OBITUARIES: Heinz Bernard

Heinz Bernard Lowenstein (Heinz Bernard), actor, director; born Nuremberg 22 December 1923; married Nettie, Lowenstein (two sons, one daughter); died London 18 December 1994.

Heinz Bernard was a former director both of Unity Theatre, the famous left-wing "People's Theatre", and the touring Century Theatre, whose aim was to bring live drama to people who would otherwise never experience it. He was also an actor, a teacher, anda writer.

A refugee from the Nazis, he came to England from Nuremberg three days before the Second World War started. His mother was to follow, but war was declared the day she travelled and she was turned back. He was 15 and alone in London. They didn't meet again until he was 30.

Years of drudgery in a variety of jobs - including work as a rabbit-skin stretcher and kitchen porter - followed. The education that, under Nazi law, stopped at 14 was resumed through a brilliant young fellow refugee, Georg Porges, an historian and socialist, who taught him and other boys in the huge room they shared in a house in London. Heinz joined the Free German Youth Movement and acted and directed at their theatre.

When he became a night waiter at a gambling club in Soho he saw his chance to pay for his tuition at RADA. His first challenge there was to try to eradicate his German accent. (He liked to think he succeeded.)

Bernard's socialism led him to Unity Theatre, the theatre where many working-class actors - Bill Owen and Michael Gambon among them - first learned their skills. Unity put on plays with a socialist flavour long before other theatres, by writers like O'Casey, Odets and Wilder. Bernard acted there while he was still at RADA, and in 1965, after some years in commercial theatre and television, he became its Artistic Director.

At Unity he introduced to the London public Brecht's Mother Courage in 1958 and, later, a first ever production in Britain of The Visions of Simone Machard - productions that made an enormous impact on British theatre.

In the late Sixties Bernard chose to join another unique theatre movement, the Century Theatre, where he stayed for five years, directing or playing leading parts in plays by - among others - Synge, Moliere, Shaw, Feydeau and Ibsen. Between seasons he directed at RADA, sat on their Selection Committee, and also wrote articles for Theatre Quarterly.

But it was difficult bringing up a family on the money he was earning. In 1968 he accepted the part of the Rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof in the West End, and in 1971 he accepted an invitation to direct in Israel. He stayed 10 years, working - in Hebrew - at the leading Israeli theatres, acting, directing, making films. He become well-known to generations of Israeli children as Mr Cohen in a television series of programmes written by his wife Nettie Lowenstein.

They returned to Britain in 1981 and he picked up a career interrupted by the 10-year detour, so typical of the destiny of the eternal exile. He readily took parts, although poorly paid, in interesting new projects such as Allende's eight-hour epic The House of the Spirit, adapted and directed by Michael Batz, or Mrozek's Tyngo, or a new version of Wedekind's Lulu made by Peter Quint. I still owe him gratitude for taking part in what was euphemistically described as a "profit-sharing" producti on of Kenwicki's Minor Apocalypse that I directed.

Even at the end of his life while he was having blood transfusions every three weeks (his colleagues unaware of his illness) he was performing eight parts in the very demanding House of the Spirits at the Shaw theatre.

In what was to be the last fortnight of his life he revisited Israel and, with his wife and his son Jonathan, was happy to walk in the desert near the Dead Sea.

Helena Kaut-Howson

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker