He began acting as a way to escape the school bullies and Kenny Doughty tells Phil Penfold why he has never looked back.
Some like to bask in childhood nostalgia, remembering simpler, happy times. Others prefer to forget the past. Actor and director Kenny Doughty is definitely in the latter group. His was a hard and unforgiving childhood, the only blessing was that it gave him a sense of purpose and direction.
Bullied mercilessly at the Barnsley school he went to, his dad had left when he was little more than a toddler. It was the year of the Miners’ Strike and in the Doughty house there was little money to provide for even the rudimentary basics of life.
“Mum had it very tough,” says the 42-year-old quietly. “And because we had grants, and dinner tokens, anything that would help us to survive, many of the other kids thought it was funny to take out their frustrations on me. I was bullied. A lot.
“Going to the playground in breaks became a nightmare. Then I heard that one of the teachers was going to put on a school play. As an escape, I asked if I could join in the rehearsals. And I discovered that I rather liked it – firstly because it got me out of reach of the bullies, and secondly because I enjoyed the creativity. It gave me the freedom I wanted and, if I’m being completely honest with you, I also rather liked the attention.”
School is now a distant memory and, with his mother having left Barnsley, he has had little reason to return and even less desire to confront the place where he was so often unhappy. However, recently he did go back.
“When I had a break from filming up here recently, I drove around Wombwell, and I looked at the street where I lived. It’s called Bond Street, and there was our house. It was a strange feeling. A bit uncomfortable, in a lot of ways. Visiting the past often is. But the place really hadn’t changed that much.”
These days, Kenny is the co-lead, alongside Brenda Blethyn in the crime series Vera, which returns in the New Year. He plays Detective Sergeant Aiden Healy, and he clearly loves the role.
“You cannot go into something like that without a lot of preparation,” he says. “The writing is consistently good, really first rate stuff, but I always feel that I have to give it something more. So – as with all the characters I play – I gave him a back story, a past life that gave him some substance.
“It may never ever be mentioned on screen and the audience may not be aware of it, but it means something to me.”
Kenny also did some early research following a team from Greater Manchester Police.
“One of the first things you realise is that a squad like that don’t just follow one crime, as we do in Vera. In a real force, they may be following several crimes at once – some from the past, and ongoing, and some happening in the right now. They have a sort of mantra, and it’s called the ABC. That stands for ‘assume nothing, believe no-one, and check everything’. “
Getting involved with his school plays was just the start of Kenny’s career, one which has taken him all over the world for films, and all over the country with plays and musicals like The Full Monty.
“I can remember, at about the age of 15 or 16, being called in, as we all were, to see the poor old careers master, “ he says. “He said, ‘Well, what would you like to do?’, and I told him that maybe being an actor could be interesting. Unless you count Kes, and the late Brian Glover, bless him, Barnsley back then knew little of acting, and the profession certainly wasn’t at the top of the list of options for kids like me.
“So the bloke looked at me, sighed deeply and said ‘Maybe a journalist?’ which sounds funny now, but, again, it’s also about telling stories, isn’t it?
“But by this time I was going away to a summer acting course in Manchester, and I was also doing a little work at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, running a sort of coffee club for teenage wannabe performers.
“Back then, it was run by the amazing Jude Kelly, who I admired beyond rational thought. She brought in some wonderful actors and there was me, always watching them from the wings.
“I knew back then that my burning ambition was to appear on that stage, in front of a Leeds audience, and, to date, that has been unfulfilled.”
From the summer school, he won a place to study at the Guildhall in London, and in 1998, he became a professional performer. One of his first roles, by chance was in Anorak of Fire, shot in Yorkshire. Since then, he was a memorable Joe Orton in a biopic about Kenneth Williams, popped up in New Tricks, The Canterbury Tales and two series of Stella. He also featured in the fantasy adventure Snowpiercer, which was shot in Prague, and which Kenny calls “an amazing experience, with one of the finest directors ever, a South Korean guy called Boon Jong-Ho…..”
He now lives in North London, with his actor wife Caroline Carver. “Muswell Hill,” he says, adding: “That’s the place where you can throw a stone, and you’ll be sure to hit an actor.”
Just around the corner lives Sheridan Smith and up the hill is Lesley Garrett, so there’s quite a White Rose enclave in those parts and while he may have left Barnsley, Yorkshire has not left him.
The Full Monty, about the redundant Sheffield steelworkers, occupied his life for 285 performances and he would happily reprise the role of Gaz, memorably played in the original film by Robert Carlyle, like a shot.
“There are still things about him that I’d like to learn, but one of the truly great joys of doing that role was that he was a father, and the young lads who played his son were on a sort of rota, so each night I’d be getting something new from them. There were never two nights the same, and that was exhilarating, it really was. They each had their own energies. We gave, I think, some pretty good performances, but I’d still like to find something more.”
He’s currently developing a new film, which he says will hopefully be shot next year, and the script is a sort of cross between Little Miss Sunshine and The Wizard of Oz. In the meantime, he’s happy to step back, consider offers, and to enjoy life. Vera, with its loyal audience, will almost certainly return for another series.
“The role that I would love to play is Iago in Othello. Why? Because I’ve never fully got to grips with him. I think that he’s fascinating. You never fully understand why it is that he acts as he does. With Richard III, you know that he’s totally evil and devious from the first few lines of the play. But Iago, well, he’s an enigma, contradictory, and complex. I’d love to have a crack at him.”
Maybe he can persuade the West Yorkshire Playhouse to present an Othello?
“Now that, that is a great idea”, he says with evident pleasure. WYP, please make a note.