Born Belfast 4th April 1948
Unobtrusive general purpose actor and former musician, who began his professional career in the late fifties, when together with his twin sister Elaine, they worked the church and concert halls in Northern Ireland as a close harmony singing act, billed obviously as Elaine and Derek. They moved to London in1964, still in their mid teens and had moderate success within the confines of their own soft pop world. In 1965 they appeared in director Robert Hartford- Davis’ musical sci-fi film ‘Gonks Go Beat’, a decidedly infantile piece of swinging sixties excess, which did nothing to promote the careers of it’s bewildered cast.
With a singing style more Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson than Ike and Tina Turner, they inevitably found life impracticable in the beat boom era of the early to late sixties and after the release of ‘Gonks Go Beat’, the partnership was amicably dissolved. Derek , now almost eighteen and influenced by his fleeting brush with the acting profession, joined a repertory company and over the next ten years worked in theatres in such diverse places as Ludlow, Chester, Newcastle and Perth. In 1976 he was offered a small role as factory worker Billy, in the National Theatre’s production of Howard Brenton’s candid statement of workplace revolution, ‘Weapons of Happiness’, which was the first ever play presented on the Lyttleton stage.
That same year he made his television debut as Dave Marshall, in the police drama series ‘Softly Softly’ and in 1977 became a second tier player with the National, appearing in plays such as ‘The Passion’, ‘Lavender Blue’ and Sephen Poliakoff’s ‘Strawberry Fields’. He was also fortunate at this time to secure the role of songwriter Harry Moon in the second season of the hit series ‘Rock Follies of 77,’ in a sparkling cast which included Julie Covington, Charlotte Cornwell and Bob Hoskins. In 1978, his third year at the National, he enjoyed a modest elevation in the credit lists, most notably in Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’ directed by Peter Hall, in a cast which featured Ralph Richardson, Albert Finney and Dorothy Tutin. In John Schlesinger’s 1979 film ‘Yanks’, his first feature film, he played Ken, the on- leave WW2 soldier, returning to his small town Yorkshire home and childhood sweetheart Jean, only to find impending heartbreak and stiff competition in the guise of GI Richard Gere.
1980 proved a better year in terms of screen work and included good parts in two films, ‘Breaking Glass’, starring one time punk princess Hazel OConnor and the seminal British gangster thriller ‘The Long Good Friday’, in which he co-starred as Jeff, right hand man of London gangland boss Bob Hoskins. He also landed a regular television role as DS Jimmy Fenton in the crime series ‘The Gentle Touch’ 1980/84 and in one of his last performances at the National Theatre, was in the cast of director John Burgess’ production of John Arden’s ‘Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance’ at the Cottesloe in 1981. He was a convincing IRA gunman in the 1982, two part thriller ‘Harry’s Game’, comfortably letting loose with his native Belfast accent, a role he played once more, this time as a maverick IRA kidnapper in the mini-series ‘The Price’ 1985. Back on stage he used his singing skills to great effect in the leading role of Peter Cox’s Musical drama ‘The Garden of England’ a powerful, pragmatic depiction of the 1984 miners strike, presented at the Shaw Theatre, London in the autumn of that momentous year. In 1986, following a co-starring role in the mini-series ‘Fighting Back’, he auditioned for the part of charge nurse Charlie Fairhead in the new BBC hospital soap ‘Casualty’, thirty years later he remains the sole surviving member of the original cast. For twelve of those years he worked on no other projects, until 1998, when he was offered the role of hard nosed Belfast detective Herbie Ferguson, in Eoin McNamee’s dark and violent ‘Resurrection Man’.
Derek Thompson’s decision to enter the comfort zone of contract soap in 1986, was one of work security, obviously dictated by a general assessment of role availabilty.
Other Theatre, Film and TV credits:
All NT Cottesloe Theatre, London
– The Hunchback of Notre Dame(1977)
– Has ‘ Washington’ Legs? (1978)
– Dispatches (1979)
– The Mysteries (1985)
– Paternity (1981)
– Wild Geese II (1985)
– Me! I’m Afraid of Virgina Woolf (1978)
Born Belfast 1959
Composed and discerning former actor, turned novelist, a graduate of Trinity College Dublin in the late seventies, where she was an enthusiastic member of the drama society and who made an early entrance as a professional actor, when making an ephemeral television debut in writer Ron Hutchinson’s dark comedy ‘The Last Window Cleaner’ 1979, which also featured a young and callow Liam Neeson. She did not have long to wait for her first Belfast stage appearance, taking a key role as hospital social worker Gillian Boyle, in Brian Clark’s compelling drama, ‘Whose Life is it Anyway?’ and she followed this in quick time playing convent schoolgirl Mary Gallagher, in Mary O’Malley’s ‘Once a Catholic’, both Lyric Theatre productions in 1979.
A move to Dublin in 1980 yielded instant dividends, with her first big screen appearance as Susan , in writer/director Kieran Hickey’s independent film drama ,’Criminal Conversation’ and a small television role in an episode of the factual prison drama series ‘Escape’. On stage in 1981 she played dual roles in Liam Lynch’s ‘Krieg’ at the Project Arts, Dublin, in a cast including Ciaran Hinds and future husband Malcolm Douglas and also toured with the Irish Theatre Company in Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’, with Portadown born Denys Hawthorne. She was back in Belfast in 1982, playing Cecily Cardew in the Lyric’s production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and on her return to Dublin was offered a role in RTE’s rural drama series ‘Bracken’, as the desirous love interest of male lead Gabriel Byrne, where she stayed until the show ended in 1983.
Her next acting assignment was nothing more than a small part in another television series, ‘The Irish RM’ in 1984 and perhaps driven by frustration from a lack of suitable parts, she, together with a group of like minded Dublin based actors, co-founded Smock Alley Productions whose first play, William Congreve’s light farce, ‘Love for Love’, toured for a brief period locally in 1985 before embarking on what seemed to be a high risk venture, which involved a short run in a minor New Jersey theatre. Later that year in the company’s second offering, she played Lysilla, in the modern re-working of an Aristophanes Greek comedy, entitled ‘Frocks’, presented at the Project Arts, Dublin and then followed yet another spell of redundancy, this time much longer, until her impressive return as Esther Waters, in the John Player Theatre production of Mary Elizabeth Burke Kennedy’s, ‘The Trial Of Esther Waters’. Her performance deservedly won her a Dublin Theatre Festival award for 1989 and probably helped in securing her return to the Wicklow mountains farming community, where she joined the cast of RTE’s ‘Glenroe’, then into it’s sixth year. Her character, femme fatale Terry Killeen, was a more sophisticted version of the role she had played in ‘Bracken’ six years earlier and gave her an unbroken nine years of steady work which would ultimately define her acting career.
In 1997 Kate Thompson brought her often insecure life as an actor to a close and heralded a new beginning as a writer of romantic novels, she has been fortunate to have tasted success in two artistic spheres, one somewhat relative, the other decidedly so.
Other Theatre, Film and TV credits:
– Oedipus (1987) Druid Theatre, Galway
– The Little Hut(1988) Penny Royal Theatre, Bosham
– Attracta (1983)
Born Belfast 6th October 1948
Lugubrious and self possessed character actor, who for over thirty years has consolidated the reputation of one of Northern Ireland’s most artistically productive families. Her professional career began at the Arts Theatre Belfast as an assistant stage director during the Sam Cree farce period and made her stage debut there in Roger Kelly’s rural Irish comedy, ‘The Boys From U.S.A.’ in 1967.
After a three year local theatre apprenticeship, she left for England and in 1970 made her first television appearance as a housekeeper in an episode of the spy thriller series ‘Callan’. A year later she was cast in a bit part as a nun, in writer Jeremy Sandford’s classic television play, ‘Edna the Inebriate Woman’, which featured a superlative central performance from sometime comic actor Patricia Hayes.
During 1972 in her highest profile role to date, she played Christine Peters in a handful of episodes of ‘Coronation Street’ and in the process gave a boost to her otherwise anonymous television persona.
The same year she continued her stage development with solid performances in two of her three Royal Court appearances; Wilson John Haire’s Belfast set, ‘Within Two Shadows’ and Tom McIntyre’s ‘Eye- Winker, Tom- Tinker’. She did however experience a taste of criticism in David Storey’s more prestigious play ‘Cromwell’, which even Albert Finney in the title role could not rescue.
Screen work in the mid to late seventies was not memorable and included a trifling film debut as an airport shop assistant, in Joseph Losey’s 1975 comedy drama, ‘The Romantic Englishwoman’. In 1976 she married musician Gordon Sumner, aka Sting, whom she met during the run of the Christmas musical ‘Rock Nativity’ at the University Theatre, Newcastle in 1974.
On television in the late seventies she played resolute WDC Linda Doran in the police drama series ‘Strangers’ 1978/79 and was a veritable beacon of light as WW1 nurse Sister Hope Milroy, in the autobiographical mini-series ‘Testament of Youth’ 1979, based on the experiences of writer Vera Brittain.
She suffered another critical mauling in 1980, when cast as Lady Macbeth in Peter O’Toole’s indulgent Old Vic production of ‘Macbeth’, fortunately much of the invective was focused on O’Toole’s own performance and direction. In 1980 she appeared in her second Stewart Parker television play for BBC NI, following ‘Catchpenny Twist’ in 1977, taking one of the leading roles as the peppery Ruby, in ‘Iris in the Traffic, Ruby in the Rain’ By 1984 she had recovered sufficiently from her last Shakespearean foray, to accept the role of Portia, in the RST production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’, this time emerging with more favourable reviews.
A small part in the film adaptation of Bernard Maclaverty’s ‘Lamb’ in 1986 was followed by her peremptory Royal Court performance the same year, as Dr Emma Brookner, opposite Martin Sheen in Larry Kramer’s brilliant aids expose, ‘The Normal Heart’.
At the end of the decade she was still seeking a screen breakthrough but found the routine had changed little, saved only by guest roles in the mini-series ‘A Perfect Spy’ 1987 and ‘Inspector Morse’ 1988.
Two roles in 1990 underscored her natural ability to portray with exactitude, premature Irish matrons of varying dispositions, she was warm and wise Kate Mundy in the Abbey Theatre premiere of Brian Friel’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ and a grieving but resolute widow in Jim Sheridan’s big screen melodrama ‘The Field’.
Unfortunately this bright start to the nineties proved delusive and it was back to the now familiar pattern of theatre and television, which included only a few highlights. Guest roles in ‘Perfect Scoundrels’ 1991, ‘Cracker’ 1993 and a strong performance as a punctillious matron in writer/director Joe Comerford’s IRA themed drama ‘ High Boot Benny’ 1994, were the best she could muster.
In 1997 she returned to the Abbey for another Friel play, ‘Give Me Your Answer Do’ and on the National’s Cottesloe stage appeared as Maeve, warrior queen of Ireland, in Frank McGuinness’ 16th century curiosity ‘Mutabilitie’. Her screen projects from 2000 have been decidedly mundane and restricted to television drama series such as ‘Midsomer Murders’ and ‘Spooks’ both 2004 and as supermarket owner Kitty Porter, in the political comedy, ‘The Amazing Mrs Pritchard’ 2006.
Theatre once again proved the great redeemer, with leading roles in Noel Coward’s one time risqué, ‘Semi Monde’, at the Lyric Hammersmith 2001 and Owen McCafferty’s Belfast snapshot ‘Scenes From the Big Picture’, at the Cottesloe in 2003. At the Barbican, London in 2004, she was perfect as a manifestly unemotional Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, in Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa’s very individual but largely unsung interpretation of ‘Hamlet’, full of scenic emphasis and short of human input. A regular, if low-key role as Karen Magwilde in the one season drama series ‘Bonekickers’ 2008, was followed by a brief, big screen cameo as Rose, in Stephen Frears Paris set period drama, ‘Cheri’ 2009, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as ageing courtesan Lea de Lonval.
From 2010 she has appeared exclusively on television taking roles in a variety of genres. She was Anne Cunningham, mother of forensic pathologist Harry, in two episodes of ‘Silent Witness’ in 2010, Lady Beauchamp in the 15th century set mini-series ‘The White Queen’, 2013 and most memorably as the grieving Maureen Sullivan, in five episodes of Chris Lang’s compelling crime drama, ‘Unforgotten’ in 2015.
Frances Tomelty has for the most part in a long career, established herself, particularly in theatre, as a player of singular consistency, but whose screen appraisal is hampered by one too many roles of arguable worth.
Other Theatre, Film and TV credits:
– She Stoops to Conquer (1974) Palace Theatre, Watford
– The Voysey Inheritance (1975) Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
– The Last of the Red Hot Lovers(1979) Royal Exchange, Manchester
– Peter Pan(1983) RSC, Barbican, London
– The Merchant of Venice (1984) RSC, Stratford
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1987) RSC, Barbican, London
– The Christmas Clock(1988) RSC, Barbican, London
– Katherine Howard(1998) Chichester Festival Theatre
– Picasso’s Women(2002) Tour
– The School for Scandal(2006) Salisbury Playhouse
– Bellman and True (1987)
– Monk Dawson (1998)
– Testament Of Youth (1979)
– Nobodys Children (1994)
– Vanity Fair (1998)
– Free Agents(2007)
– The Royal(2009)
– Holby City(2012)
Born Portaferry 5th March 1911
Died Belfast 7th June 1995
Prolific and astute actor/director/writer, champion of the Ulster vernacular, through his Group Theatre plays and ‘ The McCooeys ‘ radio series from the early forties until the mid fifties. In 1938, his debut piece ‘ Barnum Was Right ‘, originally entitled ‘ The Beauty Competition’, was broadcast by BBC Northern Ireland and presented a year later by his recently formed company, the Northern Ireland, Irish Players at the Empire Theatre, Belfast. Following the fusion of the Ulster Theatre, the Jewish Institute Dramatic Society and his own Irish Players into the Group Players during the winter of 1939/40, Tomelty added yet another string to his ever expanding bow, taking the position of General Manager of the Group Theatre in 1942. His second play ‘ Idolatry at Innishargie ‘, premiered there that year with local stalwarts Min Milligan, Robert Dempster and R.H. McCandless in the cast. During the war years he appeared in many productions, most notably his own retitled and now three act, ‘Right Again Barnum’ 1943 and the polemic and overtly political ‘The End House’, considered too much of a risk for a Belfast airing , it was subsequently presented at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in 1944.
The first of his numerous film appearances was in Carol Reed’s classic ‘Odd Man Out’ 1947, in which he played Gin Jimmy, a Belfast horse- drawn cab driver, inadvertently caught up in the man-hunt for fatally wounded IRA man James Mason. In September of 1948, his celebrated play ‘All Souls’ Night’ opened at the Group, with the peerless Elizabeth Begley in her obligatory matriarchal central role as Katrine Quinn and J.G.Devlin in splendid form as the perplexed but conciliatory husband, John. At the Group in 1949, arguably his watershed year, he gave a moving performance as Lennie, opposite James Young as George, in John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ and in May of the same year, his acclaimed radio show ‘The McCooey’s’ was first broadcast, with several Group Theatre actors taking leading roles. With ‘The McCooeys’ now required listening, Joe Tomelty was, at the dawn of the fifties, rightly regarded as one of the leading lights in Irish popular culture. His second film appearance, a full five years after his ‘Odd Man Out’ debut, was not as memorable, with an uncredited part in the John Paddy Carstairs comedy ‘Treasure Hunt’ 1952, but from that point his big screen career built up a head of steam and in a fevered period of two years he worked on a phenomenal twelve pictures.
Noteworthy performances from this period included sizable roles in David Lean’s aviation drama ‘The Sound Barrier’, Terry Gilbert’s jaunty ‘You’re Only Young Twice’ both 1952, the neglected Ealing comedy ‘Meet Mr Lucifer’ 1953 and the understated Lean masterwork ‘Hobson’s Choice’ 1954, starring Charles Laughton and John Mills. In November 1953, in the midst of his film workload, he managed to squeeze in a television appearance, his first, guesting in an episode of the then prolific British made series, ‘Douglas Fairbanks Junior Presents’. He was still very much active on the Belfast stage and weeks after his penultimate play ‘Is the Priest at Home?’ opened at the Group in May 1954, he left for England and a period of location shooting on George Cukor’s ‘Bhowani Junction’ at the MGM studios in Hertfordshire. Whilst there he was involved in an on-set car accident, resulting in major injuries which subsequently impacted on the development of his career.
Films made before this incident but released afterwards included ‘John and Julie’, ‘Simba’, ‘Bedevilled’ and American director Mark Robson’s WW2 Berlin set crime drama ‘A Prize of Gold’ starring Richard Widmark. In 1956, after seven glorious years, ‘The McCooeys’, featuring his own character Bobby Greer, bade farewell to the airwaves. The series became Tomelty’s lasting legacy, addictive indigenous humour painstakingly packaged for an enraptured audience in the grip of post-war austerity. Two years on from his horrific crash and with his future now less certain, he was finding it increasingly difficult to meet the physical demands of film making, managing just two big screen roles in 1956, he was a Detective Inspector in Ken Hughes’ sci-fi drama ‘Timeslip’ and played the inn-keeper in John Huston’s epic ‘Moby Dick’.
Indeed he made only four further films during the remainder of the fifties, the best of which was his cameo as ship’s doctor William O’Loughlin, in director Roy Ward Baker’s outstanding ‘A Night to Remember’ 1958. A return to theatre in 1960 brought him together with his old Group colleagues, now conveniently called The Bridge Players. Led by James Ellis, they took to the stage at the Empire for the premiere of Sam Thompson’s Belfast shipyard expose ‘Over The Bridge’. The play had been clumsily pulled from the Group’s 1959 schedule by an over active board of governors and created an immovable wedge between the outraged actors and an unsympathetic politically motivated administration. Tomelty’s character, doughty, fair minded, Protestant trade unionist Davy Mitchell, was exquisitively observed and supported by a cast safely atop the moral highground, the production experienced the most successful run in the history of Ulster theatre.
He made a few more films in the early sixties before his premature screen retirement in 1964, including ‘Lancelot and Guinevere’ 1963, directed by and starring former Hollywood leading man Cornel Wilde, in which he played ageing knight Sir Kay, looking ill at ease in the court of King Arthur. The same year he took a central role in the television adaptation of Stewart Love’s ‘The Big Donkey’, starring rising young English actor Tom Bell and in his final film appearance was beknighted again, as Sir Giles, in director Rupert Hartford Davis’ 18th century horror mystery ‘The Black Torment’, which proved an unfortunate vehicle with which to end his big screen career. He did however keep his flame burning in local theatre, appearing at obscure North Belfast venues such as the Circle and the Grove, formerly the Troxy cinema, where in 1964, in the company of long time friends Harold Goldblatt and JG Devlin he reprised his role in the stage version of ‘The Big Donkey’, bringing considerable weight, style and no shortage of authenticity to Love’s often overlooked play.
Joseph Tomelty was one of the major players in Ulster theatre from the late thirties, later establishing himself as a gifted and inexhaustible radio comedy writer and screen actor. At the height of his powers and through no fault of his own, he experienced a career changing episode that was to precipitate an early and very much reluctant retirement.
Other Theatre, Film and TV credits
– Boyd’s Shop (1940) Group Theatre, Belfast
– Borderwine (1946) Group Theatre, Belfast
– The House That Jack Built (1948) Group Theatre, Belfast
– The Passing Day(1951) Ambassadors Theatre, London
– The Troublemakers(1952) Strand Theatre, London
– The Oracle (1953)
– Front Page Story (1954)
– A Kid for Two Farthings(1955)
– Hell Is A City (1960)
– Colonel March of Scotland Yard (1955)
– The Cheaters (1962)
Born Larne 27th July 1925
Died London 24th July 2009
Sedulous and mercurial character player, whose extraordinary long career stretched across seven decades, with his bulging CV covering film, theatre and television in equal measure.
He first brought his controlled edginess to the stage, playing Hugh O’Caghan in George Shiels’ romantic comedy ‘Professor Tim’ at the Guildhall Derry in 1946 and left for England shortly afterwards. After a brief unproductive period in small Greater London theatres, he worked for a couple of years in repertory, before making his screen debut as local reporter John Hegarty, in producer Ian Atkin’s live studio- bound, 1949 BBC play ‘Is Life Worth Living’, the alternative title of Lennox Robinson’s 1930’s farce, ‘Drama at Inish’. A year later in his first West End production, he played IRA man Matt Sullivan in Roger MacDougall’s naively constructed, ‘The Gentle Gunman’, performed at the Arts Theatre Club in Soho.
In October 1950 he was at the Saville Theatre, London in a revival of Clifford Odets’ Bronx set, social drama, ‘Awake and Sing’, starring Richard Attenborough and in 1951, in the first of his countless film appearances, he took a very minor role as Jim Cranshaw, in director John Gillings’ crime feature, ‘The Quiet Woman’.
In the early years of the fifties and still relatively inexperienced, he was appearing in top flight London productions such as Tennessee Williams’ ‘Summer and Smoke’, Ralph W Peterson’s ‘The Square Ring’, both at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1952 and reprising his television role in Lennox Robinson’s ‘Drama at Inish’ at the Arts Theatre Club in 1953. On screen he was in a number of films which were basically B features, an exception was Ralph Thomas’ 1955 war at sea drama ‘Above Us the Waves’, starring stiff upper lip veterans John Mills and John Gregson. That year also saw his introduction to television, guesting inevitably as Irishman Brian O’Casey in an episode of ‘Sherlock Holmes’, an American produced series filmed in France, with Leslie Howard’s son Ronald in the title role.
Now firmly established on the London stage, he took a key role in writer Sylvia Leigh’s ‘Dark Halo’ at the Arts Theatre in 1959 and the same year played Private Dooley in the final series of the Sid Colin/ Marty Feldman comedy ‘The Army Game’.
An invitation by James Ellis’ hastily formed Bridge Productions brought him back to Belfast and the Empire stage, for the premiere of Sam Thompson’s masterly play ‘Over the Bridge’, where in January 1960 in the company of now ex Group Players, he gave a good account of himself in a central role as politically ambivalent shipyard shop steward, Warren Baxter.
Later that year he appeared in JP Donleavy’s ‘Fairytales of New York’, first at the Abbey in Dublin and then in 1961 in the Comedy Theatre, London.
In 1962 he took the lead role of Tomas Piper in the second play of William Saroyan’s double bill ‘Talking to You’ and ‘Across the Board On Tomorrow Morning ‘ presented at the Duke Of Yorks, with his own performance drawing unanimous critical acclaim.
Screen appearances during the sixties were for the most part restricted to television and involved almost all the crime drama series the decade could muster, including, ‘Z Cars’ and ‘The Saint’, 1962, ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ 1964, ‘Orlando’ and ‘Softly Softly’ 1967, ‘Callan’ and ‘The Avengers’ 1969.
On the big screen he had minor roles in John Guillerman’s ‘The Blue Max’ 1966 and the positively sixties sounding romantic comedies, ’30 Is a Dangerous Age Cynthia’, and ‘Prudence and The Pill’, both 1968.
He made his American stage debut, playing multiple roles opposite Shelly Winters in Saul Bellow’s triple layered, ‘Under the Weather’, which had a short run at the Cort Theatre on Broadway in 1966 and in 1968 at the Royal Court, was prominent in the cast of Michael Rosen’s first play, the comic drama ‘Backbone’.
At the Abbey in Dublin in 1969 he was a definitive Daniel Boyce in George Shiels’ drama ‘Macooks Corner’, directed by Tyrone Guthrie and a cast including JG Devlin, Harold Goldblatt and Margaret D’arcy.
He spent more time in theatre in the seventies and in his first season with the RSC, appeared as Mackenzie in Philip Magdalaney’s ‘Section Nine’ at The Place in 1973 and at the Aldwych in 1975, was cast as Lenin in Tom Stoppard’s intellectual farce ‘Travesties’, which subsequently transferred to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York.
In 1976 at the Aldwych, he was again attracting attention as con- man Ed Mosher, in the RSC production of Eugene ONeill’s ‘The Iceman Cometh’ and continued his sterling work with the company at the 1977 Malvern Festival, in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Man and Superman’.
Following a distinctly quiet period on screen from the mid- seventies, he found his stage reputation at least still carried some weight and in 1979 made his first ever appearance with the National as Willy Loman’s compassionate neighbour Charley, in Arthur Miller’s seminal work ‘Death of a Salesman’.
Even these considerable theatre commitments did not prevent him from maintaining his usual quota of screen work, which despite a dearth of primary roles did include a couple of scene stealing characters. He was a wonderfully caricatured Hairy OHara in the childrens comedy series ‘Tottering Towers’ 1971/72 and an unyielding Home Rule protestant, Sash Walker, in Dominic Behan’s 1972 Play For Today,’ Carson Country’.
During the eighties he produced many first-rate performances on television, most notably as O’Connor in the mini-series ‘The Manions of America’ 1981 and as Catherine Brennan’s iniquitous uncle in writer/director Tony Bicat’s ‘Lost Belongings’ 1987. His big screen projects were few, with ‘Lassiter’ 1984 and the Liam Neeson vehicle ‘Lamb’ 1986 the only work on offer.
He registered a busy year with the National in 1982, with ‘ Guys and Dolls ‘ and ‘ Schweyk in the Second World War ‘ at the Olivier and ‘ The Beggars Opera ‘ at the Cottesloe. At the Comedy Theatre, London in 1983 he played Mr Mushnik, the not too prosperous florist in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ and in another National Theatre appearance, this time at the Lyttleton in 1986, he was superb as Jack Jerome in Neil Simon’s ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’.
In one of his irregular professional visits to Belfast in 1991, he was fortunate to play another made to measure role, this time as Dr Mulcahy in Ron Hutchinson’s crime drama ‘Pygmies in the Ruins’ at the Lyric and was back in the West End in 1995 with ‘Break of Day’ at the Haymarket and ‘Prayers of Sherkin’ at the Old Vic, 1997.
Big screen opportunities at this time were few, and limited to brief cameos in films such as ‘Moll Flanders’ 1996 and writer Jim Keeble’s Irish produced comedy, ‘The Most Fertile Man in Ireland’ 1999, which although uninspiring, were gratefully accepted. Well into his seventies, he was still pursuing stage roles with all his usual zest and early in 2003 appeared on the Cottesloe stage in the National’s production of Owen McCafferty’s fast moving, Belfast set, ‘Scenes From the Big Picture’.
At the National later that same year, this time at the Olivier, he took a small part in David Mamet’s dark drama, ‘Edmond’, which further endorsed the status of wunderkind Kenneth Branagh, who had returned to stage acting the year before, after an absence of thirteen years.
His two film appearances in 2003 were peripheral to say the least and only his elderly priest in writer/director John Deery’s unsparing church expose,’ Conspiracy of Silence’ was worth the effort.
In 2006 aged eighty one, he gave a wonderfully instinctive performance as the shambling manservant Holmes opposite Ian Richardson, in Pauline Macaulay’s psychological thriller ‘The Creeper’, at the Playhouse London. Harry Towb, on screen, rarely ventured beyond his range, but on stage his credibility remained intact for the greater part of an extensive and rounded career.
Other Theatre, Film and TV credits:
– The Mortimer Touch (1952) Duke of Yorks Theatre, London
– The Shadow of a Gunman(1956) New Lindsey Theatre, London
– Sing a Rude Song (1970) Greenwich Theatre, London
– Born Yesterday(1971) Bristol Hippodrome
– Sherlock Holmes(1974) RSC tour
– Bar Mitzvah Boy (1978) Her Majesty’s Theatre, London
– The House of Blue Leaves(1988) Lilian Baylis Theatre, London
– Trelawney of the Wells(1993) NT Olivier Theatre, London
– Macbeth(1993) NT Olivier Theatre, London
– Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead(1995) NT Olivier Theatre, London
– Of Mice and Men(1996) NT Lyttleton Theatre, London
– Our Lady of Sligo (1998) Gate Theatre, Dublin
– Kiss Me Like You Mean It(2001) Soho Theatre, London
– A Prize of Gold (1955)
– All Night Long (1961)
– Barry Lyndon (1975)
– The Big Man Coughed and Died(1966)
– Emerdale Farm (1972)
– Pictures (1981)
– Brighton Belles (1993)
Austin Trevor (Schilsky)
Born Belfast 7th October 1897
Died Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk 22nd January 1978
August player of authoritative figures, somewhat minatorial in his portrayals but always hugely effective. Swiss educated, he was on stage as a teenager in America in 1915, returning to England in 1916, where brimful of confidence he was given an opportunity to test his ability in a short summer season with the RSC at the Memorial Theatre, Stratford. Working with tried and trusted thespians he appeared in standards such as ‘ Hamlet ‘, ‘ Macbeth ‘ and ‘ Henry VIII. After service in WW1 he resumed his stage apprenticeship with a hectic schedule of Shakespearean classics at the Old Vic during 1920/21, which included ‘The Winter’s Tale’ 1920,’ Henry V ‘, ‘ The Comedy of Errors’, ‘King Lear’, ‘ Twelfth Night ‘ and ‘The Merchant of Venice’ all 1921. In the early twenties he took what could be considered as more populist stage work with median roles in ‘ Lilies of the Field ‘ 1922 and ‘ The Way Things Happen ‘ 1923, both at the Ambassadors Theatre, London. Choice roles in two 1925 West End plays brought him at least within touching distance of a breakthrough, he played Alec d’Urberville in ‘ Tess’ at the Garrick and was a perfect Maurice Duclos in Noel Coward’s juicy comedy ‘Fallen Angels’ at the Globe.
Two Broadway appearances in 1927/28 saw him first at the Booth Theatre in John Galsworthy’s ‘Escape’ 1927 and the Majestic Theatre in the Ashley Dukes adaptation, ‘The Patriot’ in 1928. His 1930 film debut as a French police inspector called Hanaud, in director Leslie S. Hiscott’s crime drama ‘At The Villa Rosa’, was one of two detective roles he played that year. This provided him with at least some experience of crime solving before registering his own little piece of film history, by becoming the first screen Hercule Poirot, in another Hiscott effort, ‘Alibi’, based on Agatha Christie’s dramatised play ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’. He went on to complete two further films as the dapper Belgian sleuth, in ‘Black Coffee’ 1931 and ‘Lord Edgeware Dies’ 1934. During a very productive spell in the mid to late thirties, which precluded any possibility of stage work, he appeared in over twenty films, mostly low value comedies, melodramas and thrillers. There were a few highpoints, such as ‘Mimi’ 1935 starring Gertrude Lawrence and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr and the part of Ralston, headmaster of Brookfield school, in Sam Wood’s monumental weepie, ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ 1939.
In 1938, during BBC television’s experimental period, he made what could be described as his first small screen appearance, playing Raguel in James Bridie’s sci-fi comedy, ‘ Tobias and the Angel ‘ and in 1939 worked on two of the corporation’s Shakespearian adaptations. He was still very much in demand throughout the war years, appearing most notably in Carol Reed’s thriller ‘Night Train to Munich’ 1940 and Alberto Cavalcanti’s musical comedy ‘Champagne Charlie’ 1944. Towards the end of the decade he accepted the role of Professor Palmer, in Powell and Pressburger’s model of simplistic brilliance, ‘The Red Shoes’ 1948, which sixty years on is still revered as one of the great works of British cinema. In the fifties, film offers unexpectedly began to thin out and he found himself slipping further down the credit lists, his name apparently no longer able to sustain an acceptable choice of roles. Only Robert Hamer’s idiosyncratic comedy ‘Father Brown’ 1954 and the sea drama ‘Seven Waves Away’ 1957, which co-starred Stephen Boyd, were worth his time and effort.
His final years as an actor were shamefully threadbare and only a handful of television roles kept his head above the parapet. His last screen apearance was in director David Giles’ 1969 mini-series ‘The First Churchills’ and this unmemorable and unflattering exit brought the curtain down on what was an industrious acting career.
Other Theatre, Film and TV credits :
– Julius Caesar(1920) Her Majesty’s Theatre, London
– Hunter’s Moon(1929) Prince Of Wales Theatre, London
– The Cat and the Fiddle(1931) Palace Theatre, London
– Nymph Errant(1933) Adelphi Theatre, London
– The Winning Post(1934) Adelphi Theatre, London
– O Mistress Mine(1936) St James Theatre, London
– The Last of Mrs Cheyney(1943) Savoy Theatre, London
– The Damascus Blade(1949) Bristol Hippodrome
– Affairs of State(1952) Cambridge Theatre, London
– Anna Karenina(1948)
– Horrors of the Black Museum(1959)
– The Day the Earth Caught Fire(1961)
– Quatermass II(1955)
– Poison Island(1965)
– Foreign Affairs(1966)
Born Belfast 24th November 1922
Died Banstead, Surrey 1st March 2009
Mercurial but ineluctably self-destructive actor/singer/impressionist with a sharp comedic edge, who during the infancy of British television and the expiring world of revue, rubbed shoulders with the highest earners in show business. It was at London’s Finsbury Empire circa 1935, where, billed as the Wacky Warbler, the thirteen year old Turner first unleashed her then rudimentary soprano voice.
Still in her teens she became a fixture in the second tier Music Hall/Revue acts of late thirties London, which included such peripheral venues as the Queen’s Theatre, Poplar and following a routine period in the forties she was given a chance to perform before an impressionable television public, with a guest spot on the ‘Frankie Howerd Show’ in 1953. In 1954, her celebrity although still minor allowed her, choreographically of course, to gatecrash a performance of The Crazy Gang at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London. This clever marketing of a burgeoning talent had the desired effect, with an offer to join Tony Hancock and Jimmy Edwards in the long running ‘Talk of the Town’ at the Adelphi Theatre, London and an invitation to perform in the Royal Variety Show of 1954.
Even into the early sixties her star was still considered bright enough to assume top billing at the Grosvenor House Hotel in 1963, where she experienced at close quarters, the phenomenon of Beatlemania. Evidence of an increasingly wreckless private life involving long bouts of drinking and gambling was now beginning to filter into the public domain, with the inevitable question mark over her professional capabilities. An innate redoubt held her together and she moved into more direct acting roles, making her film debut as Joan in director Bill Brame’s crime drama ‘Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes’ 1974. Screen work however proved more difficult to procure and she could only manage three television appearances from 1974 until 1977, the best of which was her role as Beattie in writer Alan Plater’s comedy drama ‘Short Back and Sides’ 1977.
An undoubted highlight that year was a typically blustering performance at a concert arranged as part of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations, but trouble was soon to rear it’s ugly head.
In 1977 at the Albery Theatre in London’s West End, her erratic alcohol fuelled behaviour brought about her dismissal after only two weeks from the musical ‘Oliver’, despite repeated warnings from the show’s star Roy Hudd, although she had performed seemingly without difficulty during it’s provincial tour. Sidelined from the screen for two years, she re-appeared in the trashy adult sex drama ‘Insatiable’ 1980 and seemingly empowered with a new found discipline, she toured successfully with her own show ‘Joan Turner Unlimited’, the itinerary of which included New York’s Carnegie Hall. This led to a minor role in director James Signorelli’s comedy ‘Easy Money’ 1983, starring Joe Pesci and preceded another bit part in Alan Bleasedale’s acclaimed Liverpool set black comedy ‘No Surrender’ 1985, featuring Ulster actors J.G.Devlin, James Ellis and Mark Mulholland.
She worked on an irregular basis for the remainder of the eighties, taking miniscule parts on television series such as ‘Call Me Mister’ 1986, ‘The Bill’ 1988 and on the big screen, appeared briefly in Michael Caton-Jones’ accurate and sobering account of the John Profumo affair ‘Scandal’ 1989. Her instability was further highlighted during 1991, when she displayed the extreme sides of her personality,with first an excellent literal portrayal of ex-Music Hall artiste Dolly, in Manchester’s Contact Theatre production of Christina Reid’s intense drama ‘The Belle of Belfast City’. Then a few months later she suffered the ignominy of another sacking, this time from the set of the suburban Liverpool soap ‘Brookside’, just four episodes into her contract.
In 1996 she travelled once again to America, ill prepared and financially bereft, in a foolhardy attempt to re-kindle a career that had, due to self infllicted damage, sadly run it’s course.
By 2001 she had reached rock bottom, destitute on the streets of Los Angeles, from where, with help from a Catholic charity and then from family and friends, she was rescued and brought back to England. Her strength of character was such that even the hopelessness of the immediate past and her advanced years could not deter her from a final token pursuit of an elusive spotlight, with a trifling television role in ‘Commander: Virus’ and a momentary sighting in the Cameron Diaz film ‘In Her Shoes’, both 2005.
Joan Turner filled with gusto, the description, larger than life, she was a star performer in all the constituent parts of her considerable talent, but she had a fragility that ultimately overshadowed what was a long and frustratingly unfulfilled career.
Other Theatre, Film and TV credits:
– The Killing of Sister George(1967) (on tour)
– Oliver(1977) (Tour)
– Call Me Madam, London
– In the Shadows (2001)
– All About the Benjamins (2002)
– The Warship(1976)
– The Phoenix and the Carpet (1977)
– Grange Hill (1990)
Born Belfast 1968
Effervescent, rock solid performer, who could have stepped out of forties Hollywood, with no short change in wise cracks and offering a big shoulder to cry on. She trained at the Central School Of Speech And Drama in the late eighties and made her first major stage appearance playing Chorus, in Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Cure at Troy’ at Derry’s Guildhall in 1990. In 1991 she was in two high value London plays, ‘Women of Troy’ at the Gate and ‘Hippolytus’ at the Almeida and made her television debut as a student in the Adam Faith/Zoe Wannamaker romantic series ‘Love Hurts’ in 1992. She worked exclusively in theatre for the next few years, appearing in Cathy Porter’s ‘The Last Ones’ at the Abbey, Dublin, ‘Translations’ at the Donmar Warehouse, both 1993 and ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Tricycle, Kilburn in 1995.
That year also saw her first high profile television role, when she co-starred as forensic pathologist Angela Maloney in the crime drama series ‘McCallum’, starring John Hannah, which ran for three years until 1998. She worked with Hannah again during that time, in her film debut as Gwyneth Paltrow’s best friend Anna in writer/director Peter Howitt’s intelligent romantic comedy/ drama, ‘Sliding Doors’ 1998. She returned to Belfast in 1999 to appear in Charabanc’s production of Marie Jones’ ‘The Hamster Wheel’ at the Arts Theatre but from 2000 her stage work has been non- existent and with a few notable exceptions her screen appearances have been unremarkable. However she did have some success as Kate O’Dowd in the Dublin set television series ‘Anytime Now’ in 2002, which boasted a decidedly top heavy Ulster born cast, with Susan Lynch, Ciaran McMenamin and Patrick O’Kane, all in good form. In ‘Holy Cross’ 2003, a film for television commission, she was Catholic mother Ann McClure, caught in the frenzy of the well publicisd North Belfast primary school protests of 2001.
An example of the quality of work she was being offered was highlighted by the role of Polly Graham, barrister Allan Davies’ partner in the television series ‘The Brief ‘ 2004, a genuine case of talent wastefully applied. Zara Turner has by no means been a shrinking violet, but is at least a couple of high profile film roles short of merited recognition.
Other Theatre, Film and TV credits
– Six Degrees of Separation (1992) Royal Court Theatre, London
– Resurrection Man (1998)
– Touch and Go (1998)
– Where There’s Smoke 2000)
– Where The Heart Is (2006)
– Midnight Man (2008)
– The Body Farm(2011)