My friend Wyllie Longmore, who died at the age of 82, was an esteemed actor, director and acting coach.
Based in Manchester, he has appeared in many stage productions in the north-west of 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 Road (1992).
Among a number 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), then the following year he played Torvald in A Doll’s House at the Derby Playhouse (I played Nora) and Banco in Macbeth at the Royal Exchange. In 1991 he was Doctor Faustus at the Liverpool Everyman.
Wyllie has always been aware of the responsibility he felt he had as a black actor. Speak of Me As I Am, a collaboration between Wyllie and playwright Maureen Lawrence, on tour from 2013 to 2017, imagined a conversation between him and Ira Aldridge, the great 19th-century black American tragedian, famous throughout Europe for playing great classic roles, which have suffered a lot of racist abuse for it (as did Wyllie) and which have been largely erased from history. “It’s a meditation on how things have changed,” he said, “and how they haven’t.”
As a director he has often shed new light on previously overlooked plays, including Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, at the Contact Theater in Manchester in 1987. His passion for teaching led him to co-found the Arden School of Theater in 1991; he was acting head there until 2002.
Wyllie was born in Sterling, St Ann Parish, Jamaica, to Beryl (née Brown), a seamstress, and Wyllie Longmore, a United Fruit Company worker. Beryl left for the United States when she was eight years old and Wyllie was raised mainly by her grandmother. Lui attended Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston, and later held a clerical job at the Survey Office before teaching at Ferncourt High School in Claremont.
In 1960 he went to Great Britain and settled in Ealing, west of London. He worked for a company that rented bingo and vending machines, and joined the Questors theater student group, where he met Estelle Hampton, a medical researcher who became a teacher. They were married in 1965. The same year she began a course teaching acting and acting at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, Kent. After graduating in 1968, he taught college until 1971, when he became a freelancer.
In 1977 he was appointed Special Lecturer in Drama at the University of Manchester.
In the 1980s he joined Leeds Playhouse Theater in Education Company as an actor/teacher where he embraced the potential of theater to promote social change.
He won two Manchester Evening News theater awards, for Best Actor for his part in My Children! My Africa! (Bolton Octagon, 1995) and best supporting actor in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Royal Exchange, 2006). He has served on the boards of the Royal Exchange theatre, Contact theater and HOME arts center in Manchester, and became a Fellow of Rose Bruford College in 2016.
Estelle survives him, as well as their daughters, Katharine and Jessica, and five grandchildren.