My friend Wyllie Longmore, who died at the age of 82, was an esteemed actor, director, and acting teacher.
Based in Manchester, he appeared in many stage productions in North West Britain, as well as at the National Theater and the Young Vic in London, and in film and television work, including Jeremy in Love Actually (2003) and Dr. McKinnon. in Coronation. Street (1992).
Among a host of classic roles, he played Ross in Macbeth at the Young Vic (1984), and was Antony in Antony and Cleopatra at the Contact Theater in Manchester (1987), and the following year he 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 in the Liverpool Everyman.
Wyllie was always aware of the responsibility he felt he had as a black actor. A collaboration between Wyllie and playwright Maureen Lawrence, which toured from 2013 to 2017, Speak of Me As I Am imagined a conversation between him and Ira Aldridge, the great 19th-century black American tragedian known throughout Europe for playing the great classic roles, who suffered a lot of racist abuse for it (as Wyllie did) and who was largely erased from 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 works, including Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, at Manchester’s Contact Theater in 1987. His passion for teaching led him to co-found the Arden School of Theater in 1991; he was head of acting there until 2002.
Wyllie was born in Sterling, in St Ann’s Parish, Jamaica, to Beryl (née Brown), a dressmaker, and Wyllie Longmore, a United Fruit Company worker. Beryl left for the US when he was eight years old, and Wyllie was raised primarily by his grandmother. He went to Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston and then worked in an administrative job in the Inspectorate before teaching at Ferncourt High School in Claremont.
In 1960 he traveled to Great Britain and settled in Ealing, west of London. He worked for a company that rented out bingo halls and vending machines, and joined the student group at the Questors theater, where he met Estelle Hampton, a medical researcher-turned-teacher. They were married in 1965. The same year he began a drama teaching and acting course at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, Kent. After graduating in 1968, he taught at the university until 1971, when he became a freelancer.
In 1977 he was appointed Special Professor of Drama at the University of Manchester.
In the 1980s he joined the Leeds Playhouse Theater in Education Company as an actor/teacher, where he harnessed the potential of theater to promote social change.
He won two Manchester Evening News Drama Awards, Best Actor for his role in My Children! by Athol Fugard. 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 Center in Manchester, and became a Fellow of Rose Bruford College in 2016.
He is survived by Estelle, as are his daughters, Katharine and Jessica, and five grandchildren.