CHRISTOPHER STEVENS on towering comic genius John Sessions 

John Sessions was once inescapable. Every chat show and panel game on TV was clamouring for his brilliant impressions and stream-of-consciousness wit.

He was the mainstay of Channel 4’s improvisation comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway? — dazzling the other competitors with his surreal, erudite gags invented and performed in a blur of hilarity.

In conversation, he flipped between famous voices, John Gielgud one moment and Harold Wilson the next — a trick he could keep up for hours. His friends lived in fear of being skewered by his lethal impersonations: on Spitting Image, he was the voice of his old chum from theatre school, Kenneth Branagh, as well as Norman Tebbit, Larry Olivier, Prince Edward, Peter O’Toole, Jonathan Miller and Barry Took.

John Sessions, pictured here in 1985, was the mainstay of Channel 4’s improvisation comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway? — dazzling the other competitors with his surreal, erudite gags invented and performed in a blur of hilarity

John Sessions, pictured here in 1985, was the mainstay of Channel 4’s improvisation comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway? — dazzling the other competitors with his surreal, erudite gags invented and performed in a blur of hilarity

In conversation, he flipped between famous voices, John Gielgud one moment and Harold Wilson the next — a trick he could keep up for hours. His friends lived in fear of being skewered by his lethal impersonations

In conversation, he flipped between famous voices, John Gielgud one moment and Harold Wilson the next — a trick he could keep up for hours. His friends lived in fear of being skewered by his lethal impersonations

His talent was so outrageous that the Spitting Image puppet-makers couldn’t resist sending him up, the only time that one of the show’s voice actors was portrayed. They made a latex version of him that imitated everyone and then disappeared up its own backside.

The joke proved darkly prophetic. John Sessions, tipped for international stardom and a sack of Oscars, all but disappeared. While contemporaries went on to colossal success, Sessions — who died from heart failure at his London flat on Monday, aged 67 — ended his career doing bit parts and voiceovers.

Partly, he was a victim of his own ostentatious brilliance. ‘For an actor, really, you’re too clever,’ scolded Clive Anderson, the compere of Whose Line, during one interview.

But the real cause of his implosion went much deeper. Depressed and tormented by guilt over his sexuality, and unable ever to admit to his parents that he was gay, Sessions suffered catastrophic stage fright that kept him out of the theatre he loved for nearly 20 years.

He was born John Gibb Marshall, in January 1953, to Scottish parents in Ayrshire. When he and his twin sister Maggie were three, they moved to Bedfordshire, where his domineering father worked as a gas engineer.

John Sessions, tipped for international stardom and a sack of Oscars, all but disappeared. While contemporaries went on to colossal success, Sessions — who died from heart failure at his London flat on Monday, aged 67 — ended his career doing bit parts and voiceovers

John Sessions, tipped for international stardom and a sack of Oscars, all but disappeared. While contemporaries went on to colossal success, Sessions — who died from heart failure at his London flat on Monday, aged 67 — ended his career doing bit parts and voiceovers

His mother Esme was ‘a much more tender creature’ from whom he inherited a love of reading. At school he was bookish, while Maggie was fiery.

‘She was quite a tomboy and fought all my battles for me,’ he said. ‘The teachers thought I was turning into a wee jessie, so they split us up.

‘I played by myself, and lived in a fantasy world. I didn’t have friends till I was eight or nine. The headmistress of my primary school told my mother that she thought I was backward and needed to go to a special school. My mother said, “He’s not a stupid boy,” and the head said, “He gives that impression.” ’

Being funny became his defence. He had to make the bullies laugh, he said, or they would give him a kicking.

The twins were separated permanently when the rebellious Maggie, pregnant at 17, left for Canada. John adored and missed her all his life, and spoke to her on the phone every week.

With the family fractured, John was left lonely and confused. One night, aged 18, he got drunk in a pub and staggered home to tell his mother he was gay. ‘I let it all hang out, but I was so panicked by her reaction — horror — that I backtracked.’

One night, aged 18, he got drunk in a pub and staggered home to tell his mother he was gay. ‘I let it all hang out, but I was so panicked by her reaction — horror — that I backtracked’

One night, aged 18, he got drunk in a pub and staggered home to tell his mother he was gay. ‘I let it all hang out, but I was so panicked by her reaction — horror — that I backtracked’

They never spoke of it again. There was no question of discussing it with his father, also called John, who frightened him with his short temper and mood swings — full of jokes one minute, bitter and angry the next.

After doing a masters in English literature at Bangor University, Sessions abandoned his PhD to study acting at Rada, but could never decide whether he wanted to be a comedian or a serious performer. He tried to combine both, with the result that he never felt a success at either.

The world didn’t see his self-doubt. At the height of Spitting Image,

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