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-HowsonReuse content