I was delighted to be approached by Robina Ellis, the wife of the late actor James Ellis, better known to those of us 'of a certain age' as Sgt Bert Lynch in Z Cars.
James wrote his memoirs as a series of poetry and prose entitled Portrait of a House
, looking at his childhood and youth through the context of the house in Belfast where he grew up with his parents and elder sister.
Robina is not only hoping to get the works published but is also hoping to secure funding to turn them into a stage production, initially as a 'try out' in Jimmy's home town of Belfast. To this end, Robina has enlisted the services of Glenn Patterson, Professor & Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry , Queen's University Belfast, a published novelist and BAFTA nominee. The adapted stage performance will be produced by Blunt Fringe Productions & East Belfast Partnership this August at the East Side Festival, Belfast
The first step of the way was to get the works in a format ready to send to the publishers. My task was to modernise the style while maintaining the authenticity of the language and work. I also tidied up the punctuation. I proofread the document, picking out inconsistencies in the formatting and the occasional 'typo.'
Jimmy talks with great emotion about the antics of Spot, the family dog, who sounds like he was a true character but contrasts this with memories of witnessing distraught mothers waving goodbye as their sons emigrated to far shores looking for work - in those days never expecting to see them again. It was quite an emotional read.
For my part, I was particularly interested in the poem entitled the 'Kerry Dance!' I almost felt inspired to do a little jig around my office!
Jimmy is best remembered for playing the part of Sgt Bert Lynch in Z Cars, a popular BBC series which ran from 1962 until 1978, a total of 801 episodes. Other regulars on the programme were Stratford Johns, Brian Blessed and Frank Windsor.
He also appeared in other well-known TV series including One by One, Doctor Who, Ballykissangel and the sitcom Nightingales, alongside Robert Lindsay and David Threlfall. He also had a cameo part in Boys from the Blackstuff, Only Fools and Horses, The Bill, Casualty, Birds of a Feather and Heartbeat. Quite a career!
In addition to writing poetry and prose, he was also a translator, and in 2008 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Queen's University, Belfast.
I feel very privileged to have had a 'sneak peek' at this work, Portrait of a House.
This is what Robina had to say about our work together, 'Kerry demonstrated the highest standard of professionalism when copy typing and proofreading my late husband's work. She took an interest and enhanced the work. She was not just on my wavelength but virtually one step ahead of me every time. She is observant and efficient. I cannot recommend her highly enough'.
I'd like to wish Robina every success with both the stage production and the publication - I hope to see it on the bookshelves in the future and will look back with my own fond memories of my very small part in bringing Jimmy's memoirs to life.
Update - May 2020
I'm pleased to report that things have moved on considerably since my original post and would like to thank Robina for the update below:
'The stage production entitled Jimmy Ellis: Home Again
opened at the East Side Festival Belfast in 2018 to critical acclaim and was reprised in 2019 at the Belfast Maritime festival where it was hailed as "a little gem of a piece" and "it's a touching portrait of a lost age". The Riverside Studios in London along with other smaller venues have expressed interest in the possibility of staging Jimmy Ellis: Home Again
. Finally, the Linen Hall Library Belfast will be publishing the entire piece Portrait of a House,
as typed, proofread and much more besides by Kerry'.
This is great news for Robina and testament to the hard work and dedication she has shown to keeping Jimmy's memory alive.