Tributes flood in for friend to the stars Professor James Dodding

Prof James Dodding at the Garstang Victorian Festival.
Prof James Dodding at the Garstang Victorian Festival.

Tributes have been paid to much-loved Garstang drama tutor Professor James Dodding, who trained thousands of actors and performers including David Bowie and Oscar winner Gary Oldman.

Prof Dodding died on Sunday, aged 87. His six-decade career in Britain and the USA began in Garstang, where as a teenager he performed magic and puppet shows for his pals.

Actor Malcolm Hebden (Norris from Coronation Street) and Professor James Dodding at Garstang Arts Centre. (Photo: Anthony Coppin)

Actor Malcolm Hebden (Norris from Coronation Street) and Professor James Dodding at Garstang Arts Centre. (Photo: Anthony Coppin)

The former pupil of Garstang St Thomas and Lancaster Royal Grammar Schools gained a scholarship to the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, London, in 1956.

After qualifying he became a tutor at Bruford, where some of his students were to become household names - Tom Baker (Dr Who), Malcolm Hebden (Norris Cole, Coronation Street), Pam St Clement (Pat Butcher, EastEnders) and Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Darkest Hour).

One of his closest friends former Garstang Courier deputy editor, Anthony Coppin, said: “James was a legend who created constellations of stars in both Britain, America and Canada, but was equally at home chatting to his numerous friends in Garstang.”

Clarie Middleton, Principal at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, said: "The College was saddened to learn of the passing of James Dodding.

James Dodding at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.

James Dodding at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.

"He had very longstanding connections with the institution both as a student, teacher and board member, and with Rose Bruford herself.

"The greatest testament to James was the high regard in which he was held by our alumni, who regularly invited him to Sidcup to attend their reunions. We send sincere condolences from our students, staff and alumni to his family and friends"

While based in London the Bruford tutor also taught at other institutions, including the City Lit.

There Mr Dodding passed on mime skills, which he had learned from Marcel Marceau, to a young David Jones, who became David Bowie. Prof Dodding described his most famous ex-student as “always cheerful, totally dedicated and hard working”.

Career expansion

Radio work was also part of the busy schedule - for a generation of children in British, Commonwealth and British Forces Overseas schools in the 1960s he was the voice of the BBC’s Music and Movement radio programme.

During the 1970s his career went global, with teaching and directing engagements in the USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Malta and Ireland.

He enjoyed his travels, particularly his time in 1972/73 at McGill University and the National Theatre School, Montreal, as well as time spent in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland.
The 1970s saw him heading up the London branch of the North Carolina School of the Arts.

The late 1970s saw the start of an aspect of his career which gave him huge pleasure and fulfillment - a once a year Springtime term (semester) at the drama department at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, USA, a US liberal arts college. He was initially an assistant professor, being awarded full professor status in 1990.

An active retirement

Prof Dodding’s 'retirement' to his hometown saw no let-up in his demanding schedule, flying out in his early 80s to direct plays in Canada and the USA.

Garstang, a world away from the glamour of the international stage, was a beneficiary of his talents. He encouraged various local cultural endeavours and creativity, helped amateur drama societies and helped to form the Garstang Poetry Appreciation Group.

Among beneficiaries of his voice coaching sessions was Garstang town crier Hilary McGrath. During Easter 2007 Prof Dodding directed (along with Avril Bevan) the open air Garstang Passion Play, with local people playing the Biblical characters.

In 2015 he was guest speaker at that year’s Garstang Lecture. It was a great success. The audience included a contingent of friends and former students from the USA and London.
Also in 2015 James and another former student,Malcolm Hebden (Norris Cole on Coronation Street), became a double act for “An audience with Malcolm Hebden”, a fundraising session at the arts centre.

Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.