A leading Shakespearean actor who began life abandoned as a new-born in a cardboard box went on to appear on stage alongside some of the greatest talents of his generation .

John Harwood, who trained in Hampstead and has died aged 84, never knew his birth family.

Now his large “family of friends” in the world of London theatre are searching for any relatives for his funeral at Golders Green crematorium on December 1. 

John, who was living in Birchington Grove in Kilburn before going into a care home three years ago, was found abandoned in 1939 on church steps, according to his actor friend Miles Foster.

“He never knew his birth mother and was brought up by Margot Craddock, a nurse who ran a children’s home,” Miles said. “It was Margot who introduced him to music and the arts.”

John grew up in Kent and was educated in Deal, but soon moved to London. He trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama in Belsize Park in the late 1950s, then joined Sir Lawrence Olivier’s Old Vic theatre company on the Southbank, in Romeo and Juliet alongside Judi Dench and John Stride.

He secured the part of Voltaire in Peter Brook’s production of The Marat-Sade for the Royal Shakespeare Company, aged 25, a role he was cast for later in the film version.

John joined the prestigious Vienna’s English Theatre in 1977, taking leading roles including Colonel Redfern in Look Back in Anger (pictured in 1988) and George Bernard Shaw in Dear Liar, then went on to be a director.

“John gave me my first break as an actor,” Miles added. “He was a dream to work with, professional to his finger-tips. He cut a distinguished figure on stage and had a rich, powerful and resonant voice which suited his classical roles.”

Miles, who runs the Peregrine Theatre Company with his actress wife Ingrid Statman, has been trying to trace any of John’s relatives.

“He never spoke of a family in all the 40 years I knew him,” Miles revealed. “He had a wide circle of friends and we were concerned when we hadn’t heard from him, then I discovered he had gone into care.”

John grew increasingly frail and was admitted to the Victoria care home in Park Royal in 2020, where he died peacefully on September 22.

His funeral at Golders Green Crematorium on December 1 is at 1.30pm. Miles is appealing for anyone who knew John Harwood to join the service. He can be reached by email at enquiries@peregrinetheatre.co.uk.