James Maxwell (actor)

For other people named James Maxwell, see James Maxwell (disambiguation).
James Maxwell

Maxwell in a 1965 episode of The Saint
Born James Ackley Maxwell
(1929-03-23)23 March 1929
Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
Died 18 August 1995(1995-08-18) (aged 66)
London, England, UK
Years active 1949-1992
Spouse(s) Avril Elgar (1952-1995) (his death) (2 children)
Children 2 sons

James Maxwell (23 March 1929 – 18 August 1995) was an American actor, theatre director and writer, particularly associated with the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.[1][2]

Early life

He was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, United States, but spent most of his career in the United Kingdom and died in London. He came to England at the age of 20 to train at the Old Vic theatre school. While there he met fellow students Casper Wrede and Richard Negri (co-founders of the Royal Exchange 25 years later).

Work in the theatre

After seasons at the Bristol Old Vic and the Piccolo Theatre in Manchester he started to collaborate with the directors Michael Elliott and Casper Wrede, initially with the 59 Theatre Company. He translated Georg Büchner’s Danton's Death (original title: Dantons Tod) for the opening production at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. Elliott and Wrede went on to run the Old Vic company and Maxwell joined them to act in several of the productions including The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure.

The group then joined with Braham Murray in Manchester to form the 69 Theatre Company. Maxwell adapted Daniel Deronda; directed by Elliott and starring Vanessa Redgrave it was subsequently televised. He acted in many productions for the company including Prospero in The Tempest in 1969 and Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons in 1975. He also directed Arms and the Man with Tom Courtenay, Jenny Agutter and Brian Cox in 1973.

Based upon the success of this collaboration the group started to look for a permanent theatre in Manchester and eventually a new theatre was built inside the disused Royal Exchange with Maxwell as one of the founding artistic directors. He appeared in both the opening productions: Kleist's The Prince of Homburg (original title: Der Prinz von Homburg) and Sheridan's The Rivals and remained an artistic director until his death in 1995. As well as acting in many productions over the course of 20 years, he adapted several novels including The Count of Monte Cristo, Pride and Prejudice and The Moonstone. He also directed over 20 productions. As Braham Murray recalled. “As an artist he was multi-talented and practised each of his skills with discretion. As a writer, he translated many works; as a director he was particularly skilful at comedy. He loved to make people laugh, but it was as an actor that he would want to be remembered.”[3][4]

Theatre Productions at the Royal Exchange

The productions directed by Maxwell during his time as artistic director include:[3]

Work in television and film

Although the theatre was always his first love he appeared in television and film. His best-known television role was as King Henry VII in a BBC2 drama series, Shadow of the Tower, but it did not have the same popular success as The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which was its predecessor drama. His other television credits include a prominent role in the 1978 Doctor Who story Underworld. He also appeared as Osmond in a television serial of Henry James' Portrait of a Lady (1967), The Avengers and The Saint.

He was also seen in the films Private Potter (1962), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Otley (1968) and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1970). The first and last of these directed by his friend and colleague Casper Wrede.

His ghost is rumoured to haunt the Royal Exchange, as seen in an episode of the TV show, Most Haunted.

Personal life

He married the actress Avril Elgar in 1952 and the couple had two sons. They met at the Old Vic theatre school and she appeared in many of Maxwell’s productions. He died in 1995.

Selected filmography


  1. Adam Benedick, obituary: James Maxwell, The Independent, 28 August 1995.
  2. http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/individual/6974
  3. 1 2 The Royal Exchange Theatre Company Words & Pictures 1976–1998
  4. Braham Murray Autobiography
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