As the music faded and The Pirahana Brothers drummer was thinking about packing his skins away an opportunity presented itself and he jumped in with both feet…..
What happened was the acting Union, Equity, had reps travelling around North East clubs offering acts a chance to join them, and as we were doing a type of variety show we could sign up. Plus there wasn’t many actors from the North East on TV so there was that as well.
So in 1985 I joined Equity because, at aged over 30 by then, I didn’t think I could be playing drums in my 40s and 50s. I thought I would have a longer career in acting than music. It wasn’t a real choice to break away, just a move sideways, but it was a surprise because I never thought I would get as far as I did.
Pictured below is a scene with fellow Geordie, Val McLaine. We starred in a TTTV production called I do like to be beside the seaside. It was a comedy about three couples in a maternity ward. I might have it on you tube, not sure. I also played Val’s husband in Our Friends in the North and in a commercial for soap powder.
What were you were first parts on TV?
My first parts were mainly walk on roles in North East productions like Supergran. In 1990 I won a role in a new children’s series, Byker Grove. I was busy around that time because I also got a role as Kenny Rankin in the pilot episode of Spender. I knew the main actor Jimmy Nail from his band days, and that helped.
I remember in Byker Grove I was short listed first, and then finally got the role as head of a new family, the Dobsons. I hadn’t acted before Byker Grove so they were taking a real chance on me – I’m not sure they knew that at the time though. Luckily the producer, Mathew Robinson, wanted unseen talent and that’s how I got in.
I lasted five years as Alan Dobson the husband of actress Lesley Saint John – I enjoyed reading the interview you did with her (link below). Lesley had been in a few shows including Auf Wiedersehen Pet and a Cookson film. I was recently in a show with her called Moreland’s Firm, but it was shelved due to Covid.
Jill Halfpenny was our daughter in Byker Grove, she’s done really well on film and TV recently starring in The Drowning, she is brilliant. I’m still in touch with all my Byker Grove family and they’re all lovely.
I had over 30 TV roles including Our Friends in the North. I played Brian Cox, father of actor Mark Strong. I won roles in Emmerdale, Heartbeat and the 1995 Catherine Cookson mini-series The Gambling Man, alongside Robson Green and Bernard Hill. I was also in another two Cookson’s. By the time I was involved in good acting roles The Piranhas had split after 10 years.
I have a photo of me playing drums after filming on Our Friends in the North.(pic below) There is Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who), Mark Strong (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and on keyboards Daniel Craig (James Bond). When the photo was taken no one knew just how famous they would become. Then there is me – oh well.
Have you any funny stories from working on TV programmes ?
When we were filming Spender I was playing a gangster leading a car ring gang. The scene was simple. I had to drive an automatic Jag across a junction, draw up alongside a group of my cohorts, jump out and pay them. Simple… no.
First I needed to be told by radio when the junction was near as I had no sight of it. Second I had never driven an automatic car for years and third I was wearing healed cowboy boots and I found the pedals weird with them on.
After several false starts on ‘action’ I slammed into drive and shot across the junction. I drew up to the waiting guys at a fast speed then braked hard and jumped out. I was paying the guys on perfect mark when in the middle of it all I could hear ‘cut cut, cut’.
I was amazed. I thought it had been perfect however behind me and in full view of the camera the Jag was rolling down the road by itself with the crew frantically running after it. In my haste I had put the car into drive not park, and it was driving by itself. Took a bit of living down.
There are so many more great times on stage and screen and yet when I was 11 I got stage fright in a church play, and I only had one line – no one word, help, and I froze.
What are you doing now ?
I don’t play drums much now as I have damaged my arm, although I have done the odd guest spot playing a couple of numbers with The Tynesiders who are still playing after nearly 60 years.
Now I am known for my WW2 jeep and my work with the Blyth Battery which is a preserved wartime gun battery on the Blyth coast. It was saved from demolition by a group of volunteers and I’m involved in a small way by doing a few TV interviews to promote the work when I can, and taking my jeep on their annual open days.
I have been very lucky being a chef, drummer, actor and company director plus a rocker in the famous ‘60s era of mods and rockers. I have had a great life, met some amazing friends and lived through the best years for bands in the North East – looking back they were great years, it’s been a blast.
Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2021.
Interview with Lesley Saint John: