Dale Meeks, who has died of heart failure aged 48, was an actor who made his name in Byker Grove and then Emmerdale, and had recently been seen in the real-life ITV crime drama The Hunt for Raoul Moat as the killer’s friend who tells a police inspector: “He said you coppers done him in. He’s coming for you.”
He was born on May 6 1974 in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, attending nearby Whitburn Comprehensive. When he was 14 he began his four-year stint on the CBBC teen drama series Byker Grove alongside the nascent stars Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly. He played Greg, leader of Denton Burn, rivals to the Byker Grove youth club.
“I had so many false exits from the show,” he recalled. “I was the baddy and they were not sure whether they were going to bring that story back. So I had four leaving dos.”
After leaving Byker Grove – which also gave starts to the likes of Donna Air and Charlie Hunnam – in 1992, Meeks began picking up one-off appearances in such shows as Spender and The Bill and appeared in the Catherine Cookson adaptation The Wingless Bird.
He also occupied himself as a member of South Shields Amateur Operatic Society, which gave him valuable theatre experience in their shows at the Sunderland Empire, and in 1999 he was in Noel Coward’s Nude With Violin at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, playing, according to the Telegraph’s Charles Spencer, “a hilarious overgrown schoolboy”.
The following year Spencer lauded his “particularly fine work” at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End in the football-based collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton, The Beautiful Game. “People said to me, ‘You’re not fazed by working in such a big theatre’, and I said, ‘No, because I’ve worked in them before.’ Working with the amateur society wasn’t drama school, but it taught me a lot of things.”
But during a couple of years of lean pickings he was considering giving it all up and applying for a technician’s job at the Customs House arts venue in South Shields, when one day he was in London for a auditioning when his agent called to say he had an audition for Emmerdale: “I only had the clothes I was standing up in, and no money to go back home to get fresh ones,” he recalled. “Fortunately, he said that Emmerdale would pay my expenses. But I said if I didn’t get that job, then I would give up.”
He beat 20 other hopefuls to the role of the fishman Simon Meredith in Emmerdale. His stint was supposed to last three months, as a love interest for the fiery Nicola Blackstock (Nicole Wheeler), but his character proved popular and he stayed on – which rapidly led to wider recognition.
“I’ve learned in a very short time that there are three grades of fans,” he said in 2004. “First there are the starers, who’ve clocked you but are too cool to let you know. Then there are those who come up to you looking a little confused and ask: ‘Is it really you?’ Finally, there are people who just get really excited and are just dead chuffed to see you. I ended up signing an autograph on someone’s tanning card yesterday.”
Simon lost his restaurant amid financial problems and became a binman. Then in 2006 Meeks’s contract was not renewed, along with that of Sherrie Hewson, who played his mother. His final episode, in which he walks off into the sun, bound for Costa Rica, was written by his older brother Philip.
Post-Emmerdale there were one-offs in such programmes as Heartbeat, Inspector George Gently and the Tracy Beaker spin-off The Dumping Ground, and in 2006 he co-wrote the play Worlds Apart, about England’s 1966 World Cup win. It was performed by Boyle Yer Stotts, the theatre company he co-founded.
In 2005 he won a celebrity version of Stars in Their Eyes alongside Mark Charnock (Marlon Dingle in Emmerdale) as the Blues Brothers, and back home in the north-east he fronted a blues band, Shake Your Tail Feather (who took their name from a Ray Charles song).
He was also a pantomime regular at the Empire in Sunderland (including appearing with Mickey Rooney in Cinderella and playing Widow Twankey in Aladdin alongside Paul Michael Glaser of Starsky and Hutch fame).
In 2006 and 2007 he was in a touring production of Chicago as the hapless Amos, opposite Jennifer Ellison as his wife Roxie, and he appeared in the West End in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies.
Dale Meeks, who was unmarried, is survived by his brother Philip.
Dale Meeks, born May 6 1974, died April 22 2023