By Harry Mottram: It was one of those rare shows that make theatre going such a pleasure due to its total surprise. Howard Coggins and Stu Mcloughlin appeared in The Six Wives of Henry VIII in what was then the cellar at Bristol Old Vic – I knew it was a comedy but I was taken aback by the sheer inventiveness, high comedy and musical ability of the duo that I wrote in my review at the time – this show deserves a wider audience. As so it did as from then on Living Spit became one of the most successful and creative partnerships in theatre – all down to the creative genius of Stu and Howard.
Stu announced on the Living Spit website the death of Howard – he died on November 1, after a short illness aged just 52. It really is a huge loss – not only to theatre, to living Spit and to Stu but to his family and friends.
This is part of a tribute written by Stu:
Howard Stephen Coggins
August 2nd 1971 – November 1st 2023
Howard Coggins hated euphemistic terms for death. “Passed away” infuriated him. “Passed” was even worse. So, he’d probably prefer it if we told you that Howard Coggins, the Actor, Husband, Father, Brother and Brother-In-Law, Co-Founder of Living Spit and Co-Writer, Producer and performer of eighteen Living Spit shows, has died after a short illness. He was 52 years old.
Howard and I spent an unfathomable amount of time together. We would rehearse and perform together, write together, travel up and down the country together, and see each other socially when we weren’t working.
“I can’t believe we still find so many things to talk about, Stu!” and “I can’t believe we still get on so well, Stu!” were his common, astonished announcements.
Walking down the street with him in Clevedon, even just for a short distance, would take an age. He would stop for, or be stopped by, almost every person he would pass, and a 5-10 minute catch-up would ensue. He knew EVERYONE and would always make the time to talk to them.
He had a fantastic laugh. He laughed generously, raucously and frequently. If you were in a show and your friend Howard came along to see it, the walls would shake as his huge, sonorous laugh reverberated around the theatre. Especially if you were dancing in it.
He was born in Backwell in August 1971 to parents, Steve and Pat. In adolescence he discovered a talent and a passion for acting. After training at (coincidentally like every other member of Living Spit) the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Howard went straight into professional work and had barely been out of it since, being much in demand across the industry for his terrific range and dexterity. We, at Living Spit, frequently drew upon his wide and varied TV career to comic effect in our shows (“the Face of the National Lottery”, anyone?).
In the day to day running of Living Spit, we discovered that, added to his acting abilities, Howard was also a talented planner-aheader, with a singular sense of direction and purpose about the future, which we all envied. He was always the guy saying “we really should be thinking about what we’re doing the year after next…”
Howard and I started Living Spit together in 2012. Born out of the frustration of playing bit parts in other peoples shows, a passion for comedy and a desire to have more control over our careers. Together we dreamed, planned, schemed and plotted eighteen theatre shows and clocked up thousands of hours of stage time together.
But aside from his effect on my life, Howard’s life has positively affected the lives of thousands of others. Through his work he has brought immeasurable amounts of laughter, warmth and joy. He poured his heart into everything he did onstage. Watching him work, it was difficult not to feel your pain soothed, to feel your cares and worries melt away. He made it all ok, and the world is a darker place without him.
In his last months, Howard expressed a wish that Craig, Trimmo, Ali and I continue Living Spit in his honour. So that’s what we’ll do. Every performance, every joke, every laugh, every tear, every song will be for him.
Don’t fuck it up, Howard. And I’ll try not to be shit.
Howard leaves behind his wife of 23 years, Kirstyn, and daughter, Betty, 15.
The full tribute and much more can be found at https://www.livingspit.co.uk/
Living Spit continues with a production based on A Christmas Carol: https://www.livingspit.co.uk/upcomingshows
My review of Living Spit’s The Odyssey is here: https://www.harrymottram.co.uk/2019/10/26/rapscallion-magazine-theatre-review-the-odyssey-gets-the-living-spit-treatment-and-this-time-its-odysseus-wife-penelope-who-takes-centre-stage-in-a-brilliant-musical-comic-re-ima/