In Search of My Father 2017 Writing Project

In Search of My Father 2017 Writing Project
In Search of My Father, 2017 writing project supported by The National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. 2018, this potential book project is in development. Currently working with guidance from a professional manuscript editor.

Monday, 16 July 2018

HARRY CHAPIN (7 DEC 1942 - 16 JULY 1981)

The great singer/songwriter Harry Chapin died at 38 on 16 July 1981. Not long after his death, I wrote this song.


You took me to some places
and not once did I say no
from the deck of a sinking ship
to some local radio
you took me higher than an eagle
and you never let me down
you taught me simple lessons
of a world a-spinning round

It's so sad that Harry's gone but I can bring him back
with an electronic needle on a hundred album tracks
it's so sad to lose a singer before the final song
now the angels buy his music
it's so sad that Harry's gone

You made my dreams a little sweeter
and my smile a little wide
you made me laugh a little louder
and cry deep down inside
you took me by the hand
and you told your stories well
when the world stopped turning
there was still much more to tell 

It's so sad that Harry's gone but I can bring him back
with an electronic needle on a hundred album tracks
it's so sad to lose a singer before the final song
now the angels buy his music
it's so sad that Harry's gone

Sunday, 15 July 2018


Here are 10 books that have entertained and/or enlightened and/or educated me in the first half of 2018. (They are not all 2018 publications.)

How To Be A Poet
by Jo Bell and Jane Commane
Nine Arches Press

A Bientôt
by Roger Moore
Michael O'Mara Books

Two Plays
The Kings of the Kilburn High Road;
Brothers of the Brush
by Jimmy Murphy
Oberon Books

English Street
by Damian Smyth
Templar Poetry

Midwinter Break
by Bernard McLaverty

And When Did You Last See Your Father?
by Blake Morrison

Bringing In The Sheaves
by The Reverend Richard Coles
Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Going On The Turn
by Danny Baker
Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Logical Family
by Armistead Maupin

Unreasonable Behaviour
by Don McCullin
Jonathan Cape


Just like Richard Kimble, a name change,
the Belfast family unaware
until July nineteen-eighty-two,
thirty-six years ago, mystery
almost solved, but always one more thing,
lingering like Columbo's smoke ring,
one more scratch to the head, one more rub
of the chin, figuring it all out,
twenty-two years 'on the run', Kelly,
the fugitive, last address, Clapham.

Thursday, 12 July 2018


Forty-four years ago, 17 July 1974, Don Rich, guitarist, fiddler and Buck Owens's sidekick, was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was 32.

Owens and Rich struck up a friendship in the late 1950s, and in 1960 Rich joined the band and became a Buckaroo. They toured, built up a solid fan base, enjoyed hit records including a host of number one country singles and made many television appearances throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s.

Here's a taste of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos:

YouTube link to Buck's Polka 

YouTube link to Tiger By The Tail 

YouTube link to Act Naturally 

YouTube link to Don's instrumental 

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos had a very distinctive look with their colourful rhinestone suits and a very distinctive Bakersfield sound. There was no country band quite like them.

On 17 July 1974, after a day at the Bakersfield studio, Don Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident as he was riding to join his family for a holiday. He was 32.

Buck Owens was devastated and it took many years before he said much in public about the accident and the loss of Don Rich: "He was like a brother, a son and a best friend. Something I never said before, maybe I couldn't, but I think my music life ended when he died. Oh yeah, I carried on and I existed, but the real joy and love, the lightning and thunder is gone forever."

Donald Eugene Rich 15 August 1941 - 17 July 1974

Saturday, 7 July 2018


By pure coincidence, I landed at George Best City Airport, Belfast on Tuesday morning. As I headed towards the extra, my phone rang. It was a BBC contact asking if I knew about the Stephen Boyd commemorative plaque planned to be unveiled the next day. I said I wasn't aware of it. I was invited onto Radio Ulster's Talkback with presenter William Crawley, film expert Brian Henry Martin and Ulster History Circle's Maud Hamill to talk about the Ulster-born star of The Man Who Never Was, Ben Hur, The Fall of the Roman Empire and many more, a big movie star in the 1950s/1960s. It was a fun show to do but, sadly, I was unable to attend the unveiling. But, next best thing, my brother drove me out to the spot later on Wednesday afternoon. It is a splendid tribute to a largely forgotten man. The plaque will go some way to remind people that this wee lad from Glengormley/Whitehouse made it big in Hollywood.

I have had an interest in Stephen Boyd for many years because we both came from the same part of the world and I even attempted a biography a few years ago, allowing me to gather quite a lot of correspondence from his film associates.

But the most precious piece in my Stephen Boyd file is a letter from his wife, Elizabeth. I wrote to let her know that I was planning to write his life story. This was her reply:

“I do not feel any reason why you should not continue with your research for a proposed biography of my most beloved and talented husband Stephen Boyd.  I would, however, ask for your assurance that it will be done truthfully, in good taste and with the dignity he deserved.  I do not go along with the too often “dirty laundry sensationalism” literature that the bookshelves seem to be filled with these days.  

We were two very private people, devoted to each other and lived our lives very quietly away from the Hollywood scene.  I am still devastated and unreconciled that he was taken so suddenly, and it is very difficult not to keep asking “Why?”  He was so very special, and had so much talent left to give this troubled world.”

Stephen Boyd died on 2 June, 1977, following a heart attack while playing golf at the Porter Valley Country Club in Northridge, California. He was 45. He is buried at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California. His wife outlived him for another thirty years and they are now buried together, the devoted couple resting in peace.

We should remember him for his achievements and, in a crazy industry, for being, as producer Euan Lloyd called him, “one of the nicest, kindest people I have met in my lifetime, rare in this profession.”

Hats off to the Ulster History Circle!

Friday, 6 July 2018


Happy birthday to Dame Mary Peters, 79 today.

Once in a now defunct department store – Anderson & McAuley - in Belfast, I was down on my hunkers, as they say, browsing through some bric-a-brac on the bottom shelf of a display stand.  Gradually, the light around me began to fade and an enveloping darkness cast a giant shadow over and around me.  “An eclipse in a department store?” I pondered for a moment. “They’ll believe in leprechauns before they believe this.” 

Slowly, I looked up from my crouching position only to see a formidable lady towering over me.  It was a David and Goliath moment only this Goliath was female and no less a sporting legend than Mary Peters, the Commonwealth and Olympic Games gold medal winner.  

Oblivious to this innocent shopper, she inched her way along the aisle, looking at stuff on the higher shelves and eventually ploughed into me, knocking me over with all the power of, erm, an Olympic athlete.  She looked down at me and said: “Are you alright?”  I looked back at this goddess of the games and said: “I’m so sorry.”  She smiled and said: “Don’t worry.”  With that she walked on and I was left in a confused state, knocked over by Mary Peters and wondering why apologised.  

The incident happened in the late 1970s and I still applaud her sporting achievements but if it had happened nowadays, think of the claim I could have made.  I could have sued her for at least one of those medals. Talk about Belfast and furious!

Happy birthday to a true champion.

Thursday, 28 June 2018


As I research and write a memoir with my father's disappearance at its core, I have been looking at son/father relationships to try to ascertain what I might have missed. I was six when my father left, so there was no relationship between us to speak of but it has been interesting to me to find out about others. Here's a few notes.

Bill Clinton's father died before he was born and, subsequently, the former President had a very difficult relationship with his  stepfather.

The artist Francis Bacon thought his father was narrow-minded and unpleasant. He was distant from both parents but went on to be assessed as a genius.

Actor Woody Harrelson's father was a professional hit man who abandoned his family. Woody said his father was articulate and charming but struggled with loyalty and friendship.

Actor Patrick Stewart's father was described as an angry man who often took his anger out on his wife. Later Stewart discovered that his father suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of wartime experiences, a possible explanation for his temperament.

Politician David Davis was the result of an affair between his mother and a married man. Davis, in later years, tracked down his father and they had a brief lunch conversation. It was the one and only time they met.

Broadcaster Gerry Kelly wrote in his memoir how his father, an alcoholic, walked out on the family and vanished, never to be heard from again. Now, that struck home! Gerry was 10 at the time.

Actor Michael Douglas has talked about some difficulties in his relationship with his father, when Kirk was preoccupied with building a Hollywood career. In those early days, Kirk was described as intense, consumed by clawing out and making something of himself. The relationship improved and they are now very close.

Actor Alan Cumming, in his compelling and harrowing memoir Not My Father's Son, talks about his father's anger and rage, and the physical and emotional abuse he suffered as a young boy. Amazingly, with all the horrible stuff that happened, Cumming, in the book's acknowledgements, forgives his father.

Actor Hugh Jackman has described his father, Chris, as his rock from whom he learned everything about loyalty and dependability.

Actor John Wayne called his father, Clyde' a fine man to whom he owed a great deal and hoped he could live up to his example.

Formula One champion, Jenson Button, said he couldn't have achieved his success without his father as his friend and inspiration.

Boxer Barry McGuigan remembered his Dad, Pat, as just the loveliest guy, witty, cultured, intelligent.

There are other examples in my notes but I thought it was useful to write a chapter using a wider lens regarding sons and fathers.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018


Today, 27 June, in 2001, we lost Jack Lemmon at 76.

Here is an autographed photo which he kindly sent when he was appearing in Long Day's Journey Into Night in London's West End, 1986, I think.

He was an extraordinary actor with a range from comedy to drama. On screen, he cut his teeth in various TV shows before wowing big screen audiences as Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1955), holding his own alongside Henry Fonda, James Cagney and William Powell. He won an Oscar for best supporting actor. He struck comedy gold in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959), performing hilariously in drag along with the equally hilarious Tony Curtis, a duo on the run from the Mob, who occupy themselves by pursuing Marilyn Monroe. Then came The Apartment (1960), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Irma La Douce (1963), The Great Race (1965) and The Odd Couple (1965) as Felix Ungar, an inspired pairing with Walter Matthau's Oscar Madison.

His three big dramatic parts that stand out for me were The China Syndrome (1979), Missing (1982) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).

But he had the knack of being brilliant in great films and brilliant in not-so-great ones. Always magnetic, he was one of the greatest actors in history.

He once said: 'I won't quit until I get run over by a truck, a producer or a critic." But it was cancer that stopped him in the end. He is buried in Westwood Memorial Park and his headstone says simply: 'JACK LEMMON in'.

Monday, 25 June 2018


The Prince of Mirrors
Alan Robert Clark

Fairlight Books

I have never been a fan of historical fiction but this book might just have changed my mind. The grandson of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert Victor, known as Eddy, is heir presumptive to the throne. At his core, he is a decent soul but lacks confidence and the necessary ability to take up the ultimate royal role.  His father Bertie’s frustration with Eddy pours out in a tense conversation: ‘Most of the time you’re half-asleep and when you’re awake you hardly say a word.’ Eddy whimpers a response that he has always done his best. 

Eventually, in a bid to kindle some kind of positive development in his son, Bertie finds a role model in intellectual tutor Jem Stephen: ‘Young Mr Stephen seems to be an excellent fellow. A scholar and a sportsman. Brains and brawn. Sound in mind and body. The perfect young Englishman. Just what we need you to become too.’

With much cajoling and encouragement, Jem sets to work to fill Eddy’s half-empty head with knowledge and ideas, finding ways to ignite his imagination and stir an appetite for learning and a fuller life. But as this life meanders on, Eddy struggles to find direction for himself emotionally, sexually, morally and aristocratically. He may not be a happy character but he is interesting as a formula that wealth and privilege are no guarantees for a good existence. The Jem/Eddy tutor/student arrangement develops into a close and intimate association. They grow to need each other. It is difficult to find them likeable but they did grab this reader's attention throughout.

The book illustrates the 19thcentury’s upper echelons very well and the story has pace. The dialogue is well-thought out and comes across as natural, unlike some historical novels I have attempted. In this drama, there is sadness but also humour at work, several layers of life lessons and analysis of success and failure. But above and beyond anything else, it is a great story.

All in all, a very enjoyable book.

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Sunday, 24 June 2018


It is June/July time, perfect to recall Stephen Boyd (4 July 1931 - 2 June 1977). His big break came with The Man Who Never Was and here are extracts from two letters I received describing his screen test for the role as an Iris spy working for the Germans.


"1955.  Those were the great days of Sir Alexander Korda and London Films.  I was under contract first as an assistant director, then as a very junior Director.  Among my duties was shooting tests, since nobody else would do them.  The other contract directors, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins and Leslie Arliss considered themselves as much too grand.  I always moaned and complained that they interfered with the scripts I was working on only to be brought sharply to heel by Korda.  “A young man like you should take every opportunity to stand behind the camera.”  How right he was.  Among the tests I conducted were Diane Cilento and Kenneth More.  W J O’Brien at the time Casting Director covered performances in plays that were brought to his attention.  If the actor or actress caught his attention, with Korda’s approval they were then tested with a view to being put under long-term contract. 

If I remember rightly, Stephen had appeared with success in a play at Hampstead and so we met at a studio one morning to shoot a test.  Again, if memory serves me right, it was to be a monologue from the same play.  I remember Stephen as a tall, shy young Irishman with a brogue you could cut with a knife and a pockmarked complexion which make-up soon covered.  His natural nervousness was covered by intensely good manners.  All I could do was to try and stage the scene to show him off to his best advantage and relax his performance, which I remember was excellent – strong, intense but still lacking craft and experience.  I occasionally ran into Stephen in the years that followed, always gentle and courteous, and I watched with pleasure his stature grow on the screen."  

Hamilton showed the test to his boss, Dennis Van Thal, who recalled:


"At the time Sir Alexander Korda was unwell.  When I saw the film test I was greatly impressed but had to make a quick decision because another actor was being chosen for the role I wanted Stephen to play in “The Man Who Never Was”.  Whilst I had a fairly free hand I was not permitted to sign long-term contracts. 

However I was so certain about Stephen that I gave him a contract signed by myself and another director.  When Korda returned to the office I said there was a test he must see.  After the showing he said: “Dennis, you are right.  Put him under contract.”  I told him I already had and his reply is not for public knowledge.  He was of course secretly delighted.  That was the beginning.  By then the other actor had been engaged but we paid him a sum of money “in lieu” and “The Man Who Never Was” was Stephen’s first starring role."

*Guy Hamilton went on to carve an impressive directing CV including the 007 movies Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun