Monday, 7 November 2011


Parnell & the Englishwoman was a four-part dramatisation by Hugh Leonard of the events surrounding the downfall of Irish liberationist Charles Stewart Parnell and his controversial affair with Kitty O'Shea, played respectfully by Trevor Eve and Francessca Annis. TP's role in the drama was as Justin McCarthy a politician who remained loyal to Parnell after his fall.

In the picture below, TP's been photographed on location for the drama. However, a lemon meringue pie has got the better of him with the topping ending up in his beard.

Friday, 4 March 2011


Critic, Sue Arnold,  reviewed this collection of James Joyce's Dubliners stories as read by TP for The Guardian. 

She was always a loyal admirer of TP's works and would flag up his name on even the briefest of recordings:

"Maybe I'm biased (I went to Trinity College Dublin), but if you're looking for the single short story collection that epitomises the skill, subtlety, diversity and sheer brilliance of the genre, this has to be it. Season the mix with the voice of one of the greatest Irish actors ever, and you're talking about a true classic. The 15 stories vary in length. "Eveline" is hardly more than a perfectly focused snapshot of a young woman's last-minute change of mind. "The Dead", almost a novella, describes with extraordinary clarity the relatively inconsequential events in a single evening leading to Mr Gabriel Conroy's epiphany that if you are without passion, as he is, you may as well be dead. Tourists to Dublin sign on for city tours to acquaint them with its sights and sounds; you'd do better listening to TP McKenna bringing to life Joyce's huge cast of widows, priests, con men, lovers, officials, schoolboys playing truant and impressively articulate tramps circa 1900. Here's Lily the housemaid's summary dismissal of a guest who has inquired about her love life. "The girl glanced back at him over her shoulder and said with great bitterness: 'The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you'." No change there, then. If Joyce's legendary difficulty has put you off reading him, this is a good one to start with."

Dubliners, by James Joyce, read by TP McKenna (7½hrs unabridged, CSA))


Synopsis:  "In Drimaghleen in a remote part of Ireland, Maureen McDowd, her boyfriend, and his mother are found shot dead in a farmyard. Her family are devastated and the village shocked by the killings, but the police findings are accepted and unquestioned by them and the village priest, Father Sallins, the concensus being that the old woman shot Maureen in a jealous rage, her son then shot her and turned the gun on himself. However, a year later, TV jouranlist Hetty Fortune arrives with a camera crew to make a film, the outsiders wheedling their way into the community and locals' homes and piecing together a version of events that totally overturns the believed facts and causes great pain and upset." (BFI Film & TV Database) 

Events at Drimaghleen began life as a short story by William Trevor.  He subsequently adapted it for radio and it was produced for broadcast by David Hitchinson for the BBC World Service.  In that production TP played the part of the parish priest, Father Sallins, who is also the narrator for the events that unfold in the story.  It was voted the best radio play of the year for 1988 in the prestigious Sony Radio Awards.

By 1991 a tv adaptation was produced for BBC Northern Ireland (in co-production with RTE) by Robert Cooper.  TP was once again cast as the priest.

This could be aptly described as one of TP's 'softer' roles, such as the kind that came to him more in his later years.

TP as 'Father Sallins'

He plays the parish priest of Drimaghleen who comes into conflict with the 'outsiders', the TV reporters who seek out a scandal and a potential cover up.  Although not necessarily complicit in any concealment himself, he sees no benefit in disturbing the souls and the memories of the departed.  Fr.Sallins is no 'Murphy Report' cleric, but rather a worldly and human pastor in a rural backwater.

He carries a heavy heart in this drama as he stands between the assumed right of the larger world to know the true course of events at Drimaghleen and the need, or otherwise, for that world to know.

TP as Father Sallins with John Kavanagh as the Gardai inpector

TP profiled for the RTE Guide


Poster designed by Michael Mayhew

Photograph of Josette Simon by Gideon Hart


There was no one more delighted and relieved than TP McKenna when he heard  his cameo apperance in the much anticipated Carry On revival, Carry on Columbus, had been dropped.

Without much exception, actors never take very kindly to having their work end up on the cutting room floor, but for TP the news came as a blessed release.

It was just one day's shooting, but, nonetheless, working on the film had been a slightly quirky experience.

On the plus side he shared a very convivial lunch with Maureen Lipman while he chatted with Jon Pertwee whose dressing room was across the corridor from his.

Pertwee was rather in awe of the great 'classical actor', McKenna, though TP would have demurred that there was no less talent involved in playing Dr.Who or Worzel Gummidge.

However, things took a turn for TP at the worst possible moment. Shooting rather late in the day he had been on the set long enough to get a sense that what he was involved in, for a comedy,  wasn't very funny. In fact, it wasn't funny at all.

There he was, grandly attired as the Archbishop of Canterbury and as per standard practice they ran a rehearsal for the cameras.  That all went fine and  the camera, lighting and sound departments each confirmed that they were happy to go for a take.

So, the director called out, 'Standby TP ... and ACTION!'

Nothing. To his horror, he had dried and for the life of him couldn't remember his first line.

Not even stood before the cameras with Michael Caine, Dustin Hoffman, David Hemmings, Richard Burton  and Trevor Howard in who knows how many films and television dramas had he ever experienced such a complete dry.

Everyone was very nice and understanding and all was well on the second take but even so TP was more than a little mortified with himself.

So, it was a complete balm to him that he could now draw a conclusive veil over the matter.  Indeed, once the film was released to a universal and major panning by the critics, TP could feel as relieved as the man who had missed the sailing of the Titanic.

Carry On Coda:-

Carry On legend, Kenneth Williams once crossed the car park at Pinewood Studios to complement TP on his part in Straw Dogs. 'Oooh! You were sooo sinister' he cooed.

TP also played opposite Carry On stalwart Liz Frazer for three months in the Shaw comedy Too True To Be Good at the Garrick Theatre in 1965 along with George Cole and Alastair Sim.

TV: LOVEJOY (1993)


TP McKenna and Dearbhla Molloy in a scene from the RTÉ Television drama 'The Celadon Cup', part of the 'Two Lives' series of television plays, during filming in the Royal Marine Hotel, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin in July 1994.

'Two Lives' consisted of a number of individual dramas featuring two actors or actresses in each one. 'The Celadon Cup', written by Hugh Leonard, was an original play for television about an affair about to turn sour. It was broadcast by RTÉ on 6 October 1994.


'Kurtulus' was a major mini-series (6 hours) produced for Turkish television by the Turkish Radio Television Institutue and recounting the story of the Turkish battle for independence following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War.

Attaturk- founder of Turkey

Stretching across a four year period the drama covers events from the Allied invasion of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of the First World War up to the Turkish Nationalist Movement in Ankara against the invading Greek army in Western Anatolia.

'Kurtulus' (meaning 'Indepence') was Turkey's biggest ever tv/cinema production utilising all the leading theatre actors of the nation, whole divisions of the Turkish army and locations across Turkey, Greece, London and the Soviet Union.

TP as Lloyd George

TP leads the English segments of the drama which detail the involvement of the British Government throughout the crisis and with reliable authenticity depict the reactions and discussions of prime minister, David Lloyd George, his foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, and the Secretary for the State of War, Winston Churchill.

TP stars as Lloyd George and Simon Ward is Churchill in a return to a role he first created was he was the Young Churchill.

TP with Simon Ward as Winston Churchill

Interspersed through the drama were a series of scenes depicting the cabinet of Prime Minister David Lloyd George in conference as they reacted to the Balkans Crisis.  These segments were produced in London by a separate production company working to an English language script.

Production stills from 'Kurtulus' taken on location at
a Gentleman's Club in Pall Mall which doubled as
the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street


TP makes a most telling cameo appearance in the opening episode of this short-lived but effective drama based on the trials and tribulations of a British ambassador abroad.  

The title character (played by Pauline Collins) has just been appointed as ambassador to the Irish Republic and lands feet first into an anglo-irish political storm, but first she must present her credentials to the Irish premiere,  Taoiseach Healy, as played by TP. 

A wily, silver fox, TP evinces a deceptive charm but it comes evident that there's steel behind his veneer.  

Thursday, 3 March 2011


Broadcast date: 17th November, 1999

'Henry Irving was just another actor and the Lyceum was a struggling London theatre when in 1871 The Bells was staged with Irving in the main role. The Guv'nor: Henry Irving and The Bells (Radio 4, 2.15pm), written by Corin Redgrave, recreates the story of how Irving made his career by playing Matthias, an innkeeper with a guilty secret, and draws unnerving parallels between the plot and the great actor's own life. Redgrave's play has the requisite reek of greasepaint, and with TP McKenna in the role of Bram Stoker, Irving's erstwhile manager and later biographer,a whiff of sulphur accompanies the dramatisation of the life of Victorian England's greatest tragedian.' (Isobel Montgomery/The Guardian) 


Broadcast date: 22nd June, 2005
"Paddo moved to London 50-odd years ago, fleeing some trauma in rural Ireland. He was a navvy, slaving and boozing, boozing and slaving, until he found himself old, homeless and jobless, with nothing in life but the bottle. He has almost died after passing out one freezing night, and the doctor warns him that his next drink could be his last. "Last time I felt a liver as enlarged as yours, it was on a corpse," she says. "What are you going to do about it?"

That's a good question. He could give up the booze, but what then? Is there anything to salvage from this wreck of a life? "The years slip by when you're on the drink," Paddo says. "Everyone belonging to me is dead and gone these long years."

Actually, that's not true. A good samaritan discovers that Paddo still has family back in Ireland. Will they want anything to do with a smelly old alkie? Return to Killroe (2.15pm, Radio 4) follows Paddo as he returns to his much-changed homeland. John Rooney's play is inspired by the work of the Arlington hostel in London, which cares for destitute Irish exiles; TP McKenna stars." (Philip Daoust/The Guardian)

Saturday, 7 August 2010


TP as Sir Lionel Phelps

"I've made it at last!",  TP told John Thaw on his first day of filming for the final Inspector Morse - The Remorseful Day.  "What do you mean?", asked Thaw. 

TP explained that he had always wanted to appear in an episode of the series and as it was the last one ever he had made it just in the nick of time.

He had been invited to appear in the drama once before but only in a support role.  For this script however, he was one of the prime suspects in the part of Sir Lionel Phelps, a distinguished surgeon whose nocturnal recreations went a little further than a rubber of bridge.

In the climactic conclusion of the drama,  TP's character is the final suspect Inspector Morse will interview before succumbing to a fatal heart attack.  Closing scenes which are made all the more poignant by John Thaw's own passing some eighteen months later.

** This was TP's third time in front of the cameras with John Thaw having also worked with him on Kavanagh QC and The Sweeney.

** The Remorseful Day was directed by Jack Gold who had also directed TP in The Devil's Disciple at the RSC in 1976.

TP with 'Morse' composer Barrington Pheloung who appeared in a cameo role.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


Poster designed by Michael Mayhew
Photograph of Tyrone House, County Galway
by Simon Marsden