For a Mancunian, accomplished stage, screen and TV actor Bernard Hill seems to have a strong affinity for Merseyside!
It all started when he played John Lennon in Willy Russell’s musical John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre in May 1974.
Then came his unremitting portrayal of Yosser Hughes, a man driven to the edge trying to find a job on Merseyside, in Alan Bleasdale’s 1980 drama Boys from the Blackstuff.
In 1985, Hill played former Beatle Lennon again in the biographical TV film A Journey in the Life.
And in 1989, he was hailed by the critics for his sensitive performance as bemused husband Joe Bradshaw in the movie Shirley Valentine.
The film told the story a Liverpool housewife, played by Pauline Collins, who flies to Greece to escape her humdrum life.
Hill’s career, of course, encompasses far more than Merseyside. His film roles range from King Theoden of Rohan in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to Captain Edward J. Smith in Titanic.
On TV, he’s appeared in the Granada-produced drama Crown Court and played the irascible Duke of Norfolk in the 2015 BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
He returned to his Manchester roots in 2014 to portray Samuel Cotton, who runs a sweet factory with his son in the three-part BBC drama From There to Here. Hill also narrated the MUTV production Old Trafford: 100 Years in 2010.
On stage, Hill has appeared in productions as varied as Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Arthur Miller’s modern classic A View from the Bridge.
Born in Blackley on December 17th 1944, Hill celebrates his 75th birthday next week. He was brought up in a Catholic family of miners and attended Xaverian College in Lower Park Road, Rusholme.
In 1970, he graduated with a diploma in theatre from Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama where one of his fellow students was the celebrated actor Richard Griffiths.
A big early break for Hill came when he won the part of John Lennon in the musical John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert in 1974.
He was joined by Trevor Eve as Paul McCartney, Philip Joseph as George Harrison and future Shakespearean actor Anthony Sher as Ringo Starr.
Belting out the Beatles’ hits on a piano backstage was a little-known Scottish folk singer making her debut in a major production. Her name was Barbara Dickson.
When she appeared at the end of the musical in her big, gold-rimmed glasses, the audience went wild. In fact, one reviewer said the best part of the show was her ‘stupendous singing.’
In 1979, Hill played Vin Fox in the 13-part TV series Fox. It featured a retired Covent Garden porter and his family who were still involved in the world of crime. The drama was made by Euston Films for the ITV network.
Unfortunately Fox never took off in the ratings as it was up against the BBC classic sitcom Yes Minister.
Four years later, Hill portrayed Yosser Hughes in Alan Bleasdale’s 1982 Play for Today entitled The Black Stuff.
The role continued in the TV series Boys from the Blackstuff the same year. For many, Yosser’s plaintive catchphrase ‘Gizza job’ became a rallying call against the Thatcher government.
Hill’s outstanding performance earned him the Broadcasting Press Guild Award for Best Actor and he was nominated for a BAFTA TV Award in the same category.
In 1999, Hill crossed the Atlantic to play Luther Plunkitt, the warden of San Quentin Prison, in the Clint Eastwood movie True Crime.
Based on Andrew Klavan’s novel, the film told the story of a journalist trying to uncover the truth of a death row inmate who might really be innocent.
Hill came to international prominence playing King Theoden of Rohan in The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003) – the final two films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Oddly, he was originally considered for the pivotal role of wizard Gandalf, but director Peter Jackson eventually chose Ian McKellen.
More recently, Hill was nominated for an International Emmy Award for his portrayal of David Blunkett in the 2006 satirical TV film A Very Social Secretary.