Hugh Leonard Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Hugh Leonard is the pen name of John Keyes Byrne, who was born on November 9, 1926, in Dublin, Ireland. Leonard was adopted and reared by a couple in Dalkey, in south County Dublin, who were the prototypes for the foster parents in Da.

In 1945, at age eighteen, Leonard started work in the Land Commission for five pounds per week. He was always expecting to leave soon but remained for fourteen years, by which time his salary was ten pounds, eight shillings. In 1955, he married Paule Jacquet, a Belgian who lived in Moscow and Los Angeles during World War II. They had a daughter, Danielle.

To escape from the drudgery of his civil service job, Leonard joined a dramatic society. Amateur theater has been the seedbed for some of Ireland’s best playwrights, and this was true for Leonard as well. The Italian Road was given an amateur production but was turned down by the Abbey Theatre. Then Leonard submitted The Big Birthday (which had an amateur production as Nightingale in the Branches in 1954), taking his pseudonym from the psychopath Hughie Leonard in the rejected play. The Big Birthday was produced in 1956 by the Abbey. He also wrote serial radio dramas, including the daily The Kennedys of Castleross, which was the main dramatic experience for the non-theatergoing, pretelevision majority in Ireland. He resigned from the Land Commission in 1959 to become a full-time professional writer.

Leonard wrote for Granada television in Manchester, England, and then moved there, and he later lived in London from 1963 until 1970, writing adaptations and original scripts for television. His numerous adaptations for television have included Great Expectations (1967), Wuthering Heights (1967), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1968), Nicholas Nickleby (1968), Dombey and Son (1969), The Possessed (1969), A Sentimental Education (1970), and The Moonstone (1972). He claimed that he could write an original television play in six to eight weeks or an episode of adaptation in two days. Leonard wrote the script for a major Irish television production in 1966, Insurrection, for the commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising. He also wrote for film, including Great Catherine (starring and co-produced by Peter O’Toole) and Interlude (both 1968). Leonard’s first play to open in London’s West End was Stephen D, his adaptation of fellow Dubliner James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young...

(The entire section is 1050 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Keyes Byrne, the adopted son of a working-class couple, grew up in the picturesque County Dublin village of Dalkey. After attending a secondary school run by the Presentation Brothers in nearby Glasthule, he joined the Irish government service in 1945, and he worked as a clerk for the following fourteen years. During this time he became involved in amateur theater as an actor, writer, and critic. His second play, The Big Birthday, submitted under the pseudonym Hugh Leonard, was accepted by the Abbey Theatre in 1956. After two more of his plays, A Leap in the Dark and Madigan’s Lock, were produced in Dublin, he abandoned his desk job to become a professional writer.{$S[A]Byrne, John Keyes;Leonard, Hugh}

This decision quickly took him from scriptwriting for Irish radio (the popular serial The Kennedys of Castleross) to Granada Television in Manchester, England, and thence to London in 1963 as a freelance writer. From these beginnings, he developed a highly professional and productive commercial and artistic career. He wrote film scripts and adapted fiction for television: from the works of Charles Dickens, Frank O’Connor, Gustave Flaubert, Emily Brontë, Wilkie Collins, G. K. Chesterton, Sean O’Faolain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and others. His television play Silent Song won the Italian Award in 1967.

Yet he also maintained contacts with Dublin and with the serious theater through a continuous association with the Dublin Theatre Festival, at which a work of his has been produced almost every year since 1960. His Stephen D, an adaptation of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stephen Hero, presented at the 1962 festival, won for him an immediate reputation for his stagecraft. His work for the stage included a number of similar adaptations; it is on his original work for stage, however, that his...

(The entire section is 785 words.)