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Tim's story a work in progress

He’s gone from court jester to the toast of London’s West End.

Tim Healy

He’s gone from court jester to the toast of London’s West End. Sam Wonfor talks to Tim Healy as a film of his life is released. 

TIM Healy is sporting a rather fetching comb-over hairstyle, but tells me he’s just finished filming the part he grew it for… so is this going to be a new look for the 55-year-old actor?
 
Not if his wife (and fellow North-East actor) Denise Welch has anything to say about it.
 
“Not bloody likely,” laughs Tim. “She hates it. I’m just waiting to hear whether we have to re-shoot a couple of scenes, so they’ve asked me to keep the comb-over in place.”
 
And then it’ll be back to the number-one-all-over ‘do’ we’ve come to expect.
 
The film he’s just finished, Faint Heart, sounds a lot of fun.
 
“It’s a love story centred around a guy who’s a member of one of these re-enactment groups. During the week he sells stairlifts and then, at the weekend, he’s king of the Vikings. I suppose it’s about boys who’ve never grown up.
 
“We had such a great time filming it and it’s going to be launched at the Cannes Film Festival in May.”
 
Next on the agenda for Tim will be a two-part drama for BBC - a murder mystery called George Gently (by Our Friends in the North writer Peter Flannery) starring Martin Shaw.
 
“I play the guest lead in part two,” explains Tim. “It’s actually set in Newcastle, but we’re filming in Dublin on the river. The Newcastle quayside has changed so much since the 1960s, when the story is set, so we’re having to shoot it over there which is a bit strange. I’m looking forward to it, though.”
 
It’s always a pleasure – and an interesting one at that – to find out what Tim’s up to.
 
The last time we caught up, he was in rehearsals with Orlando Bloom, the young Pirates of the Caribbean heart-throb, for a production of David Storey’s 1969 play, In Celebration.
 
Then there was his critically-acclaimed run in Edinburgh as a disillusioned panto dame, Billy Elliot The Musical, the popular and good-doing Sunday For Sammy Concerts… and that’s to say nothing of his prolific TV work.
 
As his many fans will be well aware, the list is a very long one. Nice to see, then, that Tim’s story so far has been put on to a DVD for our viewing pleasure.
 
Tim Healy: Now And Then is a feature-length collage of interviews, live performances (both stand-up and music), unseen footage and anecdotes from friends, family and colleagues (yes, including Mr Bloom).
 
“I don’t know how it started really. I did a couple of live shows in a couple of theatres – one at Newcastle Playhouse and then one at the Customs House – and really enjoyed them.
 
“People are still surprised to see me doing a bit of stand-up and singing, and I’ve always loved it – especially the music.
 
“Then I found all these old photographs and stuff and we started talking about putting it together. I suppose it’s a bit like a biography in film.
 
“I enjoyed watching it as much as you can enjoy watching yourself,” he says with a smile.”
 
Born in Benwell in 1952, Tim went to Cannon Street School and quickly found his laugh-making place in the class.
 
“I used to do impressions and all that stuff to keep the kids laughing,” he remembers.
 
Drama was quickly his favourite subject – he didn’t care for the rest – a passion he saw his dad indulge in as a member of Birtley Amateur Operatic Society.
 
“My first ever part was with my dad in Finian’s Rainbow. I played Henry, a little black boy, and I convinced my dad to let me do my own make-up. But you can see on the photo, I forgot to do my legs, so I had this black face and milk-white legs,” he chuckles.
 
By the time it got to the 70s, Tim had been a court jester for a time at Langley Castle and was one half of a comedy double act. He was taking acting work (including a role which saw him scold Hilda Ogden in Corrie for getting her bingo call wrong) when he could.
 
As the roles got more frequent, Tim decided to go solo on the stand-up circuit – a decision documented in an unscreened 1976 film by the late Murray Martin of Newcastle-based Amber Films.
 
“Amber were making programmes about people with unusual jobs. They’d done one with a stripper and then they asked if they could follow me.”
 
The insightful film followed a full-haired, full-tashed Tim about to embark on his first two solo stand-up gigs.
 
“Seeing the footage brought it all back,” he says with a shudder, remembering the footage of him going down less than well on stage in Jarrow.
 
“The original idea was for them to catch up with me 10 years later. But five years later (following numerous smaller roles and a long stint with the newly-established Live Theatre Company), I got offered Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and my life changed, of course. They didn’t want to do the follow-up programme after that.”
 
Watching the DVD led me to wonder whether a Tim Healy hardback life story is in the offing any time soon. He’s certainly got the material.
 
“I’ve been asked to write my autobiography a few times but I’ve always been a bit reluctant because it’s a bit like saying, ‘This is the end of my career’. And there are lots of things I still want to do.
 
“All you do as you get older is play older parts… and there are a lot more of those, I hope.”
 
Tim Healy: Now and Then is out now.

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