An accomplished stage and film star, British actor John Thaw had even greater success on series television. Born on January 3, 1942 in West Gorton, Manchester, England, he is the son of a long-distance truck driver and a homemaker. When Thaw was only seven, his mother permanently left home leaving his father to care for him and his younger brother, Raymond. After graduating from Manchester's Ducie Technical High School, he worked briefly as a baker, a laborer, and an entertainer at a retirement home until his former drama teacher persuaded him to audition for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He won admission at the age of 17, and shortly afterward made his stage debut in A Shred of Evidence at the Liverpool Playhouse.
Thaw appeared frequently on-stage throughout the '70s and '80s, most notably with the National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He made his big-screen debut in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), and went on to star in Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), Cry Freedom (1987), and Chaplin (1992). In 1964, Thaw joined Diana Rigg in the cast of the British police show Redcap. His performance earned him the title role in Regan, a television film about a hardened cop in Scotland Yard's Flying Squad. The drama's unprecedented success led to its development into a regular series entitled The Sweeney, after the British rhyming slang "Flying Squad/Sweeney Todd." The show lasted four years, and spawned two feature films in which Thaw starred: Sweeney! (1977) and Sweeney 2 (1978). Following its cancellation, Thaw found steady work in television, appearing in the comedy Dinner at the Sporty Club, the historical miniseries Drake's Venture (1980) and The Life and Death of King John (1984), the drama Mitch, and the sitcom Home to Roost. In 1985, producer Ted Childs offered him the role of Inspector Morse, the title character in a series based on Colin Dexter's detective novels. Morse made its debut in 1987 and ran for 13 years, during which Thaw earned two Academy Awards for his portrayal of the shrewd, cultured, and imperfect detective. While still appearing as Morse, Thaw began working on the series Kavanagh, Q.C. in 1995. The show, about a northern barrister, lasted five seasons during which Thaw also won a National Television Award for Goodnight Mister Tom (1998) and a nomination for Monsignor Renard (1999).
In 2001, the same year that he would announce that he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Thaw earned a Lifetime Achievement Fellowship Award from the Royal Academy of Drama and Acting. The next winter, only a few months before he was slated to reprise his role as Kavanagh for two television specials, Thaw died at home in London. The 60-year-old actor left behind his wife, British actress Sheila Hancock, and three daughters, Melanie Jane, Abigail, and Joanne.