Maurice Leitch (born 5 July 1933) is an author born in Northern Ireland. Leitch's work includes 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 in 1969, and Silver's City won the Whitbread Prize 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, 31 December 1998, he was awarded an MBE for services to literature.
Life and Works – Ireland
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', 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, 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.’  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.’ 
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 – 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.
Life and Works – London
Radio Drama in London was a cultural powerhouse when Leitch joined in 1970, following the award of the Guardian Fiction Prize. Then, with Martin Esslin as Head of Radio Drama, it incorporated the Features Department (from 1967) that had produced Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood and the verse dramas of Louis MacNeice. It covered the spectrum from soap opera to Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, interspersed with literary readings and features across three of the BBC's four radio networks.
The legendary figures he followed into Broadcasting House and the BBC Club were to receive a kind of tribute in Tell Me About It (2007), Leitch's novel about a young Irish features producer in the 1960s, trawling the streets of London with a tape recorder and a thirst.
While the novels are at the centre of Leitch's achievement, his work in broadcasting was significant, and contributed to his MBE. Among the dramas he produced were plays by James Follett and a dramatisation of Sean O'Casey's great autobiography, I Knock at the Door. A breadth of interest saw writers such as Vladimir Nabokov and B. Traven, Edna O'Brien, Carson McCullers, V.S. Naipaul, Katherine Mansfield and F. Scott Fitzgerald figure in the Book at Bedtime under his editorship, and he introduce new writers such as Timothy Mo – although after leaving the BBC he was to say: 'Most writers do all their serious reading before the age of thirty-five. After that I just read for purposes of research. Writing is hard enough as it is anyway, and enough to be going on with.' Despite this he went on to produced over 30 readings of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, abridged for Corgi Audio with Tony Robinson as the reader.
His third novel, Stamping Ground (1975) makes a bleak, visceral return to Ulster. 'This is the ﬁrst novel Leitch published after his move to England from Northern Ireland, and the dour erotics of his ﬁrst novels give way to something altogether darker', wrote Caroline Magennis in her de-construction of the novel in the 2014 essay He devours her with his gaze. Charting the shifting perspectives of the novel, which involve sexual assaults and a cruelly distant, almost pleasurable observation of one assault, she says of Stamping Ground: 'Embedded in this ambiguous title, is the problem of how to make misanthropic novels about frustration and sexual aggression in the Ulster countryside saleable'. That was a problem she saw in the publisher's soft-focus cover art, rather than the novel. Magennis found little that was soft in the storytelling, a narrative 'wherein hierarchies of power, for better or usually worse, are played out in the sexual arena'. The book also figures in George O'Brien's The Irish Novel 1960–2010, a year-by-year study of Irish novels, where Stamping Ground features between 1974's Gone in the Head by Ian Cochrane and 1976's The Stepdaughter by Caroline Blackwood.
There was no softening of subject-matter in his next novel, Silver's City, which waded deep into the muddle of Loyalist terrorism, confronting Protestant paramilitary forces and far from idealistic paymasters and focussing on the conflicts within the conscience of 'Silver Steele', a freed 'hero' of the struggle confronting a new brutality outside his prison. It won the Whitbread Prize (1981). His novella, Chinese Whispers, made into a BBC film by Stuart Burge with a script by Leitch, did not appear until 1987, the same year as his collection of short stories, The Hands of Cheryl Boyd and other stories. Burning Bridges followed in 1989.
Burning Bridges[disambiguation needed], familiar to Country music fans as the title of a song about leaving the past behind – 'Burning bridges behind me/ It's too late to turn back now ... I moved to a far away city/ Trying hard to forget about you' – is the story of two uprooted exiles from Ulster, Sonny and Hazel, who meet at the London funeral of a friend and set out on a summer odyssey to the West Country of England, trying to realise Sonny's dream of emulating the singer Hank Williams. It is a journey that will resonate across decades.
A review of his 1994 novel, Gilchrist, by the Roman Catholic Northern Ireland novelist Robert McLiam Wilson in the monthly Norther Ireland cultural and political magazine Fortnight, is cited by Caroline Magennis and also by Sarah Ferris and in the Ricorso website, A Knowledge of Irish Literature 1992–2012. Magennis comments: ‘In this review, provocatively entitled, ‘Rhythm Method’, Wilson claimed that Protestant novelists lacked the ‘cultural credit card’ that he possessed, being ‘born Catholic and working-class... The Protestant vision, the Protestant version, isn’t popular. It’s got no rhythm. It’s white South African. It’s too complicated. The Catholic version is familiar, more Irish somehow’.
Wilson exempts Leitch from the generalisation, and finds a compelling, harsh metre in Gilchrist, a novel about a ‘smudged’ Ulster preacher on the run to Spain with the church funds. ‘Leitch writes brilliantly about the kind of pessimistic Protestant lust that threatens to burst Gilchrist at the seams [...] Leitch has given us a definitive Protestant portrait. A Prod with rhythm, a perverse and loathsome rhythm, but big passion, big grandeur all the same.’
- The Liberty Lad (MacGibbon & Kee Ltd, London, 1965)
- Poor Lazarus (MacGibbon & Kee Ltd, London, 1969)
- Stamping Ground (Martin Secker & Warburg, London, 1975)
- Silver's City (Martin Secker & Warburg, London, 1981)
- Chinese Whispers (Hutchinson, London,1987)
- The Hands of Cheryl Boyd and other stories (Hutchinson, London, 1987)
- Burning Bridges (Hutchinson, London, 1989)
- Gilchrist (Martin Secker &Warburg, 1994)
- The Smoke King (Martin Secker & Warburg, London, 1998)
- The Eggman's Apprentice (Martin Secker & Warburg, 2001)
- Tell Me About It (Absolute Audiobooks, 2007)
- Dining at the Dunbar (Lagan Press, Belfast, 2009)
- A Far Cry (Lagan Press, Belfast, 2012)
- Seeking Mr. Hare (The Clerkenwell Press/Profile Books, London, 2013)
BBC Television Plays and Screenplays
|Television Plays and Screenplays written by Maurice Leitch|
|Date first broadcast||Play||Director||Cast||Synopsis
|27 October 1980||Rifleman||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|
|15 April 1983||Guests of the Nation||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||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|
|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|
|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. Winner of the Dublin Golden Harp Documentary Award for 1969.||BBC Two|
- Travellers' Tales: Dead Peaks of the Dolomites, 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, 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 written by Maurice Leitch|
|Date first broadcast||Play||Director||Cast||Synopsis
|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|
|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'Callaghan, 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|
|24 October 1983||Woodcraft||Robert Cooper||Alex Jennings, Clive Panto, Eileen Tully, Timothy Bateson, Ian McElhinney, Jim Norton, Liam Neeson, Timothy Spall and Sylvestra Le 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|
|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
|15 December 1991||All the Uncrowned Heads of Europe||Ned Chaillet||T. P. McKenna, Ciarán 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|
|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|
|25 April 1993 – 9 May 1993||Children of the Dead End 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|
|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|
|7 December 1999||A Shout in the Distance||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|
|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.||BBC Radio 4|
|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|
|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|
- The Literature of the Bible: Sir Tyrone Guthrie, 'man of the theatre', recorded his personal selection from the Bible with Maurice Leitch a few weeks before his death in 1971, broadcast on Radio 3 in 1972
- Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, abridged in twenty parts by Keith Darvill, read by Kenneth Haigh, produced by Maurice Leitch. Radio 4, 1977.
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold , written and read by John Le Carré in fifteen parts, Radio 4, 1978, produced by Maurice Leitch.
- The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien, abridged in ten parts by Eric Ewens, read by Patrick Magee and produced by Maurice Leitch. Radio 4, 1979.
- Mother Ireland, written and read by Edna O'Brien as A Book at Bedtime, produced by Maurice Leitch, 1979.
- Novel on Yellow Paper by Stevie Smith, read by Anna Massey in A Book at Bedtime, produced by Maurice Leitch, 1980.
- The Handyman by Penelope Mortimer, read by Carole Hayman in A Book at Bedtime, produced by Maurice Leitch, 1983.
- Radio listings in the Maurice Leitch page, Radio Drama, Diversity Website, Sutton Elms
- Guardian Fiction Award Winners 1965–1998
- Costa-Whitbread Award Winners 1971–2013
- New Year Honours, 31 Decembe 1998 BBC report
- p. 160 The Cambridge Companion to the Irish Novel, 2006
- Northern Ireland Children’s Hour, BBC Archive
- Maurice Leitch interviewed by Julia Carlson, Banned in Ireland p. 100
- Jeff Dudgeon in The Vacuum, issue 11, Mapping 100 Years of Belfast Gay Life
- Tom Paulin Belfast Diary, London Review of Books, 18 July 1998
- Sarah Ferris, ’’Poet John Hewitt, 1907–1987 and Criticism of Northern Irish Protestant Writing’’ , Mellen Press, p.114
- James Follett at dswilliams.co.uk
- I Knock at the Door, Radio 3, 1979, Radio Times
- l Profile Books Q&A, 2013
- He devours her with his gaze, Caroline Magennis, Irish University Review 44
- The Irish Novel 1960–2010 by George O’Brien, Cork University Press, 2013
- [Fortnight (Magazine), September 1994]
- Caroline Magennis, Irish University Review 44', 2014'
- Silver’s City review by Graham Houghton, London Review of Books 1 October 1981
- Tell Me About It Absolute Audiobooks
- Maurice Leitch interviewed on publication of ‘’Dining at the Dunbar’’, by Jane Hardy, Belfast Telegraph, 2009
- A Far Cry Lagan Press, 2012
- Seeking Mr. Hare, Amazon reviews
- ‘’Echoes of War’’: ‘’Rifleman’’, 1981 Radio Times
- Guests of the Nation BFI
- Gates of Gold BFI
- Fit-Ups, Radio Times
- ‘’Travellers Tales’’: ‘’Dead Peaks of the Dolomites’’ BBC One, Radio Times
- Hidden Ground: Part Three BBC Two Radio Times
- BBC – Classic Serial – ‘’Children of the Dead End’’ Radio Times
- A Shout in the Distance Radio Times
- Swan-song for the Nightingale Radio Times
- The Literature of the Bible with Sir Tyrone Guthrie, Radio 3, 1972, Radio Times
- Tender is the Night , A Book at Bedtime, Radio Times
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John Le Carré, A Book at Bedtime, 1978. Radio Times
- The Third Policeman A Book at Bedtime, Radio Times
- Mother Ireland, 1979, Radio 4, Radio Times
- Novel on Yellow Paper by Stevie Smith, BBC Radio 4 , 1980, Radio Times
- The Handyman by Penelope Mortimer, BBC Radio 4, 1983, Radio Times