Dorothy McKegg was born in 1928, growing up in a large family who were keen on theatre, music and dance. At age five she acted in in her first play; by 19 she had begun a long association with radio, and won a bursary to study at Laurence Olivier’s Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. The bursary had to be put on hold because the school was building new premises; impatient, she won a bursary to study singing at London’s Royal College of Music instead.
In England she sang and danced on TV’s Black and White Minstrel Show — colleagues dubbed her McLeggs — presented a TV show whose name is forgotten, and married record-breaking speedster Donald Campbell. When they divorced four years later, she returned down under, where she married Hans Wenk. Her warm voice and “sexy, throaty laugh” (Colin McColl) were finely displayed on radio, and she was also heard narrating short films made by indie company Pacific Films; she would act on stage at Downstage, Circa, the Mercury and the ATC. In 1976 Bruce Mason raved about her “deeply compassionate” performance as Juno in early Circa production Juno and the Paycock.
McKegg’s key big screen roles both involved another longtime theatre figure: Grant Tilly. After acting in the debut season of Roger Hall hit Middle Age Spread, she reprised the role in the 1979 movie adaptation, playing the woman who learns her husband (Tilly) is having an affair. Miranda Harcourt later described her screen performance as “an absolute object lesson in acting.
Exasperated or exasperating women were a McKegg specialty. In Carry Me Back she was in “extravagantly fine form” (critic David Stratton) as Tilly’s nemesis, an Aunt on a mission to stop his character from getting his father’s body back home. McKegg went on to voice the role of Aunt Dolly in the movie version of Footrot Flats. She was an acerbic teacher in Roger Hall TV show Neighbourhood Watch, an overbearing Aunt in Fiona Samuel’s Home Movie, and the tyrannical mother in both short film Willy Nilly, and the TV series that followed.
In 1992 she finally got a front and centre role on screen. In the Pat Robins-directed Matrons of Honour, made as part of television series Anthology Drama, she stared as a widow who horrifies her family by falling for an admirer (Desmond Kelly) from her school days. One of her final screen roles was in 2006 short film The Performer.
Dorothy McKegg, also known as Dorothy Anne Wenk, suffered a stroke in 2007 during rehearsals for Uncle Vanya at Circa Theatre. She died 11 February 2008.
Profile updated on 31 July 2019
Mervyn Dykes, ‘Final act for Kiwi legend‘ - The Manawatu Standard, 25 February 2008
Anna Locker-Lampson, ‘Trust your boots, Dotty’ (Interview), City Voice, 24 February 2000, page 17
‘Dorothy McKegg, 1928 - 2008‘. Theatreview website. Loaded February 2008. Accessed 13 April 2012
John Reid and Ruth Jeffrey (Editors), Circa 1976 - 1996 (Wellington: Council of Circa Theatre, 1996)