Mark Pegg - former Eastenders actor opens drama school in Derbyshire

Mark in his EastEnders role of gangster Alfie Kane

Mark in his EastEnders role of gangster Alfie Kane - Credit: Archant

A chance encounter led to a career in entertainment for actor and film producer Mark Pegg, who has now established his own Acting Academy in South Derbyshire, writes Lynne Dixon.

Coaching a drama student online back at Bretby

Coaching a drama student online back at Bretby - Credit: Archant

Were it not for the unbelievably kind intervention of acclaimed actor Sir Derek Jacobi, Mark Pegg would never have got his foot on the first rung of the entertainment ladder.

The South Derbyshire-based actor and film producer would not have gone on to work with such glittering showbiz luminaries as Daniel Craig, James Corden and Joanna Lumley – to name a few.

For Mark, 48, a genuine East Ender who played gangster Alfie Kane in the BBC TV soap EastEnders in the late 1990s, came from a down-to-earth background in London’s Walthamstow where getting a place at drama school seemed impossibly out of reach.

Until actor Derek Jacobi came into his life, quite unexpectedly, that is. Explains Mark, who today lives with wife Deborah in Castle Gresley: ‘As a 16-year-old in Walthamstow I joined a local amateur dramatic group, which won a prize in a drama festival. At the awards ceremony we were presented with our prize by Derek – he wasn’t Sir Derek then.

Mark, second right, with three colleagues

Mark, second right, with three colleagues - Credit: Archant

‘A few years afterwards I decided I wanted to go to drama school but was refused a grant from the local authority. So I wrote to Derek to ask if he could put a word in for me because I knew he was, like me, a Walthamstow boy.’

To Mark’s delight, he eventually received a call from the council to go for an interview. ‘I saw a ten-page letter from Derek Jacobi on the desk, written on my behalf, and sure enough I was offered a grant to study at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in London. It was a wonderful moment.’

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Some years later, when Mark’s career in television and films was established, Sir Derek, at that time Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre, offered him a part in Hobson’s Choice, playing opposite the lead, Leo McKern, of Rumpole of the Bailey fame.

‘It seemed it had all gone full circle for me, and now I want to help the aspiring young actors of today realise their dream of an acting career, just as Sir Derek Jacobi helped me all those years ago. It just feels like I’m giving something back.’

Mark in the American TV sci-fi series Starhunter

Mark in the American TV sci-fi series Starhunter - Credit: Archant

To that end, Mark this year set up his own drama school, The Acting Academy, at Bretby Business Park, where he coaches and mentors aspiring actors either online or in person, on a one-to-one basis.

‘I have students from all over the UK and of all ages – from teenagers to fiftysomethings who have retired and want a new and completely different career. My view is you are never too old to go into acting. Take the late actor Buster Merryfield, who played Uncle Albert in Only Fools and Horses. He was a bank manager who didn’t enter the acting profession until he was 60 years old!’

What’s more, Mark’s acting lessons are accessible to all, no matter what their financial circumstances. ‘Today you can’t get a grant to go to drama school as I did, it will cost you £9,000 a year, which is ridiculous, it rules so many people out of the equation. The cost to my students is only £9.99 a month and my coaching offers all the training and support you would get at drama school. I will also showcase the students’ talent once a year, inviting agents and casting directors along.’

So far in his career, Mark has played mainly cops and baddies. And he concedes that his genuine Cockney accent (he was born in Bethnall Green within the sound of Bow Bells) has definitely helped. ‘When I played gangster Alfie Kane in EastEnders for a year in 1998, I must have been convincing because people used to shout at me in the street ‘leave Peggy alone’. They got really angry with me on Barbara Windsor’s behalf! Alfie Kane truly was a horrible man.’

Mark thoroughly enjoyed his stint in the long-running BBC TV soap, set in fictitious Walford. ‘They came up with the name Walford by amalgamating the names of two East End locations, Walthamstow and Stratford. But ironically it’s filmed in North London,’ he laughs.

As we chat over coffee in Derby’s QUAD Café, Mark tells me that his first brush with showbiz came when he was 11. ‘I wrote to Capital Radio to say I wanted to be a DJ and quite unexpectedly they offered me a slot on Sunday afternoons called Junior Disc Jockey.’

But acting became his real ambition and by the age of 19 he had realised his dream of studying at drama school. ‘I went there with a broad Cockney accent and had to learn to speak Received Pronunciation so I could be basically accent-less, which is actually a very hard thing to do. It took me ages to get it.’

The first acting job Mark landed was as Inspector Eric Ransome in The Bill, but one of the roles he became most proud of was playing DC Tony Weir in the 90s TV series Our Friends in the North.

Another favourite role he played was a character called Alistair McNaughton in the American sci-fi TV series, Starhunter. ‘He was the most evil man on earth, so much so that he was forced to live alone on his own planet!’

One of Mark’s good friends in showbiz is the talented James Corden, who he came across when he decided to diversify into film producing. ‘One of the first films I produced for the cinema was Heroes and Villains in 2006. That was when I auditioned a young actor called James Corden. I gave him the love interest part, the guy who got the girl in the end. Jenny Agutter and Roy Marsden also starred in it. It was one of James’s first big film roles and I was actually with him when the BBC called him to commission the Gavin & Stacey TV series, which he wrote. He has done fantastically well since then.’

Mark also gave actor Tom Mison one of his first roles. ‘Now he’s a big star in America, he plays Ichabod Crane in the Sleepy Hollow TV series. It’s nice to think you’ve played a part in helping someone’s film career, it feels as if I’m repaying the debt I owe to Sir Derek Jacobi for helping me get started.’

Although James Corden now spends a lot of time in America where he has his own chat show, Mark, who has his film production base at Elstree Studios, hopes to run a few ideas past him. ‘There are some projects I’d love to chat to James about.’

Current projects Mark is working on include a children’s TV animation series and a horror movie called Deathlines. ‘But as they are still in development, they’re under wraps at the moment.’

Mark met his wife Deborah, a media lawyer, 20 years ago in London, and five years ago they moved to South Derbyshire to be near to her roots in Barton-under-Needwood. They have a six-year-old daughter Fern, and from his previous marriage Mark has a son Charles, 30, and a daughter Briony, 26, both teachers.

I ask Mark how life in Castle Gresley compares with the hustle and bustle of London and Mark is unequivocal in his reply. ‘I love it up here, it reminds me of my youth when there was much more of a community spirit in London. Today it’s quite a transient life there.

‘It’s God’s own country here, the countryside is brilliant. Away from the strains and stresses of London living you realise what’s important. Yet when I’m working at Elstree it’s a pretty quick train journey from here.

‘But I find it so relaxing here, whether I’m playing golf at Branston or walking along the banks of the River Trent. Life in Derbyshire is heaven!’ u

For details of acting lessons from Mark Pegg, visit He offers a free two-week trial for lessons on line.

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