Michael Angelis, actor

Born: April 29, 1944;

Died: May 30, 2020.

MICHAEL Angelis had a hugely varied career, starring in film and on stage and television, and narrating the children’s favourite, Thomas and Friends, about Thomas the Tank Engine. But it was Boys from the Blackstuff, Alan Bleasdale’s bleak, memorable 1980s series of TV plays, for which he was best remembered.

“The series never seems to go away,” he said a few years ago. “Only today someone shouted out ‘Gizza job!’ at me.” Such was his lasting impact as an actor in the show that a catchphrase that was not even his could be attributed to him.

Angelis, who has died, aged 76, after suffering a heart attack, was once described by writer Carla Lane as “my favourite Scouser”.

It was his role as Chrissie Todd in Boys from the Blackstuff that showed off the range of his talent. Bleasdale’s series of five plays, focusing on a different character each week, captured perfectly the Thatcher-era zeitgeist, the tragedy of human life where men and their families were reduced to simply surviving.

Angelis’s character was both fragile and resilient, and offered pathos and a sense of absolute desperation. “Angie, this is our life – and I wish I was dead,” says Chrissie to his wife, Angie (Julie Walters) on realising that the gas is being cut off along with the rest of his life. All Chrissie wanted was to have a job laying roads again. To feel important. But it wasn’t to be. And Angelis captured that sense of hopelessness perfectly.

Screenwriter and playwright Jack Thorne has his own favourite scene from the script: “There’s a moment in it that made my heart stop. His kids are starving, he finds £5. He goes out, buys chips, lager and a whisky. The clip is not online but here’s the script; imagine an incredible performance full of self-hatred.”

Angelis himself acknowledged that Bleasdale’s series “changed all our lives for the better”.

Nicolas Michael Angelis grew up in Liverpool’s Dingle area, the son of a Greek immigrant and an English mother – “I didn’t live far from where Ringo [Starr] was, about five or six streets away” – he followed in his brother Paul’s footsteps in becoming an actor.

His natural talent saw him accepted by Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, where he appeared in a student production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in April 1971.

After graduation, he acted with repertory theatre companies in England and Scotland, notably the Liverpool Everyman, but his future lay in London.

“I left Liverpool in 1972 – in those days you had to be in London to go for auditions, it was as simple as that. If you didn’t go down you didn’t get anywhere. Eventually I got sick of taking trains there and back and managed to get somewhere to live down in London.”

He lived in several areas of London, including Chelsea, where he became a drinking partner of George Best. Gradually he began to secure work in programmes such as Z-Cars, Thirty Minute Theatre and an episode of Coronation Street.

In 1975, his first major TV role was filmed back in his home city when he was cast in Lane’s The Liver Birds, playing an obsessive rabbit lover, Lucien. “It’s me rabbits!” became a popular catchphrase in school playgrounds. Lane later said: “Michael was able to bring much of his own compassion to the lines given to him. He knew exactly when to make you laugh and to make you cry.”

Angelis could never have imagined the impact that the Boys from the Blackstuff series would have. It was made on a shoestring. “We all did it for peanuts,” he said later. “Nobody was on big money. The crew were from the [BBC’s] Sports Department, used to working on Match of the Day and couldn’t believe what they were doing.”

The role made him famous. “It was like being a pop star,” he said. But he was not comfortable with the attention, particularly the focus of the tabloid press. Indeed, he gave very few media interviews throughout his career.

Angelis certainly was not comfortable with the attention that came with his long-term relationship and, in 1991, marriage to Coronation Street actor, Helen Worth. He also had to cope with the publicity surrounding his affair and subsequent marriage to his second wife Jennifer Khalastchi.

He starred in Bleasdale’s 1985 black comedy film No Surrender, as the new manager of a Liverpool club whose previous boss had maliciously booked a forthcoming event for two groups of senior citizens – one Catholic, one Protestant. (Bleasdale regarded his performances as “real” and “truthful”.)

On television, Angelis appeared in two more Lane sitcoms, I Woke Up One Morning (1985) and Luv (1993). Along the way he landed roles in GBH, The Bill, Midsomer Murders, Heartbeat, Holby City

and a revival of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

However, it was a voice role that gained him worldwide recognition. In 1991, he took over from Ringo Starr as the narrator of all the characters in Thomas and Friends. The role ran through to 2012, including three spin-off video games.

In 2012 he returned to Liverpool yet again, this time in a TV drama, Good Cop, playing the pivotal role of a dying father.

Among those paying tribute to Angelis was the actor and comedian Matt Lucas, who said: “His work with (screenwriter) Alan Bleasdale was tremendous. What a loss.”

Michael Angelis died at his home in Berkshire. He is survived by his wife, Jennifer Khalastchi.