Belfast Telegraph

The Long Good Friday writer Barrie Keeffe dies aged 74

The Londoner tackled political themes across a varied career.

Barrie Keeffe (University of Warwick/PA)
Barrie Keeffe (University of Warwick/PA)

Barrie Keeffe, who penned the screenplay for the gangster film The Long Good Friday - in which the depiction of the IRA rocked government - has died at the age of 74.

The political writer died early on Tuesday morning in London following a short illness.

He was best known for penning the screenplay for the 1980 British gangster classic, which starred Bob Hoskins and Dame Helen Mirren.

Born in London in 1945 he first worked as a reporter for his local paper the Stratford Express. However, although the loved the paper he was said to have felt frustrated at the paper and felt he could tell people's stories better which led him toward the theatre and scriptwriting.

The Long Good Friday was inspired by his experiences at the paper when he came into contact with many of the well-known gangsters at the time such as the Krays.

"Then one night I met an Irish republican guy in a pub and after talking to him an idea formed in my mind," he told The Guardian.

"My pitch was terrorism meets gangsterism.”

The film - considered a classic of British cinema - was originally to be called The Paddy Factor after the police term for terrorist involvement.

It tells the story of gangster Harold Shand (Hopkins) and his dream to transform the-then derelict London docklands into a thriving centre of commerce in the 1970s in a world of political and police corruption.

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Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren in The Long Good Friday

He enlists the New York mafia for support but also arranges funding from the IRA for his project. He double crosses the terrorist group and a bloody feud erupts. Shand vows to eradicate the organisation's leadership in London and "crush them like beetles".

In the end his carefully crafted criminal empire crumbles and he is left at the mercy of the IRA.

The film also features Pierce Brosnan who plays an IRA hit man in what was his first movie and before his adventures as British secret agent James Bond.

Its release at one stage was delayed and a version of the film prepared watering down references to the Irish terrorist organisation. It was feared at the time the IRA could bomb screenings.

The depiction of the IRA as a seemingly invincible force caused anger in the upper echelons of the government of the day.

In 1997 Empire Magazine voted the film the best British movie ever.

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Dame Helen Mirren starred in The Long Good Friday (Matt Crossick/PA)

Born in London, Keeffe joined the National Youth Theatre after working as a journalist.

He produced some 20 theatre plays, many of which tackled politics themes.

Gimme Shelter addressed class, Barbarians was an attempt to “capture the energy of punk” and Sus explored institutionalised racism in the police.

He worked with the Soho Poly and the Theatre Royal Stratford East during his early years.

Keeffe also produced a handful of plays for radio and TV, and two novels – 1969’s Gadabout and 1983’s No Excuses.

He was a United Nations Ambassador in 1995, the body’s 50th anniversary year, and was made an honorary doctor of letters at Warwick University in 2010.

Keeffe’s first wife was novelist and theatre producer Verity Bargate. He was later married to film and television producer Jacky Stoller.

PA

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