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.
ENTER STAGE LEFT
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.
‘Through Thick and Thin’ is the new single released today by Bonnie Tyler and Lorraine Crosby in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust…By releasing the record and helping to raise money we hope it makes a huge difference to teenagers with cancer.
I worked with Bonnie on another recording a few years ago in a studio down in Battle where Def Leppard recorded Hysteria. We get on really well, she’s fantastic, one day I went to her house and we had the same clothes on! She’s another one in the business who really works her socks off.
The North East has a pedigree for strong woman, do you think you fit into that ? We had a hard upbringing living in sheer poverty, so there was a fight to get out of that. My father died when I was only 2 so my mother was a young widow with 4 kids to bring up.
On a Friday we’d have a box of food arrive from the shop and that would have to last a week, when all that was gone and we were starving literally we went in the garden as we had a rhubarb patch at the bottom. I used to break off sticks of it and dip them in a bag of sugar…..diarrhea for the weekend (laughs).
We’re laughing about this but really I used to walk into the kitchen and clap my hands to scare the mice off. That was my youth. We had absolutely nothing. Yes they were hard times, and you had to be strong to get through it, but through sheer determination I dragged myself out of it, it makes you very resilient.
What does music mean to you ? I think music saved my life. It was pure escapism. I remember being at school and sneaking off to the hall to put classical music on the record player then dancing around like Margo Fonteyn, I got caught and given the belt. These days they would suggest drama class or dance class to embrace the passion not reprimand you !
I played clarinet and violin but got bullied because of it so I bullied back as a form of self-protection, I only realise that now and how wrong it was but when you’re young and don’t really have any parental guidance you just survive the best you can.
Was music in your family ? No don’t think so, New Years Eve you’d have the family and friends getting out the banjo’s and accordion, singing along and it was a magical time I so looked forward to going there and singing
I was in the church choir at Walker school so I think my desire to be a singer came from there. I’ve been told that I was an outgoing kid and at my Dad’s funeral I got up singing and dancing to cheer everyone up because they were all crying, so yeah something triggered in me then at just 2 years old !
When I left school in Newcastle I trained as a hairdresser, but when I found the stage I didn’t stay for long, yeah always been a performer.
Lorraine on stage with Spike from The Quireboys.
Is that where you feel most comfortable ? Yes and as long as people are coming to see me I won’t retire. I’m still rockin’, Tina Turner did till she was 77 so why can’t I ? I’ve even done panto. 5 year ago I was asked and told them ‘Yes but don’t let me make a fool of myself’. Only a small role they told me, turned out to be the Queen in Snow White (laughs). But I embraced it and loved my time there. I thank my mentor Leah Bell for turning me into a West End Wendy.
We’ve supported Status Quo many times and I’ve been on stage with Spike from The Quireboys. I’ve just been on an album with Elton John, Rod Stewart, Paul Carrack, Willie Nelson to name a few.
I’ve sang on cruise ships, and have done shows on American Military bases when I lived out in Japan in the early ‘80s, that was a real culture shock. We did four 45 minute sets, on a weekend it was six shows, I retain thousands of songs up here (points to head).
Japan was hard going but the alcohol afterwards might not have helped as we drank the local hooch, it was wild. After Japan I came back to the UK that’s when I met my husband Stu Emerson, formed a band and ended up in America recording with Meatloaf.
First time I saw Lorraine Crosby was on a Meatloaf documentary I watched a few weeks ago. Meatloaf and musician Jim Steinman told stories about the first album Bat Out of Hell but it was the second album where Lorraine appeared.A single ‘I’d Do Anything for Love’ was released in 1993 and was a massive hit, would you say that was a magic moment in your career ?
Just getting to do the Meatloaf song was great. What happened was Stu my husband and songwriter, knew a guy called Dan Priest in London and he sent our tape to Jim Steinman – he loved us and wanted to be our manager so we moved to New York to work with him.
Songwriter, Jim Steinman
Jim was recording Bat Out of Hell 2 and one day he called me up ‘Lorraine can you come along to the studio and sing this part?’
Well Meatloaf is like a method actor he wanted to hear the female voice so he can react off it, so originally I sang on just a demo of the song that’s why I wasn’t credited on the track. We recorded some more songs and he played it to the record company who gave me a deal off the back of them.
Then a phone call came in saying what I’d recorded on the demo they were putting on the record and releasing it as a single. Originally they were going to get someone else in to sing the part, but yeah that was a defining moment for me. Not long after, we were driving down to Venice Beach and the song came on the radio it was just like, wow, crazy ! We knew it was gonna be big.
Then walking on stage at Whitley Bay Ice Rink singing it live with Meatloaf was a great moment, like scoring a goal at St James’ Park. I also appeared on Broadway with him, so yeah a couple of really big moments. Great memories.
Does that story follow you around ? Number 1 in 28 countries, sold 15 million records, won a Grammy…It’s a hell of a claim to fame isn’t it ? You gotta shout about it. As I said when we were in America we signed as a song writing duo Emerson/Crosby and Jim Steinman got us a big deal with MCA.
We went in Power Station studio in New York city with Bernard Edwards from Chic, there was the Bon Jovi bass player, keyboard player with Bowie, you know they were all in there when recording our album.
My husband Stu has always been my backbone, he has supported me and is a great songwriter. His early band back on Tyneside were called Emerson, they were part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and recorded a single on Neat records and were on the brink of getting somewhere but split as some of the band joined Samson just before their big break.
We thought we were really getting on and putting things together over there. Steinman was mentoring and helping us with our writing and as he was based in Los Angeles we ended up moving to L.A. living in his house in the Hollywood Hills at first, and recording in Ocean Way studio.
The record company then paid for apartments in Hollywood and San Fernando valley, that house had a studio in it where Earth, Wind and Fire recorded, Harry Neilson had been there, it was a real old ‘70s studio.
Jim is one of the most incredible genius’ I’ve ever met. I remember we didn’t see him much during the day, he was very nocturnal with his silver foil at the windows to stop the light coming in. But he had his own career and it had really taken off so he couldn’t devote the time to us.
Meanwhile the second Meatloaf album which I sang on, went over budget so the record company sacked the guy who we were dealing with, and every band on his roster including us, went with him. So no manager, being dropped by the label and no money left, we reluctantly moved back to the UK. We heard 3 month later the last house we were in was destroyed in an earthquake.
What state of mind were you in when you returned to the North East ? I was gutted, there was a number 1 album I was on and everyone thinking I was earning millions!
So looking for a new manager I found Smallwood and Taylor, Rod Smallwood was Iron Maiden’s manager. I was with him for a couple of years and he got me a couple of development deals with Chrysalis, Hansa and some others but unfortunately nothing seemed to gel with the songwriters I worked with. I was based in the North East and travelling down to London to try and get things going.
One time I went out to L.A and worked with Andy Taylor from Duran Duran, we recorded a few songs but they weren’t pop enough for the label, I’m more rock and blues. So that time with Rod Smallwood ran out, no hard feelings involved, he had exhausted all the avenues and we parted.
Looking back it was a daft decision to start back in cabaret and clubland but you know you live an’ learn. Thing was I needed to pay the bills because I didn’t have anything then, but I’ve never stopped working, my voice gets better and my range has gone through the roof.
Did you have a wow moment listening to a song when you said ‘I want to do that’ ? Yeah Lene Lovich. I heard her song Lucky Number on the radio and thought it was so bad anybody can be a singer. My mam said ‘Well why don’t ya’.
There was a music shop in town called Rock City and it had a notice board with adverts on for bands looking for singers. Me and a friend chose a country and western band first then left them to join a group called Time Out.
We played the working men’s club circuit for a year but I was only backing and not developing my voice so with a couple of other guys I formed my own band Foxy. This was the early ‘80s and with a few agents working for us we did American Military bases all over the world.
Who else have you worked with ? I’ve sang on albums featuring Rod Stewart, Kid Rock, done some backing vocals on the new album by John Parr, he’s a lovely man. I’ve worked with great musicians who have retained their skill, they aren’t like a lot in the charts now who just want to be famous, they have music in them and they still love what they do.
What’s next Lorraine ? I was at the same charity event as Producer Geoff Wonfor and we got chatting and he said why not do Sunday for Sammy ? (This year it’s the 20th Anniversary of the popular live entertainment show featuring North East actors and performers)
Not long after I got a call asking me to do a duet with Tim Healey (Benidorm, Auf Weidersehen Pet) and we did Anything for Love. So that was my first time, then I became a member of the house band and I love it.
Where else would you see a show that’s had AC/DC’s Brian Johnson (He was in a sketch rebuilding the roman wall when I was at the show at Newcastle City Hall 2004) or Brenda Blethyn (Vera) Johnny Vegas, Trevor Horn, Joe McElderry all these people who wouldn’t normally perform together, it’s just magical.
The show is a charity that helps people in the arts and it’s very important now as funding for the arts is being cut. So yeah it’s really special and the whole show has adapted to the size of the Arena, it hasn’t lost it’s feel from the City Hall.
After Sunday for Sammy we are recording my new album, very rock and blues stuff I’m sounding Jimmy Barnes meets Bonnie Tyler. It’s very rocky and a bit like Vintage Trouble who I’m a huge fan of.
I was also asked by Spotlight TV to present a music video show called On Demand Country, people request songs from artists like Dolly Parton and we play the video. The studio is Jam Jar Studios in Gateshead where we film it with a green screen behind me so we can project the video onto that. The techies do a great job behind the camera. First time I’ve done it and really love it, so looking forward to doing more shows.
1983 I was glued to the telly on a Friday night when the first season of Auf Wiedersehen Pet hit the screen. The show proved to be popular around the UK and confirmed the programme a TV classic. Written by Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais who already had a hit show starring North East characters in The Likely Lads.
Summer ‘85 I was upstairs in Newcastle Airport sweating it – my first time flying. I was about to go on a lads holiday to Ibiza when suddenly there was a commotion from the check-in area downstairs. We ran over to the balcony to look down and see a couple of actors from the show waiting in line. I noticed the red streaks in Wayne’s (Gary Holton) black hair.
The area was being roped off and they started filming a scene. It wasn’t until season two in 1986 when I saw this episode being broadcast and there was a bit of a buzz watching how it had been put together. So for this blog, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to interview one of the stars of that memorable series.
Lesley with Jill Halfpenny.
Lesley with cast members Tim Healy and Kevin Whately
Good interviews have honesty and laughter and there was plenty of that when I met up with Lesley Saint-John who played Vicky in the second season… Vicky was a Manicurist from South Shields. You wouldn’t believe how much attention the show attracts. I did five years on Byker Grove, a Catherine Cookson film, but Auf Wiedersehen is the one that’s talked about the most.
There is a AWP fan club, and because the show is constantly repeated on tv, people often come up to me and say Vicky’s lines, they know them off by heart. It’s great people remember it.
How did the job on Auf Wiedersehen come about ? I was just a normal jobbing actor in the North East, the majority of work I had done was up here, including tv shows, commercials and corporate training videos, as well as stage work.
I’d heard of the show because the first season had been on telly but to be honest I didn’t really watch it. My mother rang me up one night and said ‘Have you seen that Auf Wiedersehen Pet on the telly, you’ve gotta watch it’. I said ‘I’ve flicked over it but it just seems to be men sitting in a hut’. She said it was brilliant and I should start watching it.
Then my agent sent me for the audition held in Newcastle, which was great because normally a lot of auditions I would have to get on a coach or train travelling hours down to London.
How did the audition go? It went fine there was a big panel of people, normally there is one or two with the casting director but this was different. Sometimes auditions seem to go well but you don’t get the job, others you’re not sure of but you’re called back. I knew the part was for someone called Vicky but didn’t know if it was for just one or two episodes, it ended up 10 out of the 13 episodes in series two.
Then I got a call again from my agent saying that they wanted me back to test with the rest of the cast in London and play a scene out with one of the characters. That turned out to be Gary Holton who played Wayne, who sadly is no longer with us.
Did you like Vicky, your character in the show? Yeah, I think she was quite honest, maybe people thought she was a money grabber because she was with an older man with money, but she really did care for Ally. It was Ally Fraser who was interested in money and how he could make more, Vicky was almost like the asset on his arm. It was a good relationship at the beginning but by the end it went sour.
The famous green bikini scene.
Lesley with various members of the AWP cast.
Looking back what are your memories of the show? The scenes in Spain were filmed around Marbella in about six weeks, I remember having a nanny out there for my daughter who was nearly four at the time. Ally’s villa was up in the hills near Puerto Banus, and at the time we were filming it was actually a concrete shell being built, so after the guys had filmed their scenes real Spanish builders would come in the evenings, to do more work on it.
The next day it looked like the lads had put the brick and extra tiles on the pool. Now you can rent the villa and I’ve been told by fans of the show that they clubbed together for a holiday there.
People remind me of this ‘green bikini’ scene we filmed in the Costa Del Sol, which really if I hadn’t had photographic evidence I would never of believed I was ever that slim! (laughs).
But to let you know how scenes are filmed out of order with what you see on the programme, that scene outside the villa on the terrace was filmed around August then the next scene, which continues an argument with Ally, is when we walk into the villa, and is actually January in a studio in Nottingham. So that 20 second walk was actually four or five months apart, it was a very cold studio and I had to have false tan on (laughs).
There was a line in one of the shows where I said I was going to Annabels club, well apparently there was a problem with that because there actually was a club called Annabels in Sunderland.
So months later I had to go down to Central Television in Nottingham where we used to film all the indoor scenes, and go into a recording booth and record the line saying I was going to Cannibals because we couldn’t use the name Annabels. It had to be something similar because we couldn’t reshoot the whole scene because it was with Gary Holton who had passed away during the production.
The whole thing was very eery because I was by myself in the recording booth, but what they didn’t tell me was the line Gary had filmed would come through my headphones first. I was never warned and when his distinctive cockney voice came through I was silent. It completely threw me, it was if he was in the room.
The North East has a pedigree of strong women, do you think you fit into that ? For people living in London or the south auditions can be ten a penny, easy to get to, but for me coming down from the North East sometimes it felt like an expensive ordeal. I am strong…ish, but could definitely do with toughening up.
But when I went to London for an audition I met someone also going for the same part, funnily enough she ended up becoming my London agent. We talked about it and me getting the part and not her, I asked how she felt and she just said it wasn’t to be. I want to be that philosophical about it, but I still take it personal, I still need to toughen up.
How did you get into acting? When I was around 12 I wanted to go to stage school in London but my parents couldn’t afford it. Today you can get a degree in performing arts there was nothing like that up here when I was growing up.
I was brought up on the stage because my parents were in Amateur Dramatics and playing the lead roles, they met at a choir in Gateshead. They used to put on shows and concert parties in Old people’s homes and I would go with them, sing a couple of songs and do my ballet or tap dancing. I’d just always knew I wanted to be on stage as some sort of performer.
I was listening to music then and when I was about eight, the first album I bought was Chopin, I can’t remember why, but I loved it. Then as a teenager I listened to T.Rex, Status Quo, Roxy Music and Alice Cooper. I saw all of them at Newcastle City Hall except Alice Cooper who I loved.
But the way I got into acting as a profession was singing on stage in a band to get my Equity card. You had to have 40 weeks on stage and be nominated by somebody. So I joined a band at 19 year old where I did two or three solo’s and the rest backing vocals in workingmen’s clubs all around the North East. My songs were like Blondie and Dionne Warwick ‘If you see me walking down the street, just walk on by’(sings).
I never thought of myself as a strong singer but that’s how I got in because you had to be in Equity in those days before you could work in tv. This is all I ever wanted to do I just never got as far as I wanted to get.
When was the time you thought you had missed an opportunity? After Auf Wiedersehen Pet came out, my London agent asked if I was going to move to London but I didn’t because my personal circumstances of being a single parent after my husband left made it difficult.
The practicalities of buying a house and not having my parents to support looking after my daughter might have been too much. A lot of woman go away from the scene and have their kids so when they come back, if they do, people have forgotten them or moved on.
I think there is a massive amount of untapped talent here, but to get really established like, some of my colleagues from Byker Grove, Jill Halfpenny, Ant and Dec, you have to make the move down South or you will be making the journey up and down the motorway for auditions and shows. A good thing is today there are more chances to get out there with all the social media and magazines.
So looking back it was sort of missing a trick there, it might not have worked, but if I had my way I would have been in London when I was 12 (laughs).
The Dobson family, Byker Grove.
The Dobson family, Byker Grove.
How did working on Byker Grove come about? Straight off the back of an audition I done, in the show my character Kath (Dobson) had three daughters, Jill Halfpenny was the eldest one. What also helped was that we looked similar, we had dark hair, and I have freckles like the youngest, plus it was in the curly perm days (laughs). The guy who played my husband was Tony Hodge who was in a big North Eastern band, The Piranha Brothers.
Kath was very different from Vicky who was glamorous with the clothes and great locations. In nearly all my scenes as Kath, wardrobe gave me navy blue fuddy duddy skirts and button upped blouses to wear, and not much make up, just housewife scenes of making the meals, getting the kids to school, it was great playing a totally different role.
The Dobson’s used a real house in Newcastle where we filmed their scenes and our internal shots were set in The Mitre building in Benwell, Newcastle.
Lesley playing Nancy Boyle in 1996 Catherine Cookson film The Girl.
Lesley playing Nancy Boyle in 1996 Catherine Cookson film The Girl.
After leaving Byker Grove Lesley had a role in the tv series ‘Harry’ starring Michael Elphick, then took on another part…In 1996 I was in the Catherine Cookson film The Girl, I played Nancy Boyle who has a daughter, wears raggy clothes and I’m dying of T.B. I go to the big house and tell the master that this is his daughter, and as I’m dying he’s got to look after her. Typical Cookson film but I love all these different looks that I’ve done.
What’s next Lesley? It can be 10 or 20 years when you find yourself working with people again and it’s like you’ve never been apart because I’m in a show called Moreland’s Firm, a criminal family from Newcastle where Michael Moreland is trying to become a businessman and go straight. I play the mother Rose Moreland, and my son Michael is played by Craig Conway who in real life was married to Jill Halfpenny.
So it’s weird to have played both their mothers. Tony Hodge, who was also in Byker Grove plays opposite me, in fact he was one of Roses clients as she starts the show as an alcoholic prostitute (laughs).
Rose Moreland swears and I never swear in real life, I had to slap Michaels face and tell him to f..off, his face was going really red it was like ‘We’ll just do one more’. He said just go for it but I could see the shock on his face after I slapped him. But Rose comes good in the end (laughs).
Craig Conway who is producing it, is looking to get the programme commissioned, we shot a lot of footage so he has got something to show rather than just an idea or bit of script.
What would be your favourite role ? My favourite job would be one of the co-hosts on Loose Women because I love talking, and I love debating or be a character in Emmerdale. But yeah, Loose Women I’d do that in a heartbeat.
I will be performing at Newcastle Arena this weekend in ‘Sunday for Sammy’ (23 Feb) I love it as I get to catch up with loads of old friends and it’s all for Charity. I am really looking forward to that. Can’t wait!!
Lesley with Craig Conway and Stephen Tomkinson on the set of Morelands Firm.