Interview: Brendan Healy
Brendan Healy is somewhat of a North East legend, with fingers in many of the region’s cultural pies. He presented Tyne Tees’ children’s show Razzmatazz, and as Sunderland supporter Andy he antagonised Newcastle-devotee Oz in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Following several theatre projects, as well as playing keyboards with Lindisfarne, he finally got the taste for comedy. Brendan talks to John-Paul Stephenson about his career, cancer awareness, his love for pantomime, and his current stand-up tour.
JPS: You’re in the middle of your Little Theatre Tour. How is it going?
BH: It’s a bit grand to call it ‘a tour’. I’m only doing five theatre dates, because I did two last year. I thought I’d try out a few other venues this year. I’ve done Stockton, Alnwick, the Consett Empire, Hexham, then I’ve got Blyth, and then the Billingham Forum in November.
It’s predominantly a comedy show, but I take a little band with me, and we do 6 or 7 cheerful numbers; things that I like. It breaks the night up a bit.
JPS: That variety seems quite fitting, because you’ve had a pretty varied career…
BH: Yeah, I started as a musician. Ended up as a TV presenter, then I was an actor for years. I’m a comic, and I write, produce and direct. I wrote a lot of TV theme music when I was at Tyne Tees. I’m not any good at juggling or fire-eating but I’ve pretty much covered the rest!
JPS: Is it true you’ve written a musical with Brian Johnson from AC/DC?
BH: Well, it’s a musical based on Helen of Troy called Traceable Woman, with a script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. It hasn’t been produced yet; these things can take forever!
JPS: What do you think of the comedy scene in the North East at the moment?
BH: I don’t know much about it, but I know what they call the ‘alternative side’. It all seems to be pretty healthy, and there seems to be about two million comedy clubs. They say that The Stand is a really good venue, and it’s somewhere I’d like to get to. My work is more centred upon corporate stuff and sports dinners, and that sort of work. I don’t do the clubs as such; although I think I could quite enjoy them. Maybe I’ll get round to doing a couple next year.
JPS: Your pantomimes are always popular with audiences. What can we look forward to this year?
BH: This year it’s Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood, playing through December and the first week of January at The Mill Tyne Theatre. It’s a pantomime company I’ve had for about 16 years now, and we put on a pantomime there every year. I’m not in it myself this year, but I own the company along with another two fellas, so it’s a good time for me to do a few gigs and sit in the house, really. I was poorly last year, and I knew that I had to go for a pretty major operation in June this year and didn’t know what state I’d be in, so I said to the others, “You direct, you be in it”. I’m just working in an advisory role. The surgeon said that, “This’ll take you out for three months”. I could‘ve done a lot of work in that time, to be honest, but you’ve got to play the safe side and see what happens.
JPS: I know that it must be difficult to talk about your illness – and I don’t want to delve too much into your personal life – but on the other hand I know you think that it’s important to increase awareness…
BH: It was bowel cancer I had last year, but so far I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I’m in good shape now, and I’m all clear. You’ve just got to see what happens. I don’t have a problem talking about it, but it’s a difficult subject because for other people it’s a lot more severe. Cancer isn’t just one thing; it’s a million things.
People need to go to the doctors if they’re concerned about things. It can be serious sometimes, but more often than not it isn’t, so if you’re concerned, just go and get checked out and see how you’re doing.
JPS: You’re also one of the regular performers at the biannual Sunday for Sammy concerts, set up to commemorate the North East actor Sammy Johnson and to support young performers in the region. The Auf Wiedersehen, Pet sketches that Clement and La Frenais wrote for the first concerts partially inspired the show’s resurrection in 2003, didn’t they?
BH: I’ve done them all. I did the house band on the first one and a bit of stand up and few other bits and pieces. Ant and Dec were on it; it was never recorded for DVD, because principally it was supposed to be a one-off, before everyone realised how successful it was. We’ve done 13 now, and the next will be a year in February. I can’t wait.
Brendan continues his Little Theatre Tour at Phoenix Theatre, Blyth, on 17th November, and at the Billingham Forum on 29th November.