John Harrison began his career as an actor, receiving his training at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre under Sir Barry Jackson. He later became a member of the company and appeared in three productions with Paul Scofield directed by Peter Brook. When Sir Barry Jackson was appointed to Stratford, the three young artists went with him, continuing their association. At Stratford, Harrison again appeared with Scofield in several of Brook’s productions. After Stratford, he toured Australia with the Irish Shakespearean actor Anew McMaster, playing a variety of roles.
Returning to England, he turned to directing, succeeding Kenneth Tynan at the Lichfield Repertory. He went on to free-lance for several years, directing among other productions a notable Pericles, Prince of Tyre with his old colleague Paul Scofield and Beatrix Lehmann. He then was appointed Director of Productions at the old Nottingham Playhouse, where he remained for five years. In 1962, he returned to the Birmingham Rep as Artistic Director, where he was responsible for such notable premiers as Yvonne Mitchell’s Measure of Cruelty starring Wendy Hiller and Jeremy Brett, and Evan Hunter’s The Easter Man, which later transferred to the Globe Theatre in London.
In 1972, Harrison was invited to become Director of the Leeds Playhouse, where he would remain for well over a decade, establishing Leeds in the forefront of English Repertory. Among his significant productions were the premiere of Arnold Wesker’s The Wedding Feast, and The Tempest with Scofield at Prospero. During his tenure, he achieved the building of the new West Yorkshire Playhouse where, as Director Emeritus, he directed the British Premiere of Pavel Kohout’s The Maple Tree Game in May 1990.
Harrison has also worked extensively in television. As a director for BBC television, his productions ranged from Pirandello’s Henry IV (Starring Scofield) to an award-winning episode of the Maigret series. As a series producer with the Independent company Rediffusion, he was responsible for twenty-six of the series Sanctuary.
In the late sixties, Harrison devoted several years to writing, including episodes for the first two series of Upstairs, Downstairs. He is the author of four stage plays, two television plays and a number of episodes of television series.
In his distinguished career, Harrison has directed at the Bristol Old Vic (Volpone, Pygmalion, Richard III), in Chicago (The Recruiting Officer), and in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (The Winter’s Tale). In 1975, his production of The Tempest with Scofield as Prospero ran for six months at Wyndham’s Theatre in London.