Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Branagh pays tribute to actor Ellis

James Ellis (left) Z Cars
James Ellis (left) in Z Cars

Hollywood star Sir Kenneth Branagh has paid tribute to Z-Cars actor James "Jimmy" Ellis, who has died at the age of 82, saying he had been an inspiration to work with.

Ellis, who performed alongside a young Sir Kenneth in BBC Northern Ireland's series of "Billy" plays in the early 1980s, died from a stroke in Lincoln Hospital early yesterday.

Sir Kenneth, who went on to become a star both in front of and behind the camera, said: " James Ellis was a great inspiration to me, and many other actors from the North of Ireland.

"I was blessed to begin my career working with him, and I will never forget his generosity to me. He was a highly intelligent, funny, and kind man, and a tremendous actor."

Belfast-born Ellis was best known for playing Bert Lynch in BBC police drama Z-Cars, which ran from 1962 to 1978.

He studied at Belfast's Methodist College, Queen's University and at the Bristol Old Vic before starting his acting career at Belfast's Group Theatre in 1952.

His career also saw him star in television series including Doctor Who, In Sickness And In Health, Ballykissangel and Only Fools And Horses.

He played bullying father Norman Martin in the 1982 production of Too Soon To Talk To Billy - the first of a trio of Graham Reid plays focusing on working-class Ulster Protestants.

Thor director Sir Kenneth, who was then just out of drama school, played his son Billy.

Peter Johnston, director of BBC Northern Ireland, said: "We are saddened to hear about the death of Jimmy Ellis. He was a major talent from Northern Ireland, famous for his roles in Z-Cars and the Billy plays.

"He will be deeply missed by all his colleagues on screen and on stage."

Northern Ireland's Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin also paid tribute to the Belfast born actor.

"James Ellis was a remarkable talent and became a household favourite through his portrayal of Bert Lynch in the police series Z-Cars over many years," she said.

"Equally at home on both stage and screen James began his acting career at home in Belfast with the Ulster Group Theatre where, amongst other roles, he starred as Christy Mahon in J.M. Synge's 'Playboy Of The Western World'.

"Later he played the part of the father in the 'Billy' trilogy and his on screen performances were wide and varied. He never however forgot his Belfast roots and he will be greatly missed throughout the acting profession.

"James was a man of great character and was never afraid to tackle difficult issues as we witnessed with his direction of the Sam Thompson play 'Over The Bridge' in 1960, at a time when many believed that sectarianism, which the play addressed, was too controversial for a stage performance.

"I am deeply saddened by his passing and my thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time."

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