Frank Spackman was at the heart of Bedford’s theatre community for over thirty years.
He joined Swan Theatre Company in 2005 for Blue Remembered Hills and soon established himself as a leading actor for the company with many memorable performances at The Place Theatre. Equally at home in comedy or tragedy he was wonderfully funny as the idiot ‘Mugsy’ in Dealer’s Choice, heart-breaking as Hibbert, the cowardly soldier in Journey’s End, and terrifying as Lenny in Pinter’s The Homecoming. He could play gentle, timid characters like Yvan in Art or Felix in Humble Boy or aggressive hard-men like the ‘bull- dog of a policeman’ Ariel in The Pillowman. He could also do Shakespeare – Touchstone in As You Like It, and demonstrated his versatility with multiple roles in John Godber’s Men of The World.
Born in Belfast, Frank grew up first in Kent, then Thornbury near Bristol where he had most of his schooling and his first introduction to theatre in a production of The Crucible. He arrived in Bedford in his early twenties and joined The Company, appearing in The Wiz and La Cage Aux Folles, amongst others.
His first appearance at Sharnbrook Mill Theatre was in The Pirates of Penzance in 1993 and he went on to appear in many leading roles at The Mill including The Baker in Into The Woods, Ralph in Bouncers, Roy in Neville’s Island, Nathan Detroit in Guys And Dolls, Motel in Fiddler On The Roof, Pirelli in Sweeney Todd, George in All My Sons, Guy in A Chorus of Disapproval, Hal in Loot, John in The Lion In Winter and Canon Throbbing in Habeas Corpus. He also featured in Billy, The Winslow Boy, The Baker’s Wife, Hair, A Little Shop of Horrors, Chase Dark, and Jesus Christ Superstar.
He got involved in making scenery and one way or another he always supported productions he wasn’t in, if only by buying a ticket and going to see them. Something he continued to do right to the end; for many of us the last time we saw Frank was in the bar after he’d watched a performance of Swan’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, drink in hand, enthusing about the production.
In 2008 He made his only foray into directing with David Mamet’s The Duck Variations and for a short time served on Swan Theatre Company’s committee. After 2010 his active involvement in theatre was limited by his work commitments, he was a Civil Servant, starting in Customs and Excise which became part of HMRC. In recent years he worked mostly as a Role Player for HMRC Training Courses, which he excelled at and loved but which involved travelling all over the country. In spite of this he managed regular appearances with Blackout Theatre Company including Pinter’s The Birthday Party. For Blackout he performed at The Metropolitan Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, for three years running as part of their annual ‘British Invasion’ festival, appearing in The Dumb Waiter, The Dock Brief and Alan Bennett’s A Chip in The Sugar, a tour-de- force solo performance. He topped that with his one- man-show Woodbine Willie, which he performed in Bedford, Riseley and Kansas. His performance was described in the Kansas City Star newspaper as “quietly astonishing”.
In 2017, after taking early retirement from HMRC, Frank returned to Swan Theatre Company to play the leading role of Tommy in The Night Alive and then the supporting role of Wesley in Jerusalem, which turned out to be his last appearance on stage. Both were opportunities to show his skill with accents, (firstly a Dublin accent for The Night Alive, then a West Country accent for Jerusalem) a skill that was insignificant when compared to his talent as an actor demonstrated yet again in his magnificent performance as the somewhat tragic Tommy and the comedy masterclass that was Wesley.
If Frank’s talent as an actor was exceeded by one thing it was his talent for friendship, he made friends easily and was intensely loyal to those he was closest to. He was a devoted son to Stan and Ann and brother to John, Patrick and Michael. He was a lifelong supporter of Arsenal Football Club and was a season ticket holder for more than twenty years. More recently he also had a season ticket for Bedford Blues Rugby Club. Family, Friends, Football and Theatre were what mattered most to Frank.
His sudden death at the age of 53 has been a huge shock to all who knew him, who will miss his kindness, his generosity, his unstinting support and above all his sense of humour. He liked nothing better than to spend an evening in his favourite pub, The Devonshire Arms, surrounded by friends, drinking real ale and being very silly.
[Obituary kindly submitted by the Swan Theatre Company]