Performers who played a major role in inspiring a new generation to act

In the third day of our week-long Artist’s Artist series, actors, who have regularly graced Yorkshire’s stages, pick their favourite leading men and women.

Barrie Rutter

There is no one actor that inspired me; the callow youth that took to the school stage at 15 as the Mayor in The Government Inspector had a diet of James Cagney and John Wayne films – and they lived in a far off, glittering world.

Publicity in the only reading matter to reach our two-up two-down – the Hull Daily Mail – inevitably led to condescending remarks about following in Tom Courtenay’s footsteps. Tom was brought up just round the corner from me; his mam and my granny were nodding neighbours, but being 10 years older than me I never met him until much later. We’re now friends, so yes inspiration came from Sir Tom because he lived round the corner. From Albert Finney because his dad was a bookie and I’m a horseracing nut. Laurence Olivier because we played Guys and Dolls for him in the auditorium of his name on his birthday and because he signed my copy of his book to Benny Southstreet, the part I played in the musical.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Hugh Griffiths because he taught me that being on the wagon meant you could drink a bottle of Campari a day “cos it didn’t really count as alcohol”. Henry Irving because he died in Bradford and that seems like a fair warning. Will Kempe because while he was Shakespeare’s favourite comic actor the Bard wrote him many a fine role – as indeed Tony Harrison and Blake Morrison have for me. He died in penury though – another fair warning. Richard Eyre because he had the great, good sense to realise he was a terrible actor, changed to directing and became one of the finest. But really, I receive inspiration all the time and the older I get the more joy there is to drink in from being around actors.

Barrie Rutter is the artistic director of Northern Broadsides. He will play the lead in Rutherford and Son, opening at The Viaduct in Halifax on February 8.

Sue Devaney

“Keep going till you’re my age and people will know who you are, and don’t bother with men, they’re only good for one thing…babies, and if you don’t want them, stick to comedy!”

Patricia Hayes’s words have always rung in my ears. I was only supposed to stay with her for 10 months, seven years later, I was still there. Ms Hayes offered me a bed during my West End debut in 1987, I was 18 and playing the part of Riby Birtle in JB Priestley’s When we are Married at the Whitehall Theatre. Ms Hayes was playing Mrs Northrop.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Her career in comedy spanned stage, screen, radio and television and 70 years. Always busy and always working, no wonder she’d forget stuff. I remember waving Patricia off in a chauffeur-driven car to the premiere of her latest film, A Fish called Wanda, minutes later the chauffeur is at the door. “Excuse me miss, but Ms Hayes has left her teeth in a pot by the sink!”

Not only did I have a great friend but also a great mentor, who taught me to take risks, to pack your case and follow the work, embrace the moment and the admiration would come. So now I’m brave and follow Patricia’s advice. No babies but a hell of a lot of laughter and, while I’m making Cinderella’s dreams come true on the Lyceum stage this Christmas, if you look close you’ll see a dash of Ms Hayes’ magic, and a soupçon of Patricia’s eccentricity.”

Sue Devaney, played Debbie Webster in Coronation Street, She is appearing as the Fairy Godmother in the Sheffield Lyceum pantomime Cinderella, which runs until January 6.

Dominique Jackson

From an early age I knew telling stories made me feel truly connected to myself and others which is why I pursued acting as a career. I don’t think there is a particular person that I wanted to base my career on, but I find inspiration from a number of actors and actresses

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Someone like Angelina Jolie is a big influence and maybe isn’t an obvious choice. However, I find the way she consistently adapts and explores her range with each story and journey incredible – and it defines who she is, both as an actress and also as an individual.

Dominique Jackson is best known for her roles as Becky in CBBC series Becky and Barnaby. She is appearing in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at Hull Truck until January 13.

Lynda Bellingham

People often ask me what makes a successful actress. They tell me about their children who want to be famous or are “thinking” about being an actor. I stop them mid-sentence and explain the most basic requirement to success in the theatre is passion. Passion and commitment and no thought of fame. No great actor or performer was ever in it for the fame, believe me.

I was always passionate about acting and one of the most important influences on my decision to follow my dream was watching Dame Judi Dench in a series of four plays on the BBC in 1966. It was a quartet called Talking to a Stranger and written by John Hopkins. I remember tuning in for no particular reason, except my parents always enjoyed these plays and from the minute the first play began I was mesmerised. Dame Judi has hardly changed in my eyes from that day. 
Huge brown eyes and her short pixie hairstyle. Her face shone with 
passion and her voice always so distinctive caught my attention 
from beginning to end. I envied 
her career of course but only because she always gives 150 per cent and she 
is unique. She has done all the parts 
and given so much pleasure to so many. It would be difficult to wish her anything but joy. Well maybe just one of her jobs.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Lynda Bellingham is appearing in Cinderella at Bradford’s Alhambra theatre.

Becky Hindley

Joan Littlewood, rightly known as the mother of modern theatre, changed the face of British theatre.

In 1945 she set up the Theatre Workshop, a self-contained company with its own writers, directors, designers and beliefs. She wanted to create original, political plays and put a fresh slant on the classics that made them available to everyone.

Companies like Northern Broadsides, who I’ve worked with, still do this very successfully. She knew that theatre could genuinely have something to offer people in all walks of life, that it had something to say about human life and could send a strong message out but still be entertaining. This ethos totally inspired me.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I managed to get into East 15 Acting School in London, which followed her beliefs and techniques, not far from the Theatre Royal Stratford East, where she and her company were based. That theatre is still going and is a strong, vibrant part of the community. It now survives from subsidies and grants, something Joan Littlewood never had. She was a strong, gritty, straight-talking woman, full of determination.

I was lucky enough to work with her when she was 80. We acted in a scene together in a play for Radio 4. It was 1994. In walked a woman of 5ft 2in with eyes as bright as buttons and wearing her signature black cap. She called me “Bird” and said she’d have had me in her company, which made my heart sing.

Thanks Joan Littlewood. It was a delight to meet you.

Best known for playing Charlotte Hoyle in Coronation Street, Becky Hindley is starring as Lady Bracknell in Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre production of The Importance of Being Earnest until January 5.

Conrad Nelson

There is a lot to be gained by watching any accomplished actor and it’s easy to admire from afar those who are able to produce charismatic and engaging performances.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, I’ve never felt particularly motivated by people with whom I’ve had no personal contact; the ability to inspire feels like it should have its genesis closer to home.

I hope it goes without saying that parental guidance and love is the basis for any such platform and I’m grateful to have had both in spades.

My dad was a keen and well-
voiced member of the Liverpool Amateur Dramatic Society in his youth and my mum was a wonderful and energetic educationalist but, the inspiration and encouragement to follow a career first as an actor and subsequently as a director must lie with my “old” English teacher, Geoff Hinde. He began his first teaching post the same year as I left the relative safe haven of Heygarth Road Junior School and joined the ranks of Wirral Grammar School for Boys. While teaching English, he also founded and directed the school’s drama productions, which have now become an outstanding feature of the Academy’s regional identity.

As a young man he had wit, intelligence and an impish and slightly anarchic outlook on life. He may not have intended it but, through his energetic introduction to the theatre, he opened up the possibilities of drama as a career. I won the first ever drama cup and my name sits on the top of the honours list in the hall in which those first lines were spoken. It’s still my best and most permanent and treasured accolade. He’s since got an MBE – quite right too.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Conrad Nelson is a composer, director and actor with Northern Broadsides who has worked extensively on stage and screen.

Finetime Fontayne

It seems to me inspirations always come from surprising places, like falling in love it smacks you in the kisser and there you are, changed forever.

I came to acting by accident, fell into 
it with no formal training – gleaning what ideas, techniques or tricks I could along the way. Rehearsing The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui at Derby Playhouse in the early 1980s, I found myself, backstage observing a fellow actor Bob Hewis going through his lines alone – he, like I, had a number of small roles in the production including the butler in Butcher’s household, who has to announce the arrival of Arturo Ui (Adolf Hitler) on three separate occasions.

I was watching Bob rehearse these entrances. First time he marched confidently to centre stage and delivered his lines, the second time he took a single step into the room, finally he hesitated at the doorway and threw the line in from just off stage.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He explained that on the first entrance he felt the Butler would be confident, he didn’t know Ui and therefore would take centre stage and dominate the moment.

The second time Ui arrives, the Butler knows he’s dangerous.
Finally, he is too scared to even be in the room with Ui! I was amazed, I had no idea at the time that so much craft, intellectual rigour and artistic endeavour should be or could be applied to even the smallest of roles. Bob who sadly died a few years ago inspired me to work harder, try to learn more and always give everything you do your best shot. Thank you Bob.

Finetime Fontayne has appeared in an extensive number of stage plays and television shows. He also regularly voices radio dramas for the BBC.

Joe Alessi

So many different actors have inspired me throughout the various stages of my career but the one actor who has consistently delighted, surprised and shocked me, is Mark Rylance.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He’s currently appearing in 
Twelfth Night and Richard III and 
has that rare quality in an actor which is very difficult to define but I think the theatre practitioner, Peter Brook put it best by calling it The Essential Radiance. I’ve seen Mark many times on stage and worked with him on a film and you simply have no idea what he is going to do next. Not only that but he also brings to all his performances a preternatural energy that leaves one simply hypnotised.

The only other actor I can think of who comes close to that is Gary Oldman and in the past Laurence Olivier. As an audience member it is always reassuring when an actor steps on stage and instantly you know that you are in safe hands, that they know what they are doing and that’s what Mark brings and much more too.

If you get a chance to see him in anything I urge you to beg, borrow or steal a ticket, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Joe Alessi is an Olivier Award nominated actor who has appeared on stage with the RSC and a number of the theatres around the country. He is playing Mole in The Wind in the Willows at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until January 19.

Tomorrow: Painters, sculptors and designers reveal their favourite artist.

Related topics: