Maurice Leitch

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Maurice Leitch (born 5 July 1933) is a renowned author, born in Northern Ireland. Leitch’s work includes prize-winning novels, short stories, dramas, screenplays and radio and television documentaries. His first novel was The Liberty Lad, published in 1965. His second novel, Poor Lazarus was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize [1] in 1969, and Silver's City won the Whitbread Prize [2] in 1981.

Leitch taught in primary schools in Antrim for several years before joining BBC Northern Ireland in 1960 as a producer/writer. In 1970, he moved to London to become a producer in the BBC’s Radio drama department. From 1977 until 1989 he was editor of Radio Four’s Book at Bedtime, until leaving in 1989 to write full-time. In the New Year Honours List, 1998, he was awarded an MBE[3] for services to literature.

Life and Works[edit]

Ireland[edit]

Maurice Henry Leitch was born in the village of Muckamore, County Antrim, to Jean, née, Coid, and Andrew Leitch of Templepatrick, Antrim on 5 July 1933. He was educated at Methodist College Belfast, and Stranmillis Training College, Belfast. (Stranmillis, now Stranmillis University College, holds a distinctive place in Irish education, established after partition to offer Northern Ireland a non-denominational training college. Resistance from the Roman Catholic schools – and Catholic bishops – to accepting Stranmills-trained teachers subsequently defined the college as Protestant.) For a novelist whose characterful Protestant voice was to jostle with traditional Irish Catholic writing throughout his career, his Protestant background continues to provide a nearly unique perspective on a troubled Irish history, indeed, according to The Cambridge Companion to the Irish Novel, anticipating the Troubles by revealing the ‘terminal decay, sullen hatred and sour futility in his region’,[4] notably in his first novel, The Liberty Lad.

It was while teaching in the Protestant primary schools of Antrim that Leitch began his professional writing, with pieces about the Antrim countryside published in the Belfast Telegraph, a countryside that would later prove far from bucolic in his novels. He moved on to short stories for Northern Ireland Children’s Hour,[5] before following the career path that had been established by the poet Louis MacNeice (1907-1963), and poets and writers of MacNeice’s generation including W.R. Rodgers and Sam Hanna Bell who had paved the way for Ulster writers to join the BBC. In the Corporation their sensibility was encouraged and flourished and Leitch, by contributing features, and joining the BBC Features department in 1960 as a producer/writer was one of the last significant authors to emerge from the fertile Ulster tradition.

Adding Radio Drama to his repertoire in 1960 with The Old House, he wrote and produced documentaries during his time at the BBC in Belfast. The Liberty Lad was published in 1965, adding to his growing reputation with its portrait of a schoolmaster, a threatened mill closure and a corrupt unionist politician. It also caused a stir that went beyond the currently political, not least because of its representation of sexuality, including male homosexuality. In the book Banned in Ireland: Censorship and the Irish Writer, Leitch describes the reception he received at a personal level: ‘I did get a lot of backlash, particularly my first book ... from people who knew me socially and from the village I came from. It still affects certain people. It seemed terribly shocking that I would actually mention the fact that homosexuality existed, particularly in an Irish context, whether North or South, because there's not much difference really between the attitudes North or South. It just seemed a subject worthy of writing about because it was another extension of repression. Ireland is sexually repressed; let's face it.’ [6] According to Jeff Dudgeon, in his articleMapping 100 Years of Gay Life in Belfast, Leitch also documented gay history with that book: ‘The Royal Avenue (RA) Bar in Rosemary Street (the hotel's public bar, opposite the Red Barn pub) as portrayed in Maurice Leitch's fine 1965 novel The Liberty Lad (probably the earliest description of a gay bar in Irish literature) was the first in the city.’ [7]

His second novel, Poor Lazarus, was published in 1969, while Leitch was still living in Northern Ireland, and it, too, was banned in the South. This time the protagonist is Albert Yarr, an isolated – ‘tormented’ as described by Tom Paulin[8] – Protestant in a predominantly Catholic area who is offered a temporary resurrection when he is recruited by a documentary film maker. This book, too, caused unease in the North, with references to the ‘Romper Room’ where the UDA tortured and murdered victims. The Belfast poet and cultural arbiter John Hewitt, a ‘man of the left’, was among those who objected. In her critical study of Hewitt, Poet John Hewitt, 1907-1987 and Criticism of Northern Irish Protestant Writing, Sarah Ferris points to Hewitt’s cultural protectionism by quoting John Kilfeather: ‘For years [Hewitt] black-mouthed ... Maurice Leitch and Robert Harbinson. He obscurely hinted that they let the Protestant side down – Leitch by his, in John’s terms, extraordinary outburst against Orangeism in Poor Lazarus...’ In England, Poor Lazarus was received with acclaim and awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize for 1969.

Published works[edit]

BBC Television Plays and Screenplays[edit]

Television Plays and Screenplays written by Maurice Leitch
Date first broadcast Play Director Cast Synopsis
Awards
Station
Series
27 October 1980 Rifleman[14] David Gillard Producer: Terry Coles Bryan Murray, Peter Jeffrey, Simon Cadell, Will Leighton, Joan Ogden, Derek Martin, Allan McLelland and Clinton Morris Winner of The Pye Television Award for New Television Writers 1981: Private Semple returns to his Antrim home after the Battle of the Somme, the village’s sole survivor from all the ‘brave boys of Ulster’ who volunteered, but the battle scars go far deeper than anyone suspects. BBC Two

Première Series Four

15 April 1983 Guests of the Nation [15] Donald McWhinnie Timothy Spall, Tim Woodward, Ronan Smith, Liam Stack and Ron Flanagan Play adapted from Frank O’Connor's story by Maurice Leitch set in County Cork in 1920. Two British soldiers, held hostage by the Irish Free Army strike up a relationship with their guards, but fail to win over the more politically committed Donovan. BBC TV
8 March 1983 Gates of Gold[16] Jon Amiel Producers: Andrée Molyneux and Chris Parr Peter Bayliss, Michael Duffy, Denys Hawthorne, Trudy Kelly, Helen McClenaghan, Bryan Murray, Louis Rolston and Sandra Voe Play by Maurice Leitch set in Country Antrim. Two evangelists are touring the area, stirring up religious fervour in the quiet Presbyterian backwaters. The year is 1959. BBC One

Play for Today

2 August 1989 Chinese Whispers Stuart Burge Producer: Robert Cooper Niall Buggy, Gary Waldhorn, Martin Wenner, Annette Badland, Niall Cusack, Liam de Staic, Renny Krupinski, Tony Rohr and Breffni McKenna Kenny's work as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital isn't just a job, it's a vocation. His special group of patients are his friends - his only friends. When a strange young man is introduced to the group, he threatens the love, discipline and respect that have been the very basis of Kenny's authority, and all that surrounds the institution is scant protection from the madness of the world beyond. Adapted from his original novella by Maurice Leitch. Music by Simon Rogers. BBC Two

ScreenPlay Series Four

16 March 1969 Fit-Ups, Or, Positively the Last Performance Robin Wylie A film of life in one of the last of the Irish road-shows: Existence as portable as the props, travelling light, living in transit, always thinking of the next town just ahead. Written and produced by Maurice Leitch.[17] Winner of the Dublin Golden Harp Documentary Award for 1969. BBC Two

Further Television[edit]

  • [Travellers’ Tales (television series)|Travellers' Tales]]: Dead Peaks of the Dolomites,[18] BBC One, 1967. Europe's climbing playground; source of inspiration to Titian, Dante, and more recently a group of climbers who attempted the most difficult peak by its most direct and severe route. Written and presented by Maurice Leitch.
  • Hidden Ground: Part Three,[19] BBC Two, 1990: Third part of a series written and presented by Irish writers: Maurice Leitch, novelist and playwright, explores the staunchly Protestant area of Six Mile Valley in County Antrim, where he was born and reared. Producer: Bill Miskelly

Radio Plays[edit]

Radio Plays written by Maurice Leitch
Date first broadcast Play Director Cast Synopsis
Awards
Station
Series
15 November 1960 The Old House Ronald Mason J.G. Devlin, Gertrude Russell, James Ellis, Catherine Gibson and Maurice O’Callaghan An old couple living in a tied country cottage are visited by their son from Belfast who has come to persuade them to move to his house in the city before they are evicted. The old man finds it impossible to come to terms with the move and there is a crisis involving a loaded gun. Things will never be the same. A play about getting old in a cruel new world BBC Radio

Northern Ireland Home Service

8 May 1978 A Little Bit of Heaven Robert Cooper Ian Hendry, Jane Knowles, J.G. Devlin, Mark Mulholland, Trudy Kelly, Doreen Hepburn, Stella McCusker, Maurice O’Cahllaghan, Desmond McAleer, Catherin Gibson and Patrick Brannigan GERRY: There's a Hitchcock film with this bit in it of a tennis crowd.... and all the heads in the crowd are following the play.... but smack in the middle of them there's this one guy who's staring straight ahead.

LINDA: . . . sounds kind of lonely. After 20 years, Gerry Mahood comes home to Ulster to find his only friends are nostalgia and whiskey.

BBC Radio 4

The Monday Play

24 October 1983 Woodcraft Robert Cooper Alex Jennings, Clive Panto, Eileen Tully, Timothy Bateson, Ian McEllinney, Jim Norton, Liam Neeson, Timothy Spin and Sylvestra La Touzel Victor Albert Cleghorn , 42, an Ulsterman now resident in Crawley, has been charged with trespassing on a woodland in East Sussex in the early hours of 18 June. Also arrested were two other Ulstermen; a motorcycle dispatch rider and a trainee hairdresser. Cleghorn later admitted possessing an offensive weapon and illegal broadcasting equipment.... BBC Radio 4

The Monday Play

16 February 1987 Flutes Jeremy Howe Derek Halligan, Mark Mulholland, Peter Quigley, Niall O‘Brien, Clare Cathcart, Hugh Fraser, Anthony Finigan and Harry Towb A world championship flute band from a run-down Ulster town make a concert tour to

Toronto. As the band prepares for their first Orange parade away from home, personalities and politics clash.

BBC Radio 4 The Monday Play
13 February 1990 Where the Boys Are Penny Gold T.P. McKenna, Sean Barrett, Susan Fleetwood, Des McAleer, Anna Cropper, John Gabriel and Margaret Courtenay The boys are together again for an evening of humour and nostalgia. But tribal rituals can be dangerous.... BBC Radio 3

Drama Now

15 December 1991 All the Uncrowned Heads of Europe Ned Chaillet T.P. McKenna, Ciaran Hinds, Eileen Way, Joanna Myers, Rio Fanning, Leonard Fenton, Maggie McCarthy, Pauline Letts, Amerjit Deu, Peter Gunn, Harry Webster, and Ronald Herdman. Piano: Mary Nash A dying tradition of travelling theatre in Ireland during the late 1960s is the subject of Maurice Leitch’s play, when lax borders suddenly become battle-zones and a way of life is threatened with extinction. BBC Radio 4

Sunday Playhouse

27 May 1992 Introducing Fagan Ned Chaillet T.P. McKenna, Anita Dobson, Robin Weaver and Gordon Reid. Musician: Mia Soteriou When Fagan, ‘just Fagan’, finishes his night’s work as a club entertainer and goes home with two women, the results are hardly what he expects. BBC Radio 4

Afternoon Play

25 April 1993 – 9 May 1993 Children of the Dead End[20] Patrick MacGill, dramatised by Maurice Leitch Eoin O'Callaghan Gerard Murphy, Robert Taylor, Diane O’Kelly, Tim Loane, Kevin Flood, John Hewitt, Aine McCartney, Sean Caffrey, Stella McCusker, Trudy Kelly, Niall Cusak, Allen Docherty,Katy Gleadhill, Margaret D’Arcy, Bi Hogg, Finlay Welsh, Frances Low, Wendy Seager, Kenneth Glenaan, Grace Glover, James Bryce, Simon Donald, Crawford Logan, Anne Downie and Sheila Latimer Patrick MacGill 's novel earned him condemnation from every pulpit and landowner in Ireland. His story follows the fate of two young people, almost destroyed by poverty, forced to leave Donegal and work the potato fields of Scotland. They plunge ever further into degradation. BBC Radio 4

Classic Serial

24 April 1995 Silver’s City Ned Chaillet Brian Cox, Freddie Boardley, James Nesbitt, Clare Cathcart, John Rogan, Sean Caffrey, Michael McKnight, Ethna Roddy, Valerie Lilley, Catherine White, Conleth Hill, Toby E. Byrne, Robert Patterson, Joshua Towb, and James Greene Brian Cox stars as ‘Silver’ Steele in Maurice Leitch’s play based on his Whitbread Prize-winning novel. Freed from imprisonment for terrorism by a Loyalist raid on his hospital room,

Silver finds that his ideals have made him a dangerous anachronism in a changing Northern Ireland.

BBC Radio 4

The Monday Play

7 December 1999 A Shout in the Distance[21] Ned Chaillet Andrew Scott, Sorcha Cusack, T.P. McKenna, James Greene, Gavin Muir, Gavin Stewart, Valerie Lilley and Elizabeth Bell Featured as one of four plays celebrating 1,000 Years of Spoken English on Radio Four: A comedy of Irish manners is the last thing young Winston expects when he is uprooted from Northern Ireland and transplanted to London. But there is more than rhyming slang that he must learn to understand. BBC Radio 4

Afternoon Play

10 April 2003 Swan-song for the Nightingale Ned Chaillet Music direction by Neil Brand Sorcha Cusack, Marty Rea, James Ellis, John Rogan, Stephen Hogan, James Greene and Norma Shehan The sound of country music rings alarm bells for young Kevin, when it means that his ‘has-been alcoholic’ mother hits the comeback trail in Ireland, and wants to take him along. But he has a lot to learn about his mother, and other ‘stars of yesteryear’. Starring Sorcha Cusack as Dolores Quinn.[22] BBC Radio 4

Afternoon Play Afternoon Play

23 February 2005 Something Cool Ned Chaillet Linda Marlowe, Jim Norton, Alyson Coote, Bruno Lastra and Claudio Rojas In a Spanish bar, during the tourist off-season, Rose sits and waits for something to happen. As happy hour draws to a close, two strangers appear and the scene is set for an intense and unexpected confrontation. BBC Radio 4

Afternoon Play

13 March 2007 The Hands of Cheryl Boyd Eoin O'Callaghan Zara Turner, Gerard Murphy, Stella McCusker, Laura Hughes, Dan Gordon, Michael Doherty, Derek Bailey, Sarah Gordon and Hannah R. Gordon A young woman in a wheelchair falls foul of the law, but unbeknown to her, an overzealous Pastor lays plans for her salvation. BBC Radio 4

Afternoon Play

References[edit]

  1. ^ Guardian Fiction Award Winners 1965-1998
  2. ^ Costa-Whitbread Award Winners 1971-2013
  3. ^ New Year Honours, 1998 BBC report
  4. ^ p. 160 The Cambridge Companion to the Irish Novel, 2006
  5. ^ Northern Ireland Children’s Hour, BBC Archive
  6. ^ Maurice Leitch interviewed by Julia Carlson, Banned in Ireland p. 100
  7. ^ Jeff Dudgeon in The Vacuum, issue 11, Mapping 100 Years of Belfast Gay Life
  8. ^ Tom Paulin Belfast Diary, London Review of Books, 18 July 1998
  9. ^ Silver’s City review by Graham Houghton, London Review of Books 1 October 1981
  10. ^ Tell Me About It Absolute Audiobooks
  11. ^ Maurice Leitch interviewed on publication of ‘’Dining at the Dunbar’’, by Jane Hardy, Belfast Telegraph, 2009
  12. ^ A Far Cry Lagan Press, 2012
  13. ^ Seeking Mr. Hare, Amazon reviews
  14. ^ ‘’Echoes of War’’: ‘’Rifleman’’, 1981 Radio Times
  15. ^ Guests of the Nation BFI
  16. ^ Gates of Gold BFI
  17. ^ Fit-Ups, Radio Times
  18. ^ ‘’Travellers Tales’’: ‘’Dead Peaks of the Dolomites’’ BBC One, Radio Times
  19. ^ Hidden Ground: Part Three BBC Two Radio Times
  20. ^ BBC - Classic Serial – ‘’Children of the Dead End’’ Radio Times
  21. ^ A Shout in the Distance Radio Times
  22. ^ Swan-song for the Nightingale Radio Times