Belfast Telegraph

Bafta nod to 'forgotten' Belfast writer Forrest Reid

Joanna Lumley
Joanna Lumley
NI novelist Forrest Reid
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A "forgotten" Ulster novelist became an unlikely star at the Baftas on Sunday night after host Joanna Lumley referenced him in her closing speech.

Forrest Reid was born in 1875 and grew up in Warrenpoint before settling in Belfast.

Although compared with Irish literary giants like James Joyce in the past, his work has largely slipped out of public awareness.

During his life he was admired by writers including Walter de la Mare and EM Forster, who thought of him as the "most important man in Belfast".

During the star-studded Baftas at the weekend, Ms Lumley told the audience about one of Reid's boyhood trips to the Palm House in Belfast's Botanic Gardens.

"He went into the conservatory and looked out through the tinted glass, but through the vivid colours of the window pane it wasn't a garden that he saw, but a tropical landscape of tigers and panthers burning in the shrubberies and blue parrots screaming soundlessly in the trees," she said.

"We all have our own perspective, our unique way of interpreting the world and the role of the artist is to invite you into their mind, to allow a few precious glimpses of what they see through the tinted windows of their imagination."

Writer Andrew Doyle (40), who penned the actress's speech, has been studying Reid's work for years.

Although he grew up in England, he said the fact his parents were born in Derry gave him an added connection to Forrest Reid.

"The speech refers to his autobiography Apostate in 1926, the best memoir I've ever read," he said.

"What Forrest Reid can do better than anybody is write as though he still has a child's view of the world.

"The reason I do so much work on Reid is that he's one of those names that has just slipped into oblivion.

"It's just not right. In the 1960s it was a given that he was the best novelist from Northern Ireland and nobody disputed that.

"He published all sorts of novels and that he's been forgotten, even in Belfast where so many of his novels are set - that's really not right.

"It was amazing to see him mentioned at the Baftas, but I thought the image was exactly right as he always wrote about what the role of the artist is."

Joanna Lumley's closing speech can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer or on YouTube.

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