Character actor Thomas Patrick McKenna, known professionally as T.P. McKenna and for his stage, film, and television work, dies at Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London on February 13, 2011 following a long illness.
McKenna is born in Mullagh, County Cavan on September 7, 1929. A prolific theater actor throughout his career, he makes his stage debut in Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams at the Pike Theatre in Dublin in 1954.
McKenna makes his film debut in the IRA–Nazi drama The Night Fighters (1960) and from this uncredited beginning he moves up to tenth billing in The Siege of Sidney Street (1960). His next major movie is Girl with Green Eyes (1964), by which time he has also started a successful television career, making his TV debut in Espionage (1963) and over the next few years appears in several more TV shows. His versatility enables him to play three characters in The Avengers (1961). He is also featured in such well-regarded shows as Adam Adamant Lives! (1966), Dixon of Dock Green (1955) and The Saint (1962).
Meanwhile, McKenna’s film career develops along literary lines, and he is featured in Brendan Behan‘s The Quare Fellow (1962), the Sean O’Casey biopic Young Cassidy (1965) and James Joyce‘s Ulysses (1967). He takes smaller parts in such epics as The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and Anne of the Thousand Days (1969).
British films such as Perfect Friday (1970) and Villain (1971) allowed McKenna to showcase his suave, urbane persona before trying something different in the controversial Straw Dogs (1971). He appears alongside a young Anthony Hopkins in All Creatures Great and Small (1975) before starring with John Gielgud for the second time, this time in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977). Over the next few years his co-stars are as diverse as Leonard Rossiter (Britannia Hospital (1982)), Timothy Dalton (The Doctor and the Devils (1985)), Ben Kingsley (Pascali’s Island (1988)) and Dolph Lundgren (Red Scorpion (1988)). Not all of these films are successes, but he always gives good value for the money and develops themes of his, such as an interest in Irish issues, in The Outsider (1980). His last released film is Valmont (1989), which is unfortunately completely overshadowed by Dangerous Liaisons (1988), which is based on the same novel.
Over the years McKenna makes numerous guest appearances in TV series such as Minder (1979), Casualty (1986), Lovejoy (1986), Inspector Morse (1987), Heartbeat (1992) and Ballykissangel (1996). He is also prominent in TV movies and series, featuring in Charles Dickens‘ Masterpiece Theatre: Bleak House (1985), Stendhal‘s Scarlet and Black (1993) and an adaptation of Henry James‘ The American (1998).
McKenna dies on February 13, 2011 at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London, at the age of 81 following a long period of illness. He is buried alongside his wife at Teampall Cheallaigh Cemetery in his native County Cavan.
Following his death, tributes are paid by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Prince Charles, and Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin, who says that McKenna was “one of a great generation whose talents on the screen and stage both at home and abroad gave us all great pride in his accomplishments.” In County Cavan, he is commemorated by the T. P. McKenna Drama Scholarships (VEC) and the T. P. McKenna Perpetual Trophy presented as part of the Millrace Annual Drama Festival.