Doyle, Michael Anthony (‘Tony’) (1935–2000), actor, was born 21 July 1935 in Ballyfarnan, near Boyle, Co. Roscommon, youngest among four children of James Doyle, garda, and his wife Nora. His father was later stationed in Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon, and in the mid 1950s in Churchtown, Dublin. Tony was educated at Frenchpark national school and Belcamp College, Raheny, Dublin, before proceeding to St Patrick's in Carlow to study philosophy and to UCD to study commerce. At college he became involved in the Dramatic Society and decided on the stage as a career. He spent time on the Dublin fringe, especially at the Pike Theatre, till a musical he was appearing in, James MacKenna's ‘The scatterin’, transferred to London in 1962 and he decided to stay on. Although he lived principally in London for the rest of his life, work often took him to Ireland. His role as Fr Sheehy (who caused a furore by advising women to use contraception), in the long-running RTÉ soap opera ‘The Riordans’, made him a household face in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s.
Doyle was briefly back in Dublin in the early 1970s to take on part-management of the Eblana Theatre, in premises under the central bus station. In March 1971 he produced Tom Gallacher's ‘Mr Joyce is leaving Paris’ for the Dublin theatre festival, but had to take to the stage half an hour into the first performance to announce an injunction against the play by the trustees of Joyce's estate. The following year he had a television appearance in another play based on Joyce's work, Hugh Leonard's (qv) ‘Stephen D’ (BBC 1972) as Dedalus's friend Cranly, and in 1973 he appeared with John Hurt in a Tom Gallacher play, ‘The only street’, at the Dublin theatre festival. In England he took leading parts in acclaimed new Irish plays including Hugh Leonard's (qv) ‘Da’ (Islington, 1977) and Brian Friel's (qv) ‘Translations’ (Hampstead Theatre Club, 1981), but he was not typecast as an Irish actor and appeared in Pinter's ‘The birthday party’ (Shaw Theatre, January 1975) as the sinister gangster McCann. The Times (9 Jan. 1975) commended him as a ‘tense, immobile figure, occasionally springing a swift, economical gesture’. He became associated with brooding and bullying parts – as the Unnamed Irishman in Tom Murphy's ‘The Gigli concert’, performed in the Gate (19 March 1991) before transferring to the Almeida, London, the following year, he was critically acclaimed for playing ‘a dangerous bully, whose fist is as clenched as his smile’ (Guardian, 9 Jan. 1992).
Doyle's screen characters also carried frequent undertones of aggression and menace; he excelled at villains. In the BBC series ‘Crossfire’ (1988) he was a Provisional IRA chief and in Murder in Eden (1991) he was a publican with a drink problem, who had killed two people. For the BBC police serial ‘Between the lines’ (1992–4) he played the seemingly incorruptible John Deakin, who turns out to be the villain. This was a breakthrough role and finally brought Doyle widespread renown; for the last six years of his life he was among the most acclaimed and sought-after actors in Britain. In the hard-hitting ITV drama about prostitutes, ‘Band of gold’ (1995–6), he was George Ferguson, cleaning-business boss and another menacing figure. His portrayal of brooding, dangerous characters reached its apogee in ‘Amongst women’ (1998), a four-part BBC drama based on John McGahern's (qv) book, with Doyle as Moran, the tyrannical widower and war of independence veteran, who brings up his children in a climate of fear. The role is based on McGahern's father, a Leitrim garda, whom Doyle's father, stationed in the neighbouring county, had known; Doyle said that the culture was familiar to him. He brought intensity and vulnerability to the part, which won him an IFTA and a Monte Carlo TV Silver Nymph award and is generally considered his master role. His on-screen tough-guy persona was matched by his off-screen reputation – Tony Garnett called him ‘the Jack Nicholson of British actors. A tough man to deal with, but once done, the most consummate professional. You didn't mess with him. Who would want to? He always delivered’ (Guardian, 29 Jan. 2000).
However, his best-known part was light-hearted. He was originally unimpressed by the ‘Ballykissangel’ script but (after pressure) agreed to take on the part of Brian Quigley, a brash, wheeler-dealer businessman. The heart-warming comedy, set in a fictional village in Co. Wicklow, was an unlikely success and ran from 1996 to 1999. Showcasing Doyle in a straight comic role, it proved his versatility as an actor.
Although primarily a small-screen actor, Doyle was, towards the end of his life, offered an increasing number of film roles and appeared in Louis Malle's Damage (1992); in Pat O'Connor's Circle of friends (1995); as the gangster godfather, Tom French, in Paddy Breathnach's I went down (1997); and as the bitter trouble-stirring priest in the 1999 film A love divided (based on the 1957 Fethard-on-Sea boycott; see Seán Cloney (qv)). In 1998 he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Film Institute of Ireland. Doyle, a workaholic who had worked consistently throughout his career, took a typically prosaic, modest attitude to his belated success: ‘I feel like a very old racehorse who's suddenly found himself on his feet so long that he starts winning’ (Irish Times, 29 May 1999). His sudden death in London on 28 January 2000 came as a shock; he was due to begin filming a BBC drama, ‘McCready and daughter’. His remains were flown to Dublin and he was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, after removal from Terenure College chapel.
He married first (1967) Susan Courtney, they had a son and two daughters, one of whom, Susannah Doyle, followed him into acting. The marriage ended in divorce (1976). With his second wife, Sally, he had a daughter and two sons.