Wednesday 25 June 2014

TP when he was working was always a very clubbable actor and popular within his profession, but, at the end of the day and in between engagements he happily retreated to the family home in Finchley, closing the door behind him.

Nonetheless, there were those colleagues whom he'd grow close to and who would become lifetime firends.  Most, unfortunately, pre-deceased him and too often he found himself speaking at their funerals or memorial services, so this contemplative corner give us an opportunity to remember some great talents and good friends across the years,  where possible in TP's own words, or according to family recollection.

Stephen McKenna
Site Editor,


TP recalls his childhood friend, Edwin Carolan, who achieved sporting fame in the 1950s when he played GAA football for his home county, Cavan.

He was writing in the official programme for the naming of Mullagh's Community Park in Edwin Carolan's Name.

"It is very fitting that the new Community Park in Mullagh should be graced with the name of Edwin Carolan for no more graceful or sporting footballer came out of East Cavan, never mind Mullagh.

I cannot remember a time when I did not know Edwin Carolan.  Paddy, his brother, was my playmate and Edwin, because he was so much older ... oh, nearly two years older, was my hero.  He did everything better than me.  He even sang better but I didn't mind and you wouldn't mind with Edwin because he had charm.  He could charm the birds from the trees and he frequently did.  Every stray dog that came to the village was drawn to him and he'd look after it.  No wonder he became a veterinary surgeon!

Kicking a ball around was almost an obsession with us and when we lost one or couldn't afford a new one we made one of paper tied up with string and played across Mullagh using the archways as goals, oblivious to the odd cars that passed through every few hours.

In time Edwin and then Paddy were packed off as boarders to St.Finian's in Mullingar and myself to St.Pat's outside Cavan town.  But then we had the long summer holidays and we had kit and a real leather ball ... and we wore the turf bare on the mound that bore the nearest goalpost in Francie Frank's field.  He was a stylist,  Edwin.  No doubt about that.  He was swift; he would come racing at you, hand to toe, drop a shoulder, a wriggle of the hips and he was past.  Then with the right foot or left, depending on a balance, the ball would sail under or over the bar.

In the Spring of 1947  St.Patrick's College, Armagh beat St.Patrick's, Cavan, in the Ulster Final and went on to win the All-Ireland Colleges Final.  They had beaten us by one point.  Someone had arranged a replay for charity to take place in June in Coalisland, home of the famous Devlin brothers.  We had a big problem.  Our forty yards man was injured and we had no replacement.  Fr Paddy Gargan, our dean and football mentor, turned to me and said ... "You're always going on about this Carolan fellow from Mullagh! Would he fit the bill?"   'Oh yes he would', I replied ... and he did.  Midway through the second half he got the ball some fifty yards from the goal.  A turn, a drop of the shoulder, the swerve and Jim Devlin was grasping at air.  On Edwin went, hand to toe, past another defender and another. He swayed right, the left foot flashed and the ball was bulging in the net.  We won, of course.  'Where the hell did you get him', said Jim Devlin afterwards.

So, Edwin Carolan, who had never spent an hour in St.Patrick's College, Cavan, became the first non-pupil before or since to play for St.Pat's.  Later that year the Cavan junior county team beckoned and in the Autumn the Polo Grounds in New York.  The rest is history.

The St.Pat's team at Coalisland, 1947

To me he will always be the 'bonny laughing boy' of the song - so debonair, so careless in the best sense of the word, typified for me in one individual act that I recall vividly from the dying seconds of the All-Ireland finals in 1952 against Meath.  Time was up and the Meath supporters around me were baying, secure, as they thought, with that one point lead.  With the seconds ticking down to the final whistle, someone had wildly, or desperately, hacked the ball up the field and it was going over the line at the corner flag to the left of the Meath goal.  It was a lost cause but one blue jersey was in chase.  He stopped the ball going over the line and standing there by the flag, he stroked the ball lazily, languidly almost, up in the air.  It sailed like a balloon and down and down it came, like the slow-motion replays of today.  Up went the white flag and Edwin Carolan, had singlehandedly snatched the Sam Maguire Cup from the lips of the exulting Meathmen.  I can hear him laughing now as I described it, as he laughed when he talked about it all those years ago."

(TP McKenna, 1985)

Saturday 16 March 2013


Norman Rodway

"The other day I took down my copy of Who's Who in the Theatre, looked for the Rs and found 'RODWAY, Norman'.  An impressive list of credits.  Then Recreations; Friends, family, wine and Mozart. Club ... Gerry's.

I looked up at the point because I could swear I heard a familiar chuckle.  A chuckle nicely described by Michael Pennington in his lovely piece in the Guardian last week.  He put his finger too on the dichotomy in the essential Rodway. I quote: 'He had a conviction that everything was a form of comedy, including tragedy, but this red-blooded manner hid a spirit almost too delicate and fine'.  I wish I'd written that.

He brought me to London in February 1963 to play Cranly opposite his Stephen D, releasing me from an eight-year incarceration in the Abbey Theatre.  He took London by storm, moving Kenneth Tynan to remark, 'henceforth, Finney had better look to his laurels and O'Toole his Lawrence'. He had arrived in style.

I'll give you an example of Norman's sense of devilment.  Michael Aspel was interviewing me for some radio station.  The format required me to nominate two people who would speak highly about me at the top of the interview.  I nominated Josephine Hart and Norman Rodway.  Josephine said something sweet,  if a bit fulsome.  Then Norman spoke: I have known McKenna for thirty years. In fact, he was my lodger for a while.  We called him 'Slippers', or the 'Muesli Man',  the latter because of his habit of having a healthy breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and honey in the belief that this would offset the effects of the bottle of vodka he had the night before. This went out on air.

Norman joined the RSC here in Stratford in 1966.  He had found his spiritual home.  The next five years were,  I believe, the happiest in his professional life.  He loved the company spirit and he was now immersed in his beloved Shakespeare.

In a radio broadcast during that time he spoke movingly of the joys of driving out of Woodstock down the A34,   Vivaldi's Four Seasons pouring from the radio, and the Oxfordshire countryside spread out before him,  as he exclaimed,  Fore God, you have here a goodly dwelling, and a rich.*

He never lost his love for this part of England, nor his fierce loyalty to the compnay that would make him an Honorary Associate Member.  I was not surprised when he moved to the Old Thatch in Lower Tadmarton.  He was happy there, with his beloved Jane.

I saw him less often in later years, but the phone calls were frequent.  'Is your appalling father there, or is he still in his pit?' was a normal enquiry.

Norman was part of the furniture of my life for forty years, and will remain so, because as someone said, He may have left us, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to." 

(TP McKenna.)

TP was speaking at a Service of Commemoration held at the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon on Wednesday, 21st March 2001.

* The quotation is spoken by Falstaff in "Henry IV, Part II: Act 5, Scene 3" (Shakespeare)


Colin Blakely
(1930 - 1987)

"Colin Blakely was not just another fine actor; he was unique.  He gave me more pleasure than any other actor of my generation.  I never missed an opportunity to see him act; I was never disappointed, frequently elated.

An actor, like any other artist, cannot be judged only on the volume of his work but on the scale and grandeur of it. Titus Andronicus, Touchstone, Bottom, Kite in The Recruiting Officer, Philoctetes, Valpone, Tvold in The Dolls House, Astrov in Uncle Vanya, Captain Shotover in Heartbreak House,
Phil Hogan in A Moon for the Misbegotten, John Proctor in The Crucible, Captain Boyle in Juno,  Deeley in Pinter's Old Times, Martin Dysart in Equus. These are but a few of the many acclaimed performances he gave at Stratford-upon-Avon, the Royal Court, the National Theatre, and in the West End of London.  I haven't even touched on his film and television achievements.

Someone has said that acting is not imitation but revelation of the inner self.  Colin would delve into that rich mine of himself and dredge up raw emotions, then shape them with a seamless technique into performances that are part of theatre history.

I was at the first night of Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval at the Lyric Theatre in which Colin played the lead role, one Dafydd ap. Llewellyn, a producer of amateur musicals.  It was a rumbustious , energetic, athletic performance infused with a lovable, bemused innocence.  I have rarely laughed more in the theatre.  I could not know, nor did the audience suspect, that the actor they were watching was being ravaged by a virulent form of cancer and by the dreadful side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

It was a performance I will never forget; the greatest feat of physical and spiritual heroism I have ever witnessed.  He continued in that role for a further nine months and died two months after the play closed."

TP McKenna

(TP's tribute was written at the invitation of the Irish Times shortly after Colin's passing)


Tony Doyle
(1942 - 2000)
TP was invited to join those making their eulogies for Tony Doyle at his memorial service held at St.Paul's Church, Covent Garden (The Actor's Church) on Tuesday 27th June 2000.

Tony's sudden death came as a terrible shock to all those who knew him, but all the more so for TP and his wife May who had been talking with him just hours before at a first-night performance of Krapp's Last Tape with John Hurt.  (May actually knew Tony some years ahead of TP when they worked as assistants to Brendan Smith when he was producing one of the first Dublin Theatre Festivals).

Aside from being the finest of actors, not to say utterly professional and disciplined, he was a very charming and friendly man.  The word charismatic would probably do him best justice.

While they worked together only sporadically they became firm friends and it was with delight that TP watched him expand and grow as an actor.  It pleased him equally, to see the great successes that were finally to come Tony Doyle's way in a series of big, hit series including Between the Lines, Band of Gold and, of course, Ballykissangel.

However, TP in his address highlighted two particular triumphs that had made the greatest impression on him.  First, his appearance in the Almedia Theatre's revival of Tom Murphy's The Gigli Concert directed by Karel Reisz in 1992.  This was a performance which, TP recalled, made him aware just how much Tony Doyle was 'a great actor',  and secondly, how that impression was re-enforced when he took on the role of the tyrannical father in the television adaptation of John McGahern's Amongst Women.

For TP,  this was a crowning performance and in tribute he recited the closing pages of McGahern's novel.

Ger Lynch with Tony Doyle in the 1998 TV adaptation of
John McGahern's novel, 'Amongst Women'.


Donal Donnelly
(1931 - 2010)


Daniel Massey
(1933 - 1998)