Play about the miners’ strikes was right up Kate’s street

By Simon Yaffe

AS a child, Kate Anthony would accompany her grandfather to the local collieries in Yorkshire. But it wasn’t to go down the pits.

Her grandfather, Nathan Morris, was a tailor whose customers were mainly miners.

And that link has come in handy for Kate’s latest role, Anne Scargill — former wife of the trade union leader Arthur Scargill — in Queens of the Coal Age.

Written by Maxine Peake, the play centres on the Women Against Pit Closures movement, which supported miners and their families.

Leeds-raised Kate, who has just finished a run of the play at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, told me: “I read the play and thought it was an amazing piece of writing by Maxine.

“You couldn’t be northern and not know about the miners’ strikes.

“My grandfather would go to places like Goldthorpe for his work, so it is rather sentimental and a case of returning to my roots.”

She also met Mrs Scargill before the play’s debut — and, with her co-stars, accompanied her down a former mine in a museum in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Coal-themed theatrical productions are nothing new for Kate.

Two years ago, she starred in a production of the similarly-named Queen Coal, written by Bryony Lavery, at the Crucible, Sheffield.

Ironically, unlike many actors, Kate did not harbour childhood ambitions of treading the boards.

Raised with physician brother Adam in the Alwoodley area of Leeds by parents Jacqui and Tony Lee, in what she describes as a “very traditional Jewish family”, Kate initially had no plans to go into acting.

After sitting her A-levels, she took a year out in Israel and, on her return, decided to do a drama A-level at Park Lane College, Leeds, where her tutor was writer and actress Vanessa Rosenthal.

“I was doing it for fun, but Vanessa said I should apply for the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, as they liked strong, northern women,” Kate recalled.

“I applied and got in, which was a bit weird, because it came out of nowhere.”

After graduating from Webber Douglas, in London, Kate, who is of Russian and Lithuanian descent, mainly worked in repertory theatre.

And her first television role didn’t come until 1990, when she played a nurse in A Sense of Guilt, alongside Trevor Eve.

Kate is saddened by the state of the theatre industry today.

“It is much more limited,” she explained. “When I started, we still had a lot of regional theatre and it received financial support from the Government.

“Regional theatre, specifically, is a great loss. We used to do theatre in all sorts of towns and people would come who didn’t consider themselves ‘theatre-goers’.

“It was much more accessible, whereas now theatre is in danger of becoming elitist because of the ticket prices.

“If a family wants to go and see Matilda in the West End, for instance, it is £80-£90 per ticket. Not many people can afford that.

“My kids are lucky because they have grown up around theatre, but there are swathes of children who have never been to the theatre — not even to see a pantomime.

“It is really important that it has to be affordable, especially for young people.”

Kate, who is married to public relations man Gary Barak, has two children, 17-year-old Lola and Nathan, 14.

It was after she first became pregnant that she started to do more television, as well as adverts, because they were shorter contracts, meaning she would not be away from her family for so long.

Kate went on to appear in many television series, including Doctors, Casualty, Heartbeat, As Time Goes By, EastEnders, Judge John Deed, The Bill and Holby City, before she landed what is her biggest role to date — Pam Hobsworth in Coronation Street.

She played the feisty character, lovably known as ‘Aunty Pam’, on and off for four years, from 2008, appearing in 128 episodes.

West London-based Kate recalled: “Nathan was about to start school in the September when I received a call from my agent asking if I would like to go, for what I was told, was a small part in Corrie.

“It didn’t work out, but the director and I hit it off and had a real laugh.

“A few weeks later, my agent received a call asking if I would like to meet the producers for a full-time role.

“I would have been a fool not to — I grew up watching Coronation Street.

“When I went back to the studios, there were about 10-15 considerably large ladies, because it was to play the sister of Diggory Compton, who was a large chap.

“Luckily, they thought I would be absolutely perfect for it.”

Kate admitted she found it “bonkers” on her first day of filming at what is probably the most famous TV series in the world.

“We were outside the Rovers Return, where I was filming with Vicky Binns, who played my niece, Molly, and Alan Halsall, who plays Tyrone Dobbs,” she said.

“Everybody was unbelievably welcoming. My mouth was so dry, so Alan asked one of the runners to fetch him a bottle of water.

“When he brought it back, Alan handed it over to me because he could see how nervous I was and he did it because he didn’t think I would ask anyone for a drink on my first day. It was really sweet of him.”

Ironically, for a Jewish girl, the first scene Kate appeared in had her character selling hams out of a bag.

She also had to become used to being recognised when she was out and about.

“Pam was a lovely character, so people were only ever friendly towards me,” Kate said.

“I think some of the actors playing baddies have a tougher time because, when they are out, people shout things at them.

“I remember being out for lunch with Vicky (Binns) when her character was having an affair with Kevin Webster and people would scream things at her out of their cars.

“I was actually more surprised to be noticed when I was in London because, as a northerner, you don’t expect people down south to watch Corrie, but of course they do!”

Kate was written out of the soap in 2012.

“It was a mutual agreement,” she recalled. “Michael Le Vell (Kevin Webster) had left for a while and Peter Armitage, who played my partner, Bill Webster, wasn’t terribly well and had to leave.

“It was written that Pam and Bill had gone on a cruise around the fjords, so we must still be cruising around the fjords!

“Corrie was great fun and they have such a lovely cast and crew.

“It was difficult for me, though, because I live in the south and so family was a big factor in my leaving.

“I wanted to be there for my kids — I think the older your children become, the more they need you, ironically.”

The 54-year-old’s daughter has just finished her GCSEs, while her son is a pupil at London’s Jewish Free School.

Kate feels that Judaism plays a part in her family’s everyday life.

“When you are younger, you don’t think that kind of thing matters, but it clearly did because I married a Jewish boy,” she said.

“Being Jewish means a lot — it is definitely a cultural and traditional thing as Gary and I were both brought up in traditionally Jewish homes.

“It is lovely when I am at home and can make a Friday night dinner and have family and friends round.”

She also does not work on Yom Kippur and prefers not to work on Rosh Hashana.

Since leaving Corrie, Kate has continued to do plenty of theatre work and has also made appearances in TV comedies Trollied, Citizen Khan and Boomers, as well as recently completing her fourth series of Tom Wrigglesworth’s Hang Ups for BBC Radio 4.

But which of the three mediums does she prefer?

“They are all totally different,” Kate added. “I love doing radio, especially in front of a live audience, and theatre is similar because you get the feedback every night.

“TV is great, too, because it is so quick — you do a scene and it is over.

“I am fortunate that I can do all three because it is so hard for young actors starting out today.

“I can’t even begin to think how they make a living.

“When we graduated from drama school, we were just actors and we got jobs.

“Today, there are young actors I know who do different jobs at the same time, so I take my hat off to anyone who can sustain a career in this industry.

“I recently sat down with John Elkington, who graduated from Webber Douglas with me and who is also in Queens of the Coal Age, and we pondered who is still acting from those days.

“We worked out there were just three of us.

“Luck plays a part, too, though. I know a lot of brilliant actors who don’t get jobs.

“It is not to do with talent, as a lot of it is to do with who you know.”

Married for 25 years in October, Kate met Gary, who is from Newcastle, through friends.

“I always say we have lasted so long because we have only spent half the time together,” she laughed.

© 2018 Jewish Telegraph