Wyllie Longmore obituary
My friend Wyllie Longmore, who has died aged 82, was an esteemed actor, director and acting teacher.
Based in Manchester, he appeared in many stage productions in the north-west of Britain, as well as at the National Theatre and the Young Vic in London, and film and television work including Jeremy in Love Actually (2003) and Dr McKinnon in Coronation Street (1992).
Among a host of classical roles he played Ross in Macbeth at the Young Vic (1984), and was Antony in Antony and Cleopatra at the Contact theatre in Manchester (1987), then the following year played Torvald in A Doll’s House at Derby Playhouse (I played Nora) and Banquo in Macbeth at the Royal Exchange. In 1991 he was Doctor Faustus at the Liverpool Everyman.
Wyllie was always mindful of the responsibility he felt he bore as a black actor. Speak of Me As I Am, a collaboration between Wyllie and the playwright Maureen Lawrence, which toured from 2013 to 2017, imagined a conversation between himself and Ira Aldridge, the great black American tragedian of the 19th century, who was renowned throughout Europe for playing the great classical roles, who suffered much racist abuse for it (as Wyllie did) and who was largely written out of history. “It’s a meditation on how things have changed,” he said, “and how they haven’t.”
As a director he often shed new light on previously overlooked plays, including Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, at the Contact theatre in Manchester in 1987. His passion for teaching led to him co-founding the Arden School of Theatre in 1991; hewas head of acting there until 2002.
Wyllie was born in Sterling, in the parish of St Ann, Jamaica, to Beryl (nee Brown), a dressmaker, and Wyllie Longmore, a labourer for the United Fruit Company. Beryl left for the US when he was eight, and Wyllie was brought up mainly by his grandmother. He went to Wolmer’s Boys’ school in Kingston, and later worked in a clerical job in the Survey Office before teaching at Ferncourt high school in Claremont.
In 1960 he travelled to Britain and settled in Ealing, west London. He worked for a company that rented out bingo and vending machines, and joined the student group of the Questors theatre, where he met Estelle Hampton, a medical researcher who became a teacher. They married in 1965. The same year he began a course in acting and drama teaching at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, Kent. After graduation in 1968, he taught at the college until 1971, when he went freelance.
In 1977 he was appointed as special lecturer in drama at Manchester University.
In the 1980s he joined Leeds Playhouse Theatre in Education Company as an actor/teacher where he embraced the potential for theatre to promote social change.
He won two Manchester Evening News theatre awards, as best actor for his part in Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! (Bolton Octagon, 1995), and best actor in a supporting role in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Royal Exchange, 2006). He served on the boards of the Royal Exchange theatre, Contact theatre and HOME arts centre in Manchester, and became a fellow of Rose Bruford College in 2016.
Estelle survives him, as do their daughters, Katharine and Jessica, and five grandchildren.