Famous people from North East England
Surnames beginning with:
Olympic Boxing Medallist
Born Tony David Bryce in Sunderland and known as ‘The Mighty Mackem’ Jeffries is a Light heavyweight boxer who won Bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Brought up in East Herrington, he was the Schoolboy Champion of 1999. Jeffries turned professional in 2009 but retired from boxing in 2011 due to a hand injury. He was undefeated as a professional, winning 9 and drawing 1 of his 10 professional fights.
Bishop David Jenkins
Controversial and outspoken Bishop of Durham 1984-1994. A deep thinker, much controversy arose from his views on the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ but also from his vocal opposition to the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.
In 1832, a striking miner, William Jobling of Jarrow was tried and sentenced to public hanging at Durham for the murder of Nicholas Fairles, an elderly magistrate at South Shields. Fairles had not died immediately and before his death from the injuries, stated that it was Jobling’s drunken companion, Ralph Armstrong (both miners had been drinking), who had beaten him after begging for money to which Fairles refused. Jobling was captured following the attack but Armstrong disappeared without trace. Following the hanging of Jobling at Durham in the presence of a crowd guarded by 100 soldiers, Jobling’s body was returned to Jarrow, tarred, hung in chains and bolted into a cage attached to a 21 feet high wooden post or ‘gibbet’ in Jarrow Slake, a silty tidal inlet of the Tyne. Here, the gibbet was regularly submerged by the tide in full view of Jobling’s widow, Isabella, who lived nearby. Several weeks later, the body was removed by an unknown person and was never seen again. It was the last time that the gory practice of gibbeting took place in Britain as it was outlawed in 1834.
For Those About to Rock
Singer and songwriter with the internationally renowned rock group AC/DC who was born in Dunston, Gateshead. Previously a vocalist and founder member of the rock group Geordie, Johnson became the lead singer with AC/DC in 1980 following the death of Bon Scott. Johnson’s vocals are familiar in classic AC/DC tracks such as For Those About to Rock, Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution and Let’s Get it Up.
In Memory of Sammy
Actor, born Gateshead, whose real name was Ronald Samuel Johnson. He played as a guitarist in a band called Pigmeat before becoming an actor with Newcastle’s Live Theatre. His big break came playing Stick in the Tyneside-based police drama Spender written by Jimmy Nail and Ian la Frenais. He also appeared in a TV adaptation of Catherine Cookson’s The Gambling Man. Sadly, Sammy’s life was cut short when he died of a heart attack while jogging in Malaga, Spain. Following his death, a memorial fund was set up and a Sunday for Sammy variety concert was held in 2000 that that is now a major biennial event in Newcastle upon Tyne. Featuring many of the biggest actors and performers from then region, often with surprise guests, the show raises money for young, creative and talented performance artists from the North East.
Coal Owning MP
Son of George Joicey of Backworth. Coal owner of mines in the Tanfield and Beamish area and MP for North Durham. Founded a coal company with his younger brother James in 1831.
Sunderland-born actor who is well-known for playing pantomime dames, notably at York’s Theatre Royal where he became a major part of the city’s annual Christmas traditions. Kaler has occasionally made TV appearances as an actor with parts in Crocodile Shoes, Spender, New Statesman and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.
Chris Kamara MBE
Middlesbrough-born footballer and TV presenter. Born to a father from Sierra Leone. His career has included stints with Brentford, Swindon Town, Stoke City and Leeds United as well as his home town club of Middlesbrough. He once played football for the Royal Navy.
Born in Ryton near Gateshead, Kendall began his football career with Preston North End in 1963 appearing the following year for them in the FA Cup final as the then youngest player to play in a Wembley final. He was signed for Everton by Harry Catterick in 1967 and later played for Birmingham, Stoke and also for Blackburn Rovers who he would go on to manage. He had three stints as Everton manager for whom he won two league titles, an FA Cup and a European Cup Winners’ Cup. Amongst the other clubs managed by Kendall were Manchester City and Athletic Bilbao.
Kevin Keegan OBE
Although born in Armthorpe, a coal mining area near Doncaster in Yorkshire, Keegan has strong North East family roots. As an ‘adopted Geordie’ few people can claim to have such a strong and mutual emotional connection to the town of Newcastle and its football club. Keegan’s Irish ancestors settled in the Newcastle area and both his father, a miner born at Hetton-le-Hole and grandfather were supporters of Newcastle United. Keegan’s grandfather played a key role in the rescue effort at the West Stanley pit disaster in 1909. As a player, Keegan’s greatest successes came with Liverpool in the 1970s including three league titles, two UEFA cups, one European Cup and one FA Cup in which he scored two goals against Newcastle United in the final. Later playing for Hamburg and Southampton, Keegan signed for Newcastle United as a player in 1982 creating a carnival atmosphere of expectation. Following his retirement as a player Keegan returned to the club as manager in 1992. Under his management Newcastle were runners up in the Premier League in 1995-1996. Keegan later went on to manage Fulham, England and Manchester City before returning briefly to manage Newcastle United in 2008.
‘Hairy Biker’ TV cook and presenter, born Kibblesworth near Gateshead. In his early career he had worked behind the scenes on TV and movie production as a crew member where his work included the Harry Potter films and Byker Grove. Best-known as one of the ‘Hairy Bikers’ duo along with fellow biker and fellow cook Dave Myers who hails from Barrow in the north west of England.
Mark Knopfler OBE
Local Hero, Sultan of Swing
Musician, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist with rock group Dire Straits. Though born in Glasgow to a Hungarian-Jewish father and a mother from Blyth, Knopfler was raised in the North East from the age of 7 and educated in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne. Tyneside would provide inspiration for several of his songs, with lyrics that include mentions of the Spanish City at Whitley Bay and the Dog Leap Stairs on Newcastle quayside. Notable hits have included Romeo and Juliet, Tunnel of Love, So Far Away, Walk of Life and Sultans of Swing. One of the biggest hits was the 1985 track Money for Nothing featuring a vocal contribution from fellow Geordie, Sting. The Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms, on which the track featured, was the first ever CD to sell over a million copies and sales eventually rose to over 30 million. Knopfler composed the score and the theme tune Going Home for the movie Local Hero, later adopted as the match day anthem by Newcastle United FC.
Musician and lead singer with Franz Ferdinand, born Alex Paul Kopranos Huntley. Although he was born in Gloucestershire and primarily associated with Scotland, Kopranos moved to North East England with his family as a baby of two months old. He grew up in Sunderland and South Shields before the family moved to Scotland in 1980. Kopranos’ mother is English and his father is Greek.
Ian La Frenais OBE
Auf Wiedersehen, Likely Lad
Monkseaton-born TV writer noted for Porridge, Auf Wiedersehen Pet, The Likely Lads, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads all written in collaboration with fellow writer, Dick Clement (born Essex 1937). La Frenais was educated in Whitley Bay and at Dame Allan’s School, Newcastle upon Tyne.
John George Lambton
The first Earl of Durham, known as ‘Radical Jack’. A British statesman and Governor of Canada who administered the process of Canadian independence from Britain and ensured its place in the Commonwealth. Lambton was one of the most powerful Durham coal owners yet he was widely respected by the miners in comparison to some other coal owning contemporaries. He was the son in law to Earl Grey, and drafted Grey’s Reform Bill. Penshaw Monument was built in Lambton’s honour and is officially called the Earl of Durham’s Monument.
Photographer, writer and broadcaster. Daughter of the 6th Earl of Durham and a descendant of Radical Jack Lambton of Penshaw Monument fame and Earl Grey of Grey’s monument fame.
See the Lambton surname
Another Fine and Funny Mess
English comic actor who formed one half of the famous Laurel and Hardy double act alongside American, Oliver Hardy (Norvell Hardy 1892-1957). Laurel was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston, Lancashire but was raised in the North East where he was educated at King James I Grammar School in Bishop Auckland and King’s School in Tynemouth. Laurel lived in Dockwray Square, North Shields from 1897 to 1901. A statue commemorating him can be seen in the park at the centre of the square.
Desert Island DJ
Real name Lauren Gofton. Radio DJ and TV presenter, born Sunderland. She started out in the music industry as a vocalist, guitarist and lyricist with successful Sunderland punk band Kenickie. Lauren gained prominence for her outspoken and witty contributions to game panel shows like Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Have I Got News for You? In 2018 she became the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs and is one of the presenters on BBC1’s The One Show.
Movie Star and Fred Perry Fiancée
One of the biggest movie celebrities of her era, Lawson was born to humble beginnings in Darlington where her parents had relocated from Gateshead and her father worked for the North Eastern Railway. She began as a singer in local theatres but developed a talent for dancing and acting and was soon touring the United States and Australia. In the 1930s she became one of the country’s biggest movie stars and was for a time the fiancée to the world’s number one tennis player, Fred Perry. It was Mary’s third engagement to be married and they became the biggest celebrity couple of the age. Unfortunately the publicity surrounding their relationship brought their relationship to an end. Mary went on to marry the son and heir of the ruler of the Channel island of Sark in 1938. In 1941 the married couple were killed in a German bombing raid on a hotel in Liverpool where they were staying at the time.
Remembered in the Town
Durham miner from the age of 10 who was later a miners’ leader, a Methodist preacher and the leader of Britain’s first all Labour County Council (at Durham). Born at Trimdon Grange, the town of Peterlee (founded in 1948) was named after him.
died circa 1398
John Lewyn was a master mason who worked throughout the North East. His work flourished from the 1360s and he was Principal Mason at Durham Cathedral. Lewyn’s most remarkable work is the cathedral’s Great Kitchen with its amazing octagonal ribbed vaulted ceiling. It has a strong resemblance to the roof of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain. Today, the Great Kitchen is home to the coffin and relics of St Cuthbert. Lewyn was also the architect of Durham’s castle keep although this was mostly rebuilt in the 19th century. He undertook work at many northern landmarks including Bamburgh Castle, and Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland; Carlisle Castle in Cumberland; Roxburgh Castle in the Scottish Borders and Bolton Castle in Yorkshire. He was the most important northern English architect of his time.
County Durham and Sunderland radical and political agitator who founded the Levellers political movement. Thought to have been born in Sunderland where his family were prominent in local government and business but also associated with Thickley near Bishop Auckland. Known as ‘Freeborn John’, some of Lilburne’s political views and ideas were later adopted as part of the United States constitution.
See also the Lilburn(e) surname
Jack and Brian London
1913-1963 and 1934 – 2021
Born John George Harper in West Hartlepool in 1913, Jack London was the British and Commonwealth Heavyweight champion in 1944-45. During his career he won 95 times in 142 fights including 52 knock outs. His two sons Jack London (John George Harper junior) 1933-2011 and Brian London (born Brian Harper 1934) were both born in West Hartlepool and were also boxers. Brian, who moved to Blackpool when he was sixteen was known as ‘the Blackpool Rock’ and was the British and Commonwealth Heavyweight Champion in 1958-59. Brian won 37 times in 58 fights with 20 knockouts. He challenged for the World Heavyweight title twice losing to Floyd Patterson in 1959 and to Muhammad Ali in 1966. One of the most controversial events in Brian career came in 1960 when he challenged Welshman Dick Richardson for his European heavyweight title at Porthcawl in Wales. London received a cut to the eye after apparently being head-butted by Richardson who was proclaimed the winner on a technical knockout in the eighth round. A brawl then ensued with Brian London’s father and brother both entering the ring to throw punches.
Langley Park to Memphis
Durham-born singer-songwriter from Witton Gilbert and founder of Prefab Sprout a popular band of the 1980s and 1990s. Albums included From Langley Park to Memphis, a title recalling the band’s Durham roots. Their hits have included When Love Breaks Down, Cars and Girls, The King of Rock n’ Roll and All the World Loves Lovers.
The X Factor
Born in South Shields, the chart-topping singer and songwriter Joe McElderry rose to fame after winning the sixth series of the ITV singing talent show The X Factor in 2009. In 2011 he starred in the production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
Born and raised in Middlesbrough, Steph is a TV presenter and business news producer best-known as the business presenter for BBC Breakfast. Educated at Middlesbrough’s Macmillan City Technology College (Macmillan Academy) and University College, London, Steph won the Young Engineer of Britain award at the age of 19 and is a former Irish dancing champion.
Former British, Commonwealth and World IBF Cruiserweight champion boxer and former Sky sports presenter born Annfield Plain, County Durham.
Football manager born in Sedgefield. He was Secretary Manager at Darlington and Middlesbrough before taking on the job at Everton (a club known as the Toffeemen) where he became the first of three great football managers from the North East (see Harry Catterick and Howard Kendall) to win trophies for the Merseyside club, claiming two league titles and an FA Cup
Small Screen, Big Screen
Peterlee-born actress and miner’s daughter most notable for roles in Our Friends in the North, Notting Hill and The Forsyte Saga. Her career started with appearances on Tyne Tees Television’s children’s series Quest of Eagles and in 1988 she had a small role in the Ken Russel film The Lair of the Light Worm. Also remembered was her role as a pharmacist in a much-talked about condom commercial of 1991 but her most memorable TV role is as Mary Cox in Peter Flannery’s Our Friends in the North (1996) set in the North East covering the years 1964 to 1995.
Actress and Live Theatre Founder
Newcastle-born actress, director and scriptwriter, born Valerie Bradford. She is the co-founder of Newcastle’s Live Theatre Company which was established in 1973. TV roles have included When the Boat Comes In, Our Friends in the North and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet where she played the sister of Dennis Patterson (Tim Healy). Val is the sister of fellow North East actor Jimmy Nail (real name James Bradford).
10,000 Metre Man
Athlete with Newcastle’s Elswick Harriers. McLeod, who was born in Dilston, Northumberland. He was the silver medallist in the 10,000 metres in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and a Bronze Medallist in the 1978 Commonwealth Games. Nicknamed the ‘Elswick Express’ he was winner of the inaugural Great North Run in 1981 and went on to win it the following year too. In addition, McLeod was the seven times winner of the Blaydon Races road race.
Anthony ‘Ant’ McPartlin OBE
Ant and Dec’s Ant
Ant of ‘Ant and Dec’ fame. Newcastle-born TV Presenter and entertainer raised in Fenham, Newcastle upon Tyne. Early TV appearances as a youngster included the children’s TV activity programme Why Don’t You? Ant is now one of the biggest-names in UK TV alongside fellow Geordie and double act partner Dec (Declan Donnelly). Their careers kicked off when Ant was cast in the role of PJ in the Tyneside-based children’s drama Byker Grove at the age of 12 and Dec was cast in the role of Duncan. The pair embarked on a brief singing career as PJ and Duncan best-remembered for their somewhat cheesy but upbeat song Let’s Get Ready to Rumble. Later, the comic presenting partnership became household names as a presenting duo on peak-time TV shows like Pop Idol, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, I’m a Celebrity get me Out of Here and Britain’s Got Talent.
Cullercoats-born presenter of BBC Look North for the North East and Cumbria. Educated at Marden High School and Darlington Technical College, Carol is a Vice President of the Community Foundation for Tyne and Wear and Northumberland.
Golden Boy of the Ball
Legendary Middlesbrough and England footballer, born South Bank, Teesside. Scored 99 goals for Boro in 341 appearances. Known as the ‘Golden Boy’ because of his talent and distinctive blonde hair.
Elsie Marley (born Alice Harrison at Houghton-le-Spring) was the popular, ‘buxom’ landlady of an inn or public house called The Swan that stood at Picktree between Washington and Chester-le-Street. Elsie was the wife of the pub landlord, Ralph Marley and her name is immortalised in a folk song, sometimes termed a nursery rhyme, that is familiar beyond the region and written in her lifetime. After suffering from a long illness Elsie died by drowning after leaving her home at night in a delirious state and fell into a flooded coal pit at Vigo near Birtley. Picktree is close to Harraton, the estate of the influential Lambton family and one occasionally omitted verse of the song hints that she may have been in relationships with members of the Lambton family. The song’s chorus is as follows: “Di ye ken Elsie Marley, hinny? The wife that sells the barley, hinny? She lost her pocket and all of her money A back o’ the bush i’ the garden, hinny.” Verses of the song refer to her apparent laziness lying in bed from 8 till 9.
See also the Marley surname
In the Shadows
Real name Brian Robson Rankin, the Newcastle-born lead guitarist with The Shadows famed for their guitar instrumentals. The band was originally called The Drifters and started out as a backing band for singer Cliff Richard before becoming The Shadows in 1959. The band became famous in their own right as one of the most successful groups of the 1960s.
Beth Mead MBE
Top-scoring Euro Lioness
Footballer (forward) born in Whitby and raised in the village of Hinderwell near Staithes on the Cleveland coast. Beth is a member of the England women’s team and played in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 final victory over Germany in 2022. Though she didn’t score in the final, Beth played a major part in England’s success, finishing joint top scorer in the competition along with Germany’s Alexandra Popp. Beth’s former clubs at senior level include Sunderland, where she made her senior debut, later moving to Arsenal and was formerly a youth player with Middlesbrough.
Sir Edward Mellanby
Vitamin D Cure for Rickets
West Hartlepool born physiologist who discovered Vitamin D and its part in the prevention of rickets. The Cambridge University and Barnard Castle School-educated Mellanby was the son of a Hartlepool shipyard owner. He studied medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital in London and lectured at London’s Kings College for Women. He investigated the causes of rickets and in 1919 found it could be cured by Cod Liver Oil which led to the discovery of Vitamin D.
Charles Hesterman Merz
The National Grid King
Newcastle-born electrical engineer known as ‘The Grid King’. The son of a German chemist who resided in Tyneside, Merz pioneered the use of three-phase AC power distribution in the UK. His power station at Wallsend was the first three-phase electricity supply system in Britain. His developments in the North East and his lobbying of parliament to standardise voltages and frequencies brought about the establishment of the National Grid. Merz pioneered the electrification of Britain’s railways and established electric trams in cities like Newcastle, Cork and in Melbourne, Australia. Merz’s uncle on his mother’s side was the Tyneside shipbuilder John Wigham Richardson.
Well-known character actor who was born in Eaglescliffe near Stockton-on-Tees. An actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company, with a prolific TV acting career with prominent roles including Rocky Hardcastle in As Time Goes By and Dr Alex Farrenby in Heartbeat. He was the last person to play Dan Archer in the BBC Radio 4 drama series The Archers before the character was killed off in 1984. Middlemass was the son of a shipping company director with family roots in the Scottish Borders.
See also the Middlemass surname
Renowned moral philosopher who made her name at Newcastle. Born Mary Scrutton in London and educated at Oxford, she worked in the Civil Service and in teaching in her early life and moved to Newcastle in 1950 where her husband worked in the Philosophy Department of Newcastle University. Mary herself joined the department in 1962 and her reputation as a moral philosopher grew in stature, particularly from 1978 when her first book Beast and Man was published when she was 59 years old. Several more books followed including Wickedness (1984), The Ethical Primate (1994) and Are You An Illusion? (2014). Midgley was a critical opponent of the ethologist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins and was noted for her work on ethics, animal rights and her views on science.
1924 – 1988
Legendary Newcastle United and England footballer and a prolific goal scorer known as ‘Wor Jackie’, he was born in Ashington, Northumberland. Milburn scored 200 goals in 397 appearances for the Magpies. Only Alan Shearer has scored more for Newcastle United. Milburn scored both goals in Newcastle’s 2-0 FA Cup final victory over Blackpool in 1951 and was part of the team that won the FA cup final against Arsenal in 1952 and scored the first goal (after 45 seconds) in Newcastle’s 3-1 FA Cup final victory over Manchester City in 1955. Milburn was a cousin to the mother of fellow Ashington footballers Jack and Bobby Charlton. The Milburn stand at St James’ Park is named after him and there is a statue outside the ground in his honour.
See also the Milburn surname
Music Was My First Love
Jarrow-born and Jarrow Grammar School educated singer, songwriter and keyboard player whose solo career began in 1971. He is best known as the writer and performer of the 1976 track Music noted for the lyrics “music was my first love and it will be my last; the music of the future, the music of the past”.
Comedian, born Sarah King in South Shields. Millican is the surname of her first husband and their divorce in 2004 provided much early material for her stand up act. Her comic talents were increasingly recognised following her debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2008. Since then she has been a regular on comedy panel shows and has hosted her own show.
I’m a Celebrity Champ
Down to earth and naturally funny TV presenter from Bishop Auckland. An early TV appearance was on Beauty School Cop Outs for MTV but Scarlett rose to prominence for her humorous and often outspoken TV observations alongside her mum and dad on Channel 4’s Gogglebox. Scarlett was the winner of ITV’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in 2016 hosted by Ant and Dec and is now a regular on Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.
See also the Moffat surname
Sunderland-born footballer and Sunderland goalkeeper whose double save helped secure the 1973 FA Cup final for Sunderland against Leeds United. Hailing from the Hendon area of the city, Jimmy holds the club record for Sunderland appearances with 627 games to his name.
England’s first World Cup Goal
South Shields-born footballer, whose grandfather was a Norwegian sailor who settled in England. Mortensen deserves much greater recognition for his place in the history of English football at both club and international levels. After serving in the RAF he played for much of his career with Blackpool and was a renowned England international. A centre forward, Mortensen scored a hat trick for Blackpool in the 1953 final in which his team came back from being 3-1 behind. Strangely, despite this contribution, the final came to be known as ‘The Matthews Final’ from his team mate Stanley Matthew’s motivational part in the victory. Mortensen was the only player to score a hat trick in an FA Cup final at the original Wembley Stadium. He should also be remembered as the first ever player to score for England in the World Cup Finals, scoring the first goal in England’s opening 2-0 victory over Chile in Brazil on June 25, 1950. The second goal came from Wilf Mannion. It was the first time England had agreed to compete in the event first held in 1930. Mortensen also had the distinction of being the first England player to score in the earlier qualifying rounds.
Mad Cap Mortimer
Entertainer, comedian and actor, born Acklam, Middlesbrough, and the son of a biscuit salesman. He once had trials for Middlesbrough FC. Mortimer first met his future comic duo partner, Vic Reeves at a performance in London and Vic and Bob became famous for their unique brand of surreal humour in shows such as Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out, The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and the madcap panel show Shooting Stars.
Born in Watford and raised in Coventry, the widely-respected Government minister Mo Mowlam as she was universally known was a graduate of Durham University’s Trevelyan College and was Vice President of the Durham Student’s Union. Mowlam was the Labour MP for Redcar from 1987 to 2001 and as a minister in the cabinet of Tony Blair where she most notably served as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland she was considered a key factor in the success of the politically significant Good Friday agreement of 1998 which secured peace in Northern Ireland.
Sir Robert Murray CBE
Businessman and Football Chairman
Born in Consett in County Durham, businessman Bob Murray was the Chairman of Sunderland Football Club from 1986 to 2006. Murray became a successful businessman as the owner of the Spring Ram kitchen manufacturing company. As the Sunderland chairman, it was Murray who instigated the building and naming of the Sunderland Stadium of Light which opened in 1997 on the site of the former Monkwearmouth Colliery which had closed in 1993.
See also our North East surnames page
The surnames Milburn and Moffat