John Hodgson was born in 1927. He served in the Merchant Navy before studying as a mature student at Mansfield College, Oxford. By then his love of drama was already apparent and he produced several plays in the College chapel, including Christopher Fry’s A Sleep of Prisoners. He collaborated with Jonathan Miller on one of the latter’s earliest opera ventures and also with Bernard Miles who was in the process of establishing the Mermaid Theatre.
His first major teaching post was at the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, and he also took part in international ventures in Moscow and Istanbul under the auspices of the British Council, and was later appointed Adjunct Professor of Drama at NYU (New York University). But it was as Head of Drama at Bretton Hall College of Education (and later Head of Faculty of the Performing Arts when Bretton Hall became a part of Leeds University) that he found the richest outlet for his particular genius. In a career spanning nearly forty years, he inspired generations of ‘drama in education’ practitioners, writers and performers, and was instrumental in developing one of the first fully-fledged degree courses in drama. He believed passionately in encouraging people to discover and feed their talent and on more than one occasion accepted students who lacked the necessary academic qualifications because he recognised their potential.
John’s interest in dance arose from a period spent at Dartington, where, though not a dancer himself, he developed an interest in the work of the choreographer Rudolf Laban. With Viv Bridson, a dance teacher and practitioner herself, he travelled to Germany and together they acquired a substantial amount of archive material relating to Laban which John hoped to turn into a definitive biography. Dartington also introduced him to the work of Stanslavski and Stanley Meisner of the Neighbourhood Theatre in New York, both of which fed his interest in improvisation.
Among those of his students who benefitted from his teaching were Kay Mellor, Beatie Edney, Kate Rowland (later head of BBC Drama), John Godber, Mark Gatiss, Reece Sheersmith, Steve Pemberton, Femi Elufowoju, Mark Thomas, and Colin Welland.