11 May 2023

Stephen Tompkinson: ‘One of Britain’s finest actors’

11 May 2023

Stephen Tompkinson – regarded as “one of Britain’s finest actors” with almost 40 years on stage and screen – has been cleared by a jury of inflicting grievous bodily harm.

He was found not guilty of punching a drunk man he confronted for making noise outside his house in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, in the early hours of May 30 2021.

The trial at Newcastle Crown Court heard that the 57-year-old had been working solidly since attending drama school in the 1980s, and had “become a big star” but had been left virtually unemployed since being charged with the assault on Karl Poole.

Before swearing the jurors in, Judge Paul Sloan KC told them the defendant was “a well-known actor – many if not all of you will know of him”.

Tompkinson was born in Stockton-on-Tees and grew up mostly in St Annes-on-the-Sea in Lancashire.

He told the court some of his teachers “saw potential in my acting ability” during school plays and encouraged him to audition for drama school.

Tompkinson attended the Royal Central School for Speech and Drama in London from 1984 to 1987, and in his final year won the Carleton Hobbs Award, getting an Equity card.

He then joined the BBC’s radio drama company and performed in 54 radio plays in seven months.

Tompkinson told the court the “first thing of any note” he appeared in was TV news sitcom Drop The Dead Donkey, which started in 1990 and ran for nine years.

He became a household name after starring as Father Peter Clifford in 1996’s Ballykissangel, and in the same year appeared in hit film Brassed Off as a miner turned children’s party clown.

Giving evidence at his trial, Tompkinson said Ballykissangel was “probably the most popular show I’ve done” after reaching 15 million viewers.

Other notable TV credits include Wild At Heart, Minder, New Tricks, Grafters and Ted And Alice.

He also appeared in ITV crime drama DCI Banks for six years until the show was axed in 2016.

Tompkinson also starred in a 2021 stage adaptation of Educating Rita, and told a court he had “interspersed” stage and screen throughout his career.

He is due to star as playwright Samuel Beckett in a new play called Stumped, which is scheduled to start touring in less than two weeks.

The trial heard that since being charged with the assault on Mr Poole, Tompkinson had had work taken away and any association with him in the industry was “on hold” while the charges were hanging over him.

Asked by his barrister Nicholas Lumley KC if he had anything to gain by assaulting Mr Poole, Tompkinson said: “Absolutely not. Any member of the public is potentially a member of your audience and you have to treat them with respect at all times.

People know he’s good under pressure

“After we got 15 million viewers for Ballykissangel, my father, who was alive at the time, said, ‘You have been invited into people’s living rooms and you must always treat them with respect’, and I always try to.

“It would be career suicide to do something as outrageous as assault someone.”

A parade of character witnesses from the world of television appeared or wrote statements in support of Tompkinson during the trial.

Comedian and writer Andy Hamilton, who worked with him on Drop The Dead Donkey, told jurors Tompkinson had “worked pretty much permanently” since he had known him and had “become a big star over the years”.

“One of the reasons for that is people know he’s good under pressure,” he said.

Andy Harries, chief executive of Left Bank Pictures, described Tompkinson in a statement as “a terrific actor” and said he knew “how much he loves his daughter and partner”.

Arthur McKenzie, a former Northumbria Police detective turned writer, said in his statement: “It was very quickly abundantly clear to me why he is regarded as one of Britain’s finest actors.”

His Wild At Heart co-star Hayley Mills said Tompkinson played a vet in the series and worked with “every sort of animal, all of which responded to the calm way he dealt with them”.

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