Tributes pour in from Coronation Street and Emmerdale actors after ‘starmaker’ David Johnson dies


The man who kickstarted the careers of a raft of award-winning actors and household names from Greater Manchester has died. Tributes are pouring in to David Johnson, who set budding actors on the path to stardom at the Oldham Theater Workshop, which he founded in 1968.

Having started in theater at the age of 15, working in roles including director, David founded Oldham Theater Workshop to provide free programs for local youngsters to flourish on stage. It went on to become Europe’s biggest youth theater company with at least five stage shows every year.

Several Coronation Street stars learned their craft under his leadership including the late Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre Barlow, and Michael Le Vell, who stars as Kevin Webster. Anna Friel, Suranne Jones and Lisa Riley are also among those who helped David launch their careers.

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He worked at theaters in Greater Manchester and the West End, while also working with screenwriters and directors such as Danny Boyle and Russell T Davies. David, from Saddleworth, later founded David Johnson Theater and was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Year’s Honors list for 2019 for his work.

speaking to the Manchester Evening News back In 2015, David said: “I have been so fortunate. When you work with people like that you realize what amazing, talented people they are.

Anne Kirkbride was one of David's alumni
Anne Kirkbride was one of David’s alumni

“Nearly all the people I have worked with have gone on to appear in TV and film. We have got such wonderful, wonderful talent in this area and they have been so lovely with me.”

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Several former pupils have taken to Twitter to pay tribute to David, including stars of both TV and theater. Antony Cotton, who plays Sean Tully on Coronation Street, said: “Just heard the saddest news. David Johnson who was the director of the phenomena that was Oldham Theater Workshop, has died.

“He put so many of us on the map, and kick started so many careers, both on stage and off. So many of us owe him so much. I’m absolutely gutted.

Antony Cotton

“He formed my childhood so profoundly, and in turn – my adult life too. Those years were the best years of my life. Rest in Power David. You were the best x”

Kelvin Fletcher, who played Andy Sugden in Emmerdale, wrote: “Singlehandedly the biggest influence on my career and arguably, the reason behind my career. I know I speak for so many. Thank you David Johnson. What a legacy.”

Sacha Dhawan, who has worked on stage and screen including Doctor Who and Line of Duty, added: “So sad to hear about the passing of the wonderful David Johnson this man taught me to never be afraid of making bold choices. I thank you sir for helping me lay those important foundations as you did for many just like me. Rest in peace.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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