John Keyes was born in Belfast in 1937. He joined the Group Theatre at the age of 15, becoming the youngest ever actor to appear on the Bedford Street stage. In 1995, he joined the legendary Shakespearean travelling theatre led by Ireland’s greatest Shakespearean actor, Anew McMaster.
He then left Ireland in order to pursue an acting career in English rep. While in England he landed his most famous role as Sgt Derek Cooper in Dixon of Dock Green. Returning to Ireland in the 1970s, he – along with friend Roma Tomelty – formed 70s Productions – the first ever theatre in education project in Northern Ireland.
As theatre collapsed during the onset of the troubles, Keyes was a familiar face on Ulster stages such as the Lyric and the Arts in both comedies and more serious fare. He also appeared in several films such as Shoot to Kill and Backdraft and was a regular on local television screens.
He was also the theatre reviewer for Fortnight magazine and edited two books for Lagan Press: Robert Harbinson: Selected Short Stories (1996) and Sam Thompson: Over the Bridge & Other Plays. He also wrote a ‘personal history’ of the Group and Arts Theatres: Going Dark (2002) and a one-man show based on the life of Michael Mac Liammoir, The Importance of Being Michael (2002). A major stroke ended curtailed his career.
He died in 2010.