Christopher Wilkinson, who has died aged 76, had once seemed set for fame as a radical playwright. Instead he led a Sheffield education project from which such 1980s musicians as Heaven 17 and Human League emerged.
The actor Ian Reddington and the foudner of Compass Theatre, Neil Sissons, were also graduates of the Meatwhistle project, which Mr Wilkinson and his artist wife Veronica Thirlaway, set up in Holly Street in 1972, when the school leaving age was raised to 16.
Deborah Egan, director of the arts and performing venue DINA, in Sheffield’s Cambridge Street, was another alumnus. She said her old mentor had “helped us become what we are”, adding: “His influence is with me every day.”
Martin Fry, of Heaven 17, recalled a couple of years ago: “I wouldn’t have made it as a musician without Meatwhistle.”
Mr Wilkinson had joined Sheffield Playhouse in 1962, acting in scores of productions, including Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party. His first self-penned production for the main stage was Strip Jack Naked in 1970, whose stellar cast included Alun Armstrong and Nigel Hawthorne. It recalled The Birthday Party, with a guilt-ridden young recluse tortured, humiliated and eventually murdered, but it was more overtly brutal. A Sunday-evening production-without-decor followed at London’s Royal Court Theatre.
The Playhouse staged I Was Hitler’s Maid in 1971, and his Plays for Rubber Go-Go Girls was produced by Portable Theatre.
Chris’s writing could be ferocious but in person he was recognised for his kindness, enthusiasm and capacity to instil confidence in others. His acting was memorably vivid, and he appeared as four different characters in Coronation Street, as well as co-founding the Sheffield-based co-operative actors’ agency. OTTO.
His marriage to Veronica ended in divorce. He is survived by daughter Alys and his second wife, Margaret.