Part two of a conversation with Jeff Brown in The Customs House, South Shields.
I’ve appeared in a few Sunday for Sammy shows at Newcastle City Hall and the Arena. I’ve loved taking part in that. In fact, the first time I was on telly was with Sammy Johnson – I was an extra in Spender.
I was in the background of a pub scene in The Ship in Byker and had to walk past him then order a pint at the bar. There was a couple either side of me with the woman saying quietly ‘Do you think we’re on ? I said ‘if you lean in a bit further you might get into shot’. I got £50 for that! (laughs).
Theatre and the arts have always been a huge part of my life, and being on TV is the nearest thing of being an actor in a way. My daughter had her first professional break here on stage at the Customs House. We’re big supporters of this theatre with spending most of my life just up the road in Jarrow.
A couple of year ago I took a play writing course at Live Theatre, Newcastle, and came up with an idea based on a true story about a Sunderland footballer, David Corner. He gave away a goal in the Milk Cup final against Norwich City at Wembley in 1985. He was 19 years old, and it was only his third game.
Dave is six foot and ginger so he was very visible, and a lot of people blamed him for costing Sunderland the final. The ball was running towards the corner flag and instead of kicking it out he tried to shield it and let it run out for a goal kick. Someone nicked the ball off him and scored – and that one mistake had a huge effect on the rest of his life.
In the years afterwards he got a lot of abuse – a broken jaw, broken eye socket among other things – so it was trying to get him a bit of redemption, really. Everyone makes a mistake but this poor guy was pilloried for it – and even now, people see him in Sunderland and shout: Are you Davey Corner? You cost us the cup final!
I loved seeing the play come to life. It was a monologue, with a great actor called Steve Arnott playing the part of Davey. He wasn’t a football fan and I thought he would’ve had to be to ‘get’ what the show was about. First night Steve said ‘No I’m an actor Jeff, that’s what I do – act characters that I’m not’. I thought – fair point, Steve!
It ran three nights here, then toured at Washington Arts Centre and the Gala in Durham. It was also on at The Peacock pub in Sunderland – where Davey had his jaw broken, so it was quite poignant, really.
I’m still in touch with him now, and he’s a lovely guy. He became a policeman after football, and said he never thought he would find a job where he was hated even more than when he was a footballer! He is retired now, as a result of all the knee operations he had in football.
We turned it into an audio book where I recorded it myself, absolutely loved it. We put it out last year during UK Anti-Bullying week, to raise money for the Foundation of Light, the charity connected to Sunderland Football Club.
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I’ve written a couple of plays since which I’m still hoping to have produced. One is based on a Premier League footballer, originally from the Republic of Congo but brought up in France. The play is set in the North East, where he meets a single mum. She’s a lost soul with no money, and he is a lost soul with a lot of money – so there is a clash of cultures. I’m hoping it’ll see the light of day eventually!
Trying to get people back to the theatre is hard, and trying to get them back for untried new writing is doubly hard. I’m a huge supporter of the arts and can’t understand Governments not thinking the arts are important. They’re a huge part of life.
Soon as I get up I listen to the radio but I’m still a big newspaper fan, although it is a dying industry and I would hesitate to tell kids to get into it like I did. I still love physically reading an article in a paper, rather than trying to look at it on a phone. When I get in the office at work I flick through the papers, Northern Echo, Journal and Chronicle to see what’s going on locally.
People have been nice about us working on Look North during the pandemic. I was stopped in Morrisons in Jarrow a few weeks back and some people said thanks for everything you’ve done during lockdown. I’ve just being doing my job really but they said no it’s just lovely to see the same faces and hear a familiar voice every night.
I never thought about it like that – but some people have been stuck in the house all through lockdown not seeing anybody, so a regular news outlet with a familiar voice and face has helped in a small way. If we have brought some comfort to people, that’s nice.
CD version of ‘Cornered’ is available from the SAFC store: https://www.safcstore.com/200003380
Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2021.