Big TV star Alun Armstrong will be back on home turf next month to lend his personal support to a small County Durham theatre.
The famous North East-born actor has agreed to lend his name to boost the struggling Civic Hall in Stanley, delighting Claire Howe who took over as manager there early this summer.
The Civic Hall, previously known as Lamplight, used to be run by Leisureworks but when control reverted to the council both it, and Claire, have been keen to inject new life.
She decided to try to contact London-based Armstrong after learning from a local councillor that he was originally from nearby Anfield Plain.
Thinking his name might help with publicity, she sent off a letter - without even knowing his address.
Unable to find a contact for his agent, she explains she discovered an internet mention of him linked with Wimbledon football club so just took a punt by sending a letter there instead.
She didn’t really expect a response so was amazed a month later to receive a reply from Armstrong who had a role in North East gangster classic Get Carter early in a career which also takes in Braveheart, The Mummy Returns and Sleepy Hollow.
She says: “He wrote me a lovely letter back, saying he still has family and friends in the North East and would be absolutely delighted to lend his name to the theatre.
“He said one of his first ever gigs was singing there.
“Not many people know he sings, although he was in Les Miserables, but he’s a fantastic singer.”
Inspired to write again, she then asked if he might attend an open day if they organised one and he again replied yes, when he could find a time in his work schedule. And his new role in a Christmas special of period favourite Downton Abbey, being shot in Alnwick, provided it.
Several texts and phone calls later, the result is that Armstrong will be the star guest of A Night To Remember, a variety show which Claire has busily been planning around the free date he suggested of September 5, and the line-up will include comic favourite Bobby Pattinson alongside local acts Leah Bell, Johnny de Little, Chris Hayward, Lee Brannigan, The Chantal McCartney Showgirls and music from one of Armstrong’s good friends who is in a quartet.
The actor will attend a VIP reception on the night and will appear on stage during the show to talk about the Civic Hall’s theatre which will from then on be known as The Alun Armstrong Theatre.
Claire said: “He’s said ‘yes, no problem’ to everything!”
Tickets for the night are now on sale and among those snapping them up are friends from the actor’s past.
When she told Armstrong this, Claire says he requested a late bar on the night so he can catch up with them, even offering to pay for the staffing himself.
“He’s absolutely lovely, just an ordinary bloke - and very posh.”
He even offered Claire, a Downton Abbey fan, a visit to the Alnwick set but had to withdraw the invitation because of its tight security.
“I told him ‘but I’ve told everybody I’m going to Downton Abbey!’ and he said ‘that’s embarrassing for you isn’t it’?” she laughs.