My older brother, John Turner, who died of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 75, was a community theater playwright and director, songwriter and singer.
John was born in Slough, Berkshire, to Hilda (née Jefferies), who worked as a shop manager, and Matthew Turner, a technical supervisor. John and I both attended the local technical school in Slough and it was there, under the aegis of Tom Barnes, our inspiring English conductor, that John acquired his lifelong passion for theater.
In 1968 John graduated from the University of Nottingham with a degree in history. By this time he had also performed in several college theater productions and was determined to develop a career in theater. He joined the Brighton Combination, a non-profit collective, where he met Jenny Harris, who became his partner for more than 40 years. In 1972 the company moved to Deptford in south-east London to be part of the Albany Empire – its first show, Watch It All Come Down., chronicled the ravages of ruthless urban redevelopment on working class communities. John then wrote and directed All Who Sail In Her, Beggars Can’t Be Choosers, Heroes, Race With the Devil, Blood Sugar and many other shows, both at the Albany and on tour.
As Artistic Director of The Albany, John has worked with local musicians including Squeeze, Dire Straits, the Flying Pickets and Elvis Costello. In the late 1970s, he formed the group Rubber Johnny following a wave of skinhead violence in east London. In 1978, the original Albany Empire was burned down due to its support for Rock Against Racism. Rubber Johnny played to help support the rebuilding program.
John gave a remarkable performance as Panda, an old beaten shift in Durham Prison, in the 1980 film McVicar, starring Roger Daltrey. Returning to the Albany stage in 1982, John developed the screenplay for a Squeeze track in the play Labeled With Love, set in a smoky Deptford pub. The West End move was hinted at, but John insisted on using the original cast in their original roles, and the promoters pulled out.
John and Jenny left the association in 1985; Jenny to work in the National Theater education department and John to work with Circus Senso, which he conducted for the 1986 Greater London Council Farewell Festival at the South Bank Center, and for a Christmas show at Hackney Empire in 1987.
In 1989 he was appointed artistic director of the Half Moon Theater in Mile End Road, where, among other productions, he directed Circus Moon., a Christmas human circus show on a funk jazz score. Funding problems cut short his work there, and he returned to a more ad hoc role as a writer and director, as well as teaching theater at Rose Bruford and Lewisham Colleges.
In recent years, John had written a definitive history of the Albany, and 2006 saw the production of Deptford Stories, which he wrote and directed, an ambitious celebration of the local community and its changing fortunes with a cast of over 100 performing on the streets of Deptford and in Albany.
Rubber Johnny also reformed in these years and delivered several memorable performances, most notably at John’s 70th birthday celebration in 2016. The band dealt with during the lockdown and recorded 13 new songs, including one. titled I’ve Got Lots of Time..
Jenny passed away in 2012. John is survived.