Rt Hon Sir Brian Leveson and Paul McGann with Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Weatherill
Presented by: Lynette Beardwood
Honourable Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Paul McGann for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.
Liverpool is a thriving creative community and it is no surprise that so many successful actors have originated from here. Paul was born in the city and is certainly one of our great success stories. While attending Cardinal Allen Grammar school, he was encouraged by his teachers to audition for a place on the acting course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He succeeded and this would act as a launch pad for his successful career.
Paul is a member of a legendary Liverpool family – 'The McGann Brothers'. Joe, Mark and Stephen have all established successful careers in acting too while their sister Clare works in TV production. The brothers all appeared together in the ITV drama, The Hanging Gale, which examined the Irish Potato Famine. Paul has often spoken of feeling lucky to come from a large family, with a sense of always having friends and allies.
And with only seven years between the five siblings, he describes them as 'competitive but in a healthy way'. Since graduating from RADA, he has enjoyed an illustrious career spanning nearly three decades. His first taste of national fame was in 1986, in Alan Bleasdale serial on BBC 1 – The Monocled Mutineer. The series dramatised the life of a working-class First World War soldier, Percy Topliss, who was, or was not (his military record has been closed until 2017), one of the ringleaders of the army mutiny at Etaples in France in 1917.
Paul earned rave reviews for this performance and was nominated for a BAFTA as best actor. In 1987, Paul appeared in what has become an enormous cult film – especially among several generations of students – Withnail and I. In addition to the The Monocled Mutineer and Withnail and I, his starring role in Ken Russell's 1989 adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow, alongside early film appearances including The Monk, Dealers, Tree of Hands and the epic war film Empire of the Sun, meant that Paul was included in the group of established actors at the time dubbed the 'Brit Pack'.
Paul also became the eighth incarnation of the Doctor in the 1996 Doctor Who television film, a role he reprised in more than 70 audio dramas and the 2013 mini-episode "The Night of the Doctor".
In theatre, Paul has performed in high-profile, critically-acclaimed West End productions including Mourning become Electra with Dame Helen Mirren and in 2011 in the comedy Butley.
Like many actors who hail from this city, Paul gives a lot back to the community, particularly in Merseyside, where he has taken a lead role in supporting this University's Merseyside at War project, which is creating a growing online archive of memories and experiences from the Great War.
His interest in the First World War and the importance of learning lessons from its history came about through that first major dramatic role in The Monocled Mutineer. He went on to meet soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Somme, including the last surviving 'Tommy' Harry Patch who died in 2009. Paul was deeply touched by Harry's experiences, particularly how he survived an attack that killed three of his friends and how this affected his whole life.
Paul commented on this by saying, "And really this explains, more than anything I think, the silence of the veterans. It was the sense that it was a sanctified silence, it was in your heart, you couldn't describe that camaraderie and the living hell they experienced." Paul then started to visit the World War I battlefields and to research the history of his family.
His grandfathers, Joe McGann and Abraham Green, served in the war as well as his great-grandfather William Green. Introducing the Merseyside at War website at the project's launch, Paul commented on the importance of keeping these memories alive for future generations. He said: "In recent years we have seen the passing of the veterans who survived the First World War. They are no longer able to share their stories about 'The Great War' - so it is more important than ever that you can share yours.'
Paul also supports those entering the acting profession, taking part in related events at the University including a master class series, in which celebrated people outside academia were invited to come and talk about their career development.
Paul is an outstanding example of someone who has shown dedication and commitment in their chosen field while impacting on the communities he is linked to, from that of his hometown to the creative community.
Thus, it is with great pleasure that I present Paul McGann, this most distinguished son of our city, for admission to our highest honour, as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.