Dinnerladies actor Andrew Dunn - exclusive interview
PUBLISHED: 08:37 06 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:40 20 February 2013
North East actor Andrew Dunn is one of the best-known faces on TV. He recently returned to Newcastle Theatre Royal starring in a stage version of the comedy classic Dinnerladies - ten years after he found fame in the original TV series.
MH: What are your memories of growing up in the North East?
Andrew: I was actually born in Leeds but we moved to North Shields when I was nine. My dad worked for Telephone Rentals and got promoted to a job up in Newcastle. It was April, 1, 1966, and I remember it was bleak and snowing when we arrived.
I went to Whitehouse Primary School and Marden High School and Tynemouth Sixth Form College, so I did all my education in the North East, and thats when I got into drama.
We used to do a big musical at the high school every year - and at college it was pretty much my social life. The drama O level group put on plays, pantomimes - everything - so I became quite obsessed with it.
I remember Brian Sharp was my drama teacher and he taught me a lot. He was really inspirational and so enthusiastic about everything. He helped all of us. He still lives up in Northumberland, I think, although he will be retired now.
MH: Did you always want to be an actor?
Andrew: I did always want to be an actor surprisingly, although theres no acting in my family. My mum, Maureen, used to play piano in pubs and sing but thats the only link I can think of. I remember in my third year at secondary school the careers teacher was going around the class asking everybody what they wanted to do and I instinctively said: Actor. After he stopped laughing he said: OK, Dunn.
MH: Did you get any stick from your mates about wanting to be an actor?
Andrew: I didnt get any stick from my mates, just from the teachers. When I went into the sixth form there was the same reaction. The careers master said: Dont be stupid - get into the mines or teaching. I think both jobs had just had a pay rise in the Seventies and he thought it was a good bet.
MH: You are back at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle with Dinnerladies. Have you still got family and friends in the North East?
Andrew: My mother still lives in Tynemouth, although my dad passed away about ten years ago. We lived on the Preston Grange Estate in North Shields, but when my dad died my mother bought a flat above the Fish Quay. When I was growing up it was a place you avoided but now its all gentrified, so she has a nice flat overlooking the river. And my sister Susan and her family still live in Killingworth.
MH: Was it difficult to translate Dinnerladies from TV to the stage?
Andrew: It was quite easy because the TV show was done in front of a live TV audience originally. Our producer, David Graham, adapted it from Victoria Woods television scripts. The only real difference is that it is two hours long rather than 30 minutes and, of course, the acting is more theatrical and you dont get all the technical stuff like
doing cutaway reaction shots like you would on TV.
The stage play is based on about three episodes of the second series concentrating on the romance between my character, Tony, and Bren, who was played by Victoria Wood in the TV show. Shes written some new links and material to make it flow better but its more or less the same, with the same set.
MH: Werent you Victorias first screen kiss?
Andrew: I was indeed. It was quite bizarre that she should have her first screen snog with me. I cant even remember if it was my first go on screen or not. Its all just a blur now. All I really remember was the live TV audience going: Ooh
MH: Youve been in TV soaps like Coronation Street and The Bill, done dramas like Heartbeat and 55 Degrees North, plus numerous stage roles. Is there any part you covet?
Andrew: There arent any TV or stage roles I would really love to do but Id like to be in a decent movie because I havent done one yet. In terms of theatre, I like to do new plays - I do like new writing.
I loved doing 55 Degrees North, which was shot on location in the North East. That was another one that was cut short and deserved to go on longer. The television world is like that. It originally started with a Tuesday night slot at 9pm in the first series then, for some reason, they switched it to a Sunday night 8pm slot. It was then up against the popular Heartbeat and because it was before the watershed we had to change the style quite a bit.
At the same time, the head of BBC changed and when someone new comes in they tend to sweep things clean. So it was a combination of those things. But I still get stopped in the street by people saying: When is that 55 Degrees coming back?
MH: Who are your comedy heroes?
Andrew: My goodness thats a difficult one. I cant really think of anyone: I must have had too much wine last night. I am a Victoria Wood fan, of course. I suppose I tend to like comedy show people rather than stand-up comics. Its more to do with a line and the way its delivered that tends to make me laugh - and it doesnt need to be a comedy show to do that. My son, Elliot, makes me laugh. Hes 15 now and spends all his time on PS3 killing things!
MH: Do you think he will follow in your acting footsteps?
Andrew: I cant see him wanting to do it professionally. But my wife Andrina is an actress and all three of us actually appeared in a stage version of Brassed Off a few years ago. It was at York Theatre Royal and we live in York so the director said: Why not get Andrina to play your stage wife? That will be handy - and it will be difficult to get child care so lets get Elliot involved too. We ended up being Yorks answer to the Von Trapp family!
MH: You famously played Alistair Campbell in the Rory Bremner TV satire. Did you get to meet him?
Andrew: Yes, I did. He called me the fat bastard. To be fair I was a bit bigger than him in the stomach area. I was actually invited to one of his press briefings at the Houses of Parliament. We thought it would be a bit of a laugh. He wasnt really well known then. I just happened to get caught in a lift with him, which was a bit embarrassing. He looked at my suit and said: Id never wear anything like that. He wasnt too nasty to my face but Rory later met him at a party and he said: Is that fat bastard with you?
MH: What have you got coming up?
Andrew: Absolutely nothing - in fact, when I finish talking to you Id better get on to my agent. Seriously, most actors dont know what they are doing from one job to the next and Ive got nothing lined up.
MH: Could you ever see yourself moving back to the North East?
Andrew: Well, you never know - but probably not. Shes from Alnwick originally, but weve been in York 13 years now. Elliot has grown up there and its a bit handier for London, where most of the auditions are that we have to attend. I do love the beautiful countryside in the North East though - the whole coastal route up to the Farnes and Holy Island is lovely. And, of course, I cant forget the great views across the river mouth, especially from the Wooden Doll pub in North Shields.
Long list of credits
Andrew Dunn is probably best-known for creating the role of Tony in Dinnerladies for BBC TV between 1998 and 2000. Although he was born in Leeds, he grew up on Tyneside before he left for London at the age of 20. He then moved to York, where he now lives with his wife Andrina Carroll, also an actress and their 15-year-old son, Elliott.
He has also appeared in numerous television series, including 55 Degrees North, The Knock, and Coronation Street, where he played Roger Stiles, a plumber and new love interest for Janice Battersby. Other TV includes The Bill, Heartbeat, Doctors, Casualty, Blue Murder, Mr Right, Brief Encounters, The Street, Dalziel and Pascoe, Midsomer Murders, Holby City and Dr Who. He played Alistair Campbell to Rory Bremners Tony Blair in Bremner, Bird and Fortune.
Andrews theatre career is also extensive and, as a member of the Hull Truck Theatre Company, he was in John Godbers original productions of UpnUnder, Bouncers, On The Piste, Seasons In The Sun and others. Theatre appearances in York include Brassed Off and Art - both at the Theatre Royal.