The QT

Friday 14 June 2024

Legends of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet stage a return

Four decades since Dennis, Oz, Neville, Barry, Moxey. Bomber and Wayne converged in a hut on a Dusseldorf building site, two sell out Newcastle crowds will enjoy a special afternoon and evening of memories and music. Sam Wonfor talks to Tim Healy about the show which remains the best telly job he’s ever had
The magnificent seven who stole the telly-watching nation’s hearts in the eighties

If you’re out and about on the streets of Newcastle city centre over the next few days, don’t be surprised if you see a TV star or five.

Between now and Saturday, cast members from British TV classic, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet — along with many of their North East performer pals — are gathering on Tyneside.

The occasion is a one-off celebration marking the beloved series’ 40th anniversary, which is being held at Newcastle 02 City Hall – matinee and evening shows are booked in.

Organised by the team behind the devoted Auf Wiedersehen, Pet fan site and hosted by comedian Jason Cook, the shows will be that of two halves — chat and guests in the first and lots of music in the second, presided over by Newcastle actor and singer, Jimmy Nail who played the iconic Oz in the enduring comedy drama.

Unsurprisingly, both shows sold out quickly, even though the finer details have been kept securely under tarpaulin since it was announced just before Christmas.

Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy, Kevin Whately at Utilitia Arena Newcastle
Back with the boys again: Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy, Kevin Whately, pictured in 2018 at Newcastle’s Utilita Arena for the Sunday for Sammy concerts

And while Tim Healy — who played bricklayer Dennis Patterson, the reluctant head honcho in the building site hut the lads called home — isn’t giving anything away, he will say that both those on the stage and off the stage will be having a night to remember.

“I’m just going through my script and it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he says, speaking from his home in the North West ahead of travelling up for rehearsals.

“It’s going to be so great to see so many of the cast together again — it’ll be like we’re having a reunion party on stage and the audience get to join in.”

Written by Dick Clement and (North Tyneside’s very own) Ian La Frenais, the series centred on the fortunes and considerable exploits of seven migrant workers, who had left eighties Blighty behind in search of a wage packet.

The show ran for two series from 1984-86 and then returned at the beginning of the 21st century following another gig on stage at the City Hall — namely the inaugural Sunday For Sammy fundraiser, held in memory of North East actor Ronnie ‘Sammy’ Johnson.

Organised by his friends Tim and fellow Dusseldorf brickie Jimmy, the lads asked Ian and Dick if they’d write an Auf Wiedersehen sketch for the occasion.

“The reaction that we got from the audience that night made us realise we should do another series. If we hadn’t done Sunday for Sammy, I really don’t think Auf Wiedersehen would have come back,” says Tim.

“We had all been off doing our own things, reasonably successfully, but that night we realised how loved the characters were and how much affection there still was for them, and the show.

“Dick and Ian got commissioned to write the comeback series by the BBC without them even seeing a script, which was extraordinary.”

The first of the revival runs saw surviving members of the magnificent seven reunite to dismantle Middlesbrough’s Transporter Bridge and ship it to Arizona.

Tim and Jimmy were joined by fellow Geordie, Kevin Whately (Neville), Timothy Spall (Barry), Christopher Fairbank (Moxey) and Pat Roach (Bomber) from the original cast. Noel Clarke played Wayne’s son Wyman, following the untimely death of Gary Holton in 1985.

Auf Wiedersehen, Pet returned in 2002 and took the lads – and the Transaporter Bridge – to Arizona

After that there were adventures in Cuba and finally, a sign off, Au Revoir, from Thailand in 2004.

“It’s still the favourite TV job I’ve ever had — and that’s saying something when you’ve had a 50-year career,” says Tim, who recently turned 72.

“When the part of Dennis arrived, it was just fantastic. And we made friends like you don’t normally do. Actors always promise to keep in touch after a show is finished, but a lot of the time you don’t.

“Being in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet was almost like being in the army,” he continues with a laugh. “Being in that hut, six days a week for hours on end. We became such great mates. I became Kevin Whately’s son’s godfather and he became godson to my lad.

“We don’t see each other all the time — sometimes we might not see each other for a couple of years — but as soon as we get back together, nothing has changed. That’s certainly the only job in my career that I can say that about.”

Sunday for Sammy 2016, featuring Stephen Tompkinson. Credit: John Millard

Between 2000 and 2020, the Auf Wiedersehen family could count on seeing each other at least every other year, thanks to the biennial Sunday For Sammy concerts, which grew over the years to a two-show spectacular which had to move to the Utilita Arena to accommodate everyone who wanted a ticket.

Hundreds of thousands have been raised from the gigs, with annual grants being given to up-and-coming performers and creatives who need a ‘leg-up’ to help them get into the industry.

And every show had a new Auf Wiedersehen, Pet sketch, written by Dick and Ian.

Over the years the boys found themselves building Hadrian’s Wall; diving into a Greek tragedy; being hired by King Arthur; and —Tim’s personal favourite — doing a job for the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Sunday for Sammy 2008 saw the Auf Wiedersehen lads in Medieval Nottingham

“That was the one where Timothy Spall came up and we did Robin Hood with Brendan Healy. Ah man, that was just fantastic,” he says.

“Tim had sent video messages over the years — he’s such a busy actor doing things all over the world — but it was wonderful that he could get up to Newcastle for that one.

“I’m sure Brendan will get a mention on Saturday — he’s such a big miss and was always a big part of the Auf Wiedersehen sketches on Sunday for Sammy. He also did a bit in the first series when he played a Sunderland fan who brought Oz back home to Newcastle by mistake.

“Thinking about it all now immediately raises a big smile,” he adds. “I can’t wait to get among everyone this weekend, it’s going to be really special.”

Auf Wiedersehen, Pet at 40 takes place at Newcastle 02 City Hall on Saturday afternoon and evening. The events are raising money for the Sunday For Sammy Trust and cancer charity, FACT. Tickets are like gold dust… so if you haven’t got one, good luck and keep your eye on returns!***

***UPDATE NEWSFLASH! (09-05-24) Organisers have released some prime seats for both the matinee and evening shows


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