The founder of Hampstead Theatre James Roose-Evans, has died peacefully at the age of 94.

The actor, director, author and ordained Anglican priest was born in London in 1927 to parents Jack and Primrose who later settled in Golders Green. After a stint of military service, and an English degree at St Benet's Oxford, he started out as an actor.

It was Carry On comic Kenneth Williams who first encouraged him to direct, and in 1954 he became artistic director of Norwich's Maddermarket Theatre - both directing and playing the lead in Macbeth.

In the mid 1950s he taught at the Juilliard school in New York, returning to London, to teach and direct at RADA where students included Mike Leigh, John Hurt and Sarah Miles.

In March 1959, while living in Perrin's Court, Hampstead, he announded his intention to found "a repertory for Hampstead" on the front page of the Ham&High.Ham & High: James Roose-Evans in The Three Horseshoes Pub in Hampstead 1959James Roose-Evans in The Three Horseshoes Pub in Hampstead 1959 (Image: Helen Craig)

He told the paper he wanted "a professional rep company to present community theatre and attract a loyal audience of enthusiasts," and promised to pay his actors; "though not very much as we shall not have much."

"The idea is not to make money but to present imaginative theatre, new plays, unusual readings and talks."

The 31-year-old roped in high profile patrons including Dame Peggy Ashcroft, persuaded the vicar to rent out the Moreland Hall in Holly Bush Vale for performances, and held rehearsals above the Three Horseshoes (now The Horseshoe) in Hampstead High Street.

He set up a script department and box office at nearby High Hill Bookshop, and raised money by rattling a tin outside The Everyman and signing up 250 members at a "guinea a head".

The first production of Saunders Lewis' The King's Daughter starring Sian Phillips opened on September 24, 1959 followed by plays by Ann Jellicoe and Ionesco. In January 1960, he directed an acclaimed Harold Pinter double bill of The Room and The Dumb Waiter which transferred to The Royal Court and as he once explained "really put us on the map."

When the vicar wanted his Scout hall back, Roose-Evans got a grant and a patch of land from Camden Council, and in 1962 opened a 174-seat prefabricated building in Swiss Cottage. That year he directed a revival of Noel Coward's Private Lives, which was attended by the playwright himself and transferred to the West End. There were also successes with the 1967 premiere of Tennessee Williams' The Two Character Play, and Laurie Lee's Cider With Rosie.Ham & High: Ewan McGregor in a production of Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against The Eunuchs at Hampstead TheatreEwan McGregor in a production of Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against The Eunuchs at Hampstead Theatre (Image: PA)

After moving on from Hampstead in 1969 he worked with Maureen Lipman on one woman show Re:Joice!, adapted Helene Hanff's book 84 Charing Cross Road for the stage, and directed John Gielgud's last stage appearance in Hugh Whitemore's The Best of Friends.

The temporary prefab lasted 40 years, staging work such as Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, and boosting the early careers of Jude Law, Alan Rickman and others. A purpose built theatre opened in Eton Avenue in 2003.

Roose-Evans met the actor Hywel Jones in 1958 and they remained devoted partners until his death in 2013. They were known as warm hosts at their flat in Belsize Park Gardens, Kenneth Williams was a regular alongside actors, authors and even Ham&High journalists. Together they set up The Bleddfa Centre for The Creative Spirit in 1974 a haven for creativity and spirituality hosting writing workshops and art exhibitions and poetry readings.

Fondly remembered for his kindness, humour and willingness to mentor others, Roose-Evans was ordained in 1981 and wrote numerous books from memoirs and diaries to children's stories and books on meditation and theatre.Ham & High: Hampstead Theatre opened in Eton Avenue in 2003 after moving from a tiny Portakabin in Swiss CottageHampstead Theatre opened in Eton Avenue in 2003 after moving from a tiny Portakabin in Swiss Cottage (Image: Courtesy of Hampstead Theatre)

"Everybody associated with Hampstead Theatre will be saddened by the death of our first Artistic Director James Roose-Evans," said a Hampstead Theatre spokesperson.

"James founded Hampstead in 1959, and over 12 years in charge directed a huge range of work whilst ensuring its future by moving it to its first Swiss Cottage home and securing Arts Council funding. Over the years his counsel remained invaluable and the theatre stands as monument to his wisdom, his art, and his life."