transformation from scholar to horror. I think he would have jumped on the table at La Barca to demonstrate if he hadn’t twigged by then that I have a very low embarrassment threshold.

And not for a moment, then or ever afterwards, did he even hint that his acting career was already into injury time and he knew it.

Stephen was ferociously determined not to be a victim. If his medication slowed him down, well then he would take life at an imperial tempo, letting the day wait upon him. As his left side weakness became more and more apparent, he simply acted his way through it. In the end,  even class acting like his could not keep that heroic frame upright. Then there came the wheelchair, the carers and, worst of all, silence. But even then he sometimes had that wicked glint of laughter, when you said something that caught his fancy. His courage humbled me. A true hero.

But I don’t remember him sadly. I remember him with awe and laughter and gratitude and much tenderness.

One Christmas he took exception to my tatty fairy on the top of the Christmas tree. ‘Give her a new dress,’ he said. ‘Something with a bit of style.’ I brought out my box of scraps and he chose white silky stuff, purple felt, purple braiding and an old broken chain of seed pearls. I’m no dressmaker but I cobbled together something that looked all right. Well, from the front at least. Stephen anchored her to the top of the tree, stood back critically, and then gave his huge, wonderful grin. ‘Duchess of Malfi to the life,’ he said.

And then, in the firelight and the beat up Christmas tree lights, he launched into Prospero’s great speech:

These our actors

As I foretold you, were all spirits, and

Are melted into air, into thin air,

And like the baseless fabric of this vision.

The cloud capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yes, all which it inherit, shall dissolve

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind.


It brought the hair up on the back of my neck then. It still does. I was very privileged.

Ave atque vale, magister.

32 Responses to “Stephen Jenn, Sorceror”

  • Rebecca Leith:

    A beautiful tribute to an obviously much loved friend. I’m so sorry for your loss, Jenny.

    • Caroline Praed:

      An achingly heartfelt tribute to your friend, Jenny. Although I never knew him I would have recognised him from this.

      My sincere condolences upon your grief.

  • Oh, Jenny, he wasn’t the only one speaking pure poetry. What a tribute. His ‘revels now are ended’ but not his memory. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you for sharing some of your wonderful memories of Stephen, Jenny. They made me smile, as I’m sure you do now through your tears.

  • Oh, Jenny, what a lovely post. Sometimes the only way to get through grief is to articulate the glory. It solidifies what we had. Words anchor people in the memory.

    Reading your post, I can see Stephen through your eyes.

    Lots of love – and peace.

  • Kate T:

    Oh Jenny, what a wonderful remembrance of a wonderful man. I wish I’d been able to know him.
    Love and many hugs.

  • Such a beautiful tribute Jenny. Lucky you and him to have had such a beautiful friendship.

  • Thank you, Bex, Eileen, Anne, Jan, Kate, Carole.

    He was, is, unique. I was lucky in his friendship. It helped to write this and share him a bit.

  • No obituary could have been better, Jenny. And yes, I remember Stephen. A beautiful post.

  • Henriette Gyland:

    A moving tribute, Jenny, to someone who was obviously a much loved friend. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • I was so sorry to hear of Stephen’s death. He was always very good company: intelligent, amusing and he really knew his stuff. He helped me with various technical points about Victorian theatre when I was writing ‘Tempting Fortune’ and I have very fond memories of him.

    A lovely post, Jenny.

  • Goodness, that’s absolutely beautiful. xxxx

  • What a wonderful tribute, Jenny. I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Ruth Anders:

    Dear Jenny
    I was very sad to hear about this today (Sydney, where I’ve been living for 12 years, though returning to London in June)when Harry Crowden (son of the late Graham) emailed me the news. I hadn’t seen Stephen for a few years, and when I last caught up with him, he was in a very bad state poor darling. You will miss Stephen lots, and I remember coming to your beautiful house to see him. I send my very best and belated wishes and sympathy, and shall remember him very fondly – far more for his vivacity and naughtiness, than for the ghastly illness that overtook him. Ruth

    • Yup, naughty, definitely. I have now got to the stage of seeing him being mischievous – actually probably saying something outrageous,at full volume. Gosh, he was fun.

    • May I simply Comment that my favourite movie Role, was that of Max Stiefell in; Goodby Mr Chips… May I wish You, Peace and Good Memories.. I’m just an, American movie-goer…. VTY Joe Damery Bedford, Mass.

      • I didn’t realise that he was in that. It seems to have been a BBC TV 6 part miniseries, produced by Barry Letts which came out in 1984. Sadly, no DVD seems to exist. I can imagine that Stephen was a brilliant Steafel.

  • Carolyn Wheel:

    A lovely tribute, Jenny.
    I had the pleasure of knowing Stephen back in the 70’s, when he worked for quite some time, at York Theatre Royal.
    I’ll always remember him as a genuine, lovely guy.

  • Dear Jenny Haddon,
    I was very sorry to miss Stephen Jenn’s funeral. “The Stage” did’nt publish his death until after the event! I was in the same production of “As You Like It” in Regent’s Park, playing Amiens to his Silvius. I learnt from Judith Coke that he was unwell and living at Denville Hall whilst I was working at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, between November and February this year. We were all in pantomime together at the Theatre Royal, York. How very sad! It is’nt until people are gone that you realise how much they do to keep you together – even if you have’nt seen them for a while. Rest in peace and laughter, Stephen.

  • Gosh, Michael, Amiens here too. Am seriously impressed.

    Stephen has left us a lot, I think, laughter being high on the list. Sorry I missed you both in pantomime. I’d have paid serious money to see Lord Snooty give his Widow Twanky.

  • Bertie Portal:

    I have only just heard about Stephen. We worked together at the Barbican in a Christmas Carol which seemed to run until July as far as i can remember. We shared a dressing room and much laughter and I thought we were the same age (there was over 20 years difference I subsequently learnt!!) I still use some of his turns of phrase and shamefully claim them for my own. But I think of him often and miss him

    • It was a fabulous production, Bertie. He was living here during that run and would announce his arrival into the kitchen for English Gentleman’s Tea with a Ghost of Christmas Past groan that made me jump out of my skin.

  • Barbara Mathews:

    Dear Jenny

    Just read your wonderful remembrances of Stephen and tribute to him. Seeing him through your eyes and talking about his great voice and his knowledge of his craft reminds me how privileged I was to have met him.
    Thanks Jenny.


  • James Frazier:

    I knew Stephen casually and briefly, and saw him act in Perkin Warbeck, in Stratford in 1975. How I regret not staying in touch with him! I can assure you that, even on brief acquaintance, he was as wonderful and beautiful and memorable as you paint him here. Why else would I be thinking of him nearly forty years later, Google his name, and stumble, sadly but gratefully, upon your wonderful tribute? Jim Frazier, Los Angeles, CA

  • Gill Houston:

    What made me Google Stephen’s name and find this wonderful tribute to him when I hadn’t seen him since we were at school together?
    I saw him in odd productions, and am so glad that the passsion and inspiration which was present when he was a teenager lasted throughout his (much too short) lifetime. I’m so glad that he was happy and fulfilled. Thank you again for this fabulously warm, affectionate, loving tribute. Lucky man to have known you.

  • Patrick Jenn:


    As one of Stephen’s younger brothers I loved your beautiful tribute to Stephen – thank you.

    I often come back to your website to read the additional wonderful comments and memories of Stephen from others – thank you for those too.

    I know it’s a cliché but there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of him … usually silently chuckling over some anecdote or other or one of his outrageous comments! Stephen would have loved the fact that he is still being talked about – surely an essential part of any actor’s make-up (pun intended!). He would also have appreciated the irony of appearing on “that internet thingy” when he himself was such a technology Luddite – my memory of him attempting to use a computer mouse by waving it in the air and expecting the movement to be translated to screen still burns brightly!

    Please keep commenting and remembering Stephen. It’s both very comforting, and intriguing to hear others’ reminiscences of our unique, beautiful ‘Snebes’….

    Best regards

    • Hello Patrick

      Good to remember him, isn’t it? Just the other day I was writing a dogfight scene set in the Battle of Britain and I could just hear Stephen saying, ‘If that’s a part for me, you need to give it some more welly.’ So I did.


  • Helen Cottington:

    Hello Jenny
    I don’t know what possessed me but Stephen’s name popped into my head while out shopping and I came straight home to google him to see where he had got to-and found this very sad news. Stephen had the flat underneath our first flat in Leathwaite Road SW11. I think we bought it in 1977 and had our first child there-who is now 35!! Even though I only saw Stephen a few times after he moved to Battersea park, I have very fond memories of our lovely downstairs neighbour. I am really sorry to hear the news.
    Best wishes

    • Hello Helen

      Sorry for being the bearer of this sad news but so glad that you left a message. Stephen was such a big presence and so much fun, as well as being a total lamb. It’s really heartening to hear from other people who shared that.


  • Paul Thomas:


    I thought of Stephen today when the theatre where I work had a guest speaker present a lecture on Shakespeare to our summer camp students. His obvious skill, his joy and passion in the work- and perhaps a little glimmer of mischief that shone through- made me wonder what had become of Stephen and sent me onto the interweb, where I found your wonderful tribute to a remarkable man.

    I was one of those students in the USA who had the privilege of learning from Stephen. In my first year of graduate school,in 1990-91, he was part of a five-actor troupe who came to the university and performed As You Like It. While it was a kick seeing Orlando have a wrestling match with himself, I was simply spellbound watching Stephen give Jaques’ “Ages of Man” speech- and then watching his immediate and absolute physical transformation into Orlando’s aged servant. It was stunning. A revelation. There was a real power and a real truth in this material that I had never seen before.

    I was thrilled when he returned the next year to present a class on Shakespeare and to direct a production of The Tempest- even more thrilled when he cast me as Caliban. I hope I lived up to his expectations. Nearly a decade later I was directing a production of Tempest, and my Caliban accused me of trying to coach him into doing what I had done in the role- I realized later that I was actually just trying to copy what Stephen had done as my director.

    I don’t think I truly realized what a profound influence he was on my life until I read about his death. His ‘still-breeding thoughts’ have ‘peopled my little world’ for twenty years now. I am so sorry for your loss. I am so sorry that he is gone. I am so happy that I got to meet him. My life is so much richer for what he gave to me. I will always remember him with joy.

    Thank you and best wishes.

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