BJ Hogg: Versatile actor who loved his work and shared his talent with everyone
WHETHER it was as an angel in Follow the Star, Shane O’Neill in The Queen’s O’Neill, Addam Marbrand in Game of Thrones or as a pantomime dame, BJ Hogg was an actor always in demand - a man who loved his work, relished every part and shared his talent with everyone.
For the last 20 years he came into people’s homes as Big Mervyn in Give My Head Peace.
It was a character he researched by observation - a loyalist hard man who liked to beat his drum but a big softy who didn’t really understand the background.
As his co-star Olivia Nash said: “He studied the part just as he did with everything, he wanted to be perfect in anything he did.
"He’d a big heart. In rehearsals if he suspected you were a bit down he'd just ask quietly ‘All right love?’ and you knew you could go to him at any time to talk and get genuine support.”
And so it was a terrible shock to hear of his death on his 65th birthday on April 30.
On Facebook the birthday wishes were replaced by messages of disbelief and sadness that he had died so suddenly as the result of an aneurysm.
Roy Heayberd, artistic director of the Ulster Actors Company, had worked and socialised with Brian and his wife Elish for 40 years.
“He was an everyman. He had the three degrees - singing, acting and dancing. He took his job seriously, a company man and a family man.”
Roy holds one memory particularly dear: “It was during the show Let It Be, the story of The Beatles. Brian sang Imagine and it was a voice from heaven. I’ve lost a true friend.”
I first met Brian at the Arts Theatre when I worked with the Ulster Actors Company. He had come from the hospitality industry, then the band scene and onto the stage, and he could turn his hand and his talent to any part.
He joined the company in 1981 as an assistant stage manager but it wasn’t long before he made his way in front of the spotlight and brought the house down in an orange and lemon beach shirt singing Blue Moon in the musical Rockin’ 50s.
Stage designer Houston Marshall recalled how Brian always wanted to know everything that was going on: “When he appeared in The Queen’s O’Neill he researched the history of the time, the clothes and the weaponry used in the 1600s.”
This must have appealed to the costume designer Elish McDonnell, as love bloomed and marriage followed.
Houston told how BJ was a practical man who built himself and his family two houses.
“One in Holywood looking across the lough to Co Antrim, and the idea came to him to try the other side and so he built in Templepatrick, both overseeing the work and getting stuck in to the manual labour digging foundations."
The postings on social media also speak of a man of fairness and morals, an imposing figure well over six feet, someone who succeeded in everything he took on, a director’s actor, nominated for an Oscar for the film Dance Lexie Dance, played on stages all over the world, appeared in BBC’s Holby City, just loved theatre, the wigs and the make up, played any musical instrument, a true gentleman.
Olivia Nash said they rehearsed Give My Head Peace in a hall at St Anne’s Cathedral and Dean Stephen Forde would often pop in and enjoy the craic.
"He loved Brian and he phoned me immediately he heard the awful news and just said, if there’s anything you want just tell me - I’ll do anything."
A comfort at a time when it’s impossible to meet together and appreciate this delightful and talented man and share our sympathies with his wife Elish, his children Nathan and Abigail and his beloved grand daughter Georgia.
Olivia speaks for all his friends: “When the time comes we’ll give him a great send off.”
And from one of those friends, Aingeal Grehan, a woman who acted many times with Brian and now lives in Michigan USA, a quote from Hamlet: "Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."