Tyneside actor Tim Healy celebrates 25 years in showbusiness

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Tyneside actor Tim Healy celebrates 25 years in showbusiness

Tyneside actor Tim Healy celebrates 25 years in showbusiness

Posted: 06 Oct 2009

Tyneside actor Tim Healy celebrates 25 years in showbusiness

Famous Geordie TV couple Tim Healy and Denise Welch were honoured with a top charity award by the northern region of the Variety Club. Tim looks back at his 25-year TV career, talks about the honour, getting his big showbiz break and what he misses most about his beloved North East

By Michael Hamilton

Auf Wiedersehen Pet actor Tim and Coronation Street actress Denise collected a prestigious joint Silver Heart award at a star-studded celebrity bash at Newcastle’s Civic Centre.

Surrounded by their showbiz pals, closest friends and family, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when they step up to receive their accolade – a fitting tribute to mark two glittering careers.

Born in Benwell in 1952 Tim has gone on to become a household TV name. He got his big telly break as brickie Dennis Patterson in the classic Auf Wiedersehen Pet, which went on to become the most successful British comedy of all time.

It’s all a far cry from his early days as a child actor growing up in Birtley and attending Pelton Secondary Modern. His late father was a keen amateur actor and stalwart of the local operatic society.

‘When I was 11 my first ever part was with my dad in Finian’s Rainbow. I was given the role of Henry, a little black boy. I insisted on doing my own make-up. But I forgot to do the legs. So I went on stage with a black face and white legs,’ he says.

After leaving school he got an apprenticeship as a welder at the big American Caterpillar Tractor works – even though acting was his passion.

‘It was seen as the thing to do. My dad worked in factories all his life and told me that’s what you have got to do too. The construction industry was booming in the Sixties.

‘I hated every minute of it. As soon as I finished serving my time I threw the tools down. I found out about a drama course at Durham Tech and started doing my A levels.

‘The problem was I couldn’t get a grant to pay for it so I had to make some money.’

His face breaks into a grin as wide as the Tyne as he remembers: ‘I saw this ad in the paper: “court jester wanted”. So I rang them up. They asked me whether I could sing and crack a couple of gags. I told them no problem.

‘So I got the job. It was at Langley Castle and I was working seven nights a week. But at least it got me an Equity card. You needed one in those days.’

He then auditioned for the newly established Live Theatre on Newcastle’s Quayside.

‘We started by rehearsing in a block of flats in Gateshead. We got a small grant from Northern Arts but we couldn’t afford a van in those days so we bought this old ambulance. We used to turn up in this battered old thing for gigs. We’d get some very funny looks.’

He managed to get celebrated Geordie author Tom Haddaway on board as a resident writer and never looked back. Tom wrote his first TV show a Play for Today called The Happy Hunting Ground.

‘Tom wrote his stories about the fish quay in North Shields but they were universal stories about the world – they just happened to be set there. A brilliant writer,’ he says.

Live Theatre

Fellow Auf Widersehen Pet actor Kevin Whately and his wife Madeleine Newton and Tim’s wife Denise are all members of the Live Theatre and it has gone from strength to strength.

‘Now after 25 years we’ve got a Lottery grant and we have a wonderful facility in Newcastle. It’s the love of my life and we’ve got a brilliant breeding ground for talent in the North East.

‘I directed Robson Green is his first ever show there as a 16-year-old lad and lots of good actors have come through the ranks there like Denise.

‘I feel so proud when I go there and I’ve got my name on the back of my seat like some big Hollywood director. It’s a wonderful feeling being home.’

In a long showbusiness career he has starred in numerous TV shows including Casualty, Silent Witness, Coronation Street, Minder and Heartbeat. But he still loves being on stage and he played the gruff pitman dad in Billy Elliot the Musical in a West End run to critical acclaim.

Tim and Denise – who met at a mutual friend’s dinner party and married 20 years ago – now live in Cheshire with their two children Matthew, 20, and Louis, nine.

But he clearly misses the North East and his beloved Newcastle United. He has even kept his home in the Tyne Valley. 

I caught up with him backstage at Rainton Meadows Arena where he performed at the Music Means Life charity concert in April 2008 – to raise cash for the Teenage Cancer Trust – with godson and aspiring young musician Jamie Squire. 

‘It’s great to be back in the area. I think the regeneration of Newcastle and the Quayside is absolutely fantastic but I do miss some of the old things about Tyneside too.

‘I remember when I was a little lad – when they still had the trolley buses – going to the Quayside market. It was a North East institution – everyone went there at the weekend.

‘In particular I remember this little old Pakistani fella who used to sell duvets on his stall and he had this brilliant Geordie patter just like Bobby Thompson.

‘People used to turn up from far and wide just to listen to him. He was hilarious. So it’s sad that some of the old characters are not around any more.

‘And it’s terrible that the shipyards have gone and all the heavy engineering but you can’t hark on about the past all the time.

‘When you look at what Newcastle has become, what a vibrant city it is these days. It’s just fantastic.

‘When friends of mine come here to work or visit they love it. It’s an uptown party town. They say it’s like New Year’s Eve every night and they’re right.’


Like Tim, Denise developed a penchant for acting at the age of 14 when she was cast in school productions. Her dad is actor Vin Welch who has also appeared in Auf Wiedersehen Pet.

She was born in Ebchester, went to school in Whitley Bay and Newcastle and later attended Consett Grammar.

Denise went straight into acting on leaving London’s Mountview Theatre School in 1979 and, after getting her break at Newcastle’s Live Theatre, made appearances in Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Spender – starring opposite Jimmy Nail – in the Eighties.

But it was when she was cast as Marsha Stubbs in ITV’s Soldier Soldier that she became a household name. More success followed when she starred as scheming barmaid Natalie Barnes in the popular soap Coronation Street.

Like Tim she is an accomplished singer and she sang as Petula Clark in the 1999 Stars in Their Eyes TV show.

Denise, has also appeared in The Bill, Holby City and Waterloo Road. For the last four years she has been a regular panellist on ITV’s popular daytime show Loose Women.


Tim's the godfather

Tim played with godson Jamie Squire – his dad Eighties TV impressionist Paul Squire is one of his oldest pals and a former neighbour – at a fundraiser for the Teenage Cancer Trust in April 2008.

‘We go back a long way Jamie and me. We used to have these great parties around at my house. 

‘I’ve got fantastic footage of me and his dad playing guitars as Jamie and my little lad Matthew played air guitars copying us.’

Talented Jamie, 21, played his song Killer Smile to 20,000 fans at St. James’ Park in October 2007 at the Prince’s Trust Challenge Trophy match. 

‘I’m a big fan of Jamie and it brings a big smile to my face to see what this lad has become and how talented he is.

‘I’ve seen him mature into a great songwriter and musician. Music is in his bones. He’s got a passion and I think he’s good enough to go right to the top. I’ve got very high hopes for him.’

‘It’s great that he’s found something that he loves to do like I did with acting. Not many people get to do what they really love as a job. That’s pretty special.’

Local heroes 

Tim says: ‘The Royal Variety club award came completely out of the blue. I’m very, very flattered to get their highest accolade and I know that Denise is too,’ he says.

‘I came up to Newcastle to say a few words at Mark Knopfler’s award ceremony when he was presented with his Silver Heart. We’re in very good company because Sting has got one too.

‘I speak for Denise and me when I say we are absolutely gobsmacked. It’s especially nice to get the award together – joint Geordies. She’s the posh one and I’m the working class one.

‘When I heard her name was Welch I thought I was marrying a toffee heiress,’ he jokes. ‘But the factory closed down when I married her.’

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