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Obituary: Tony 'Chas' Emmerson - pioneer who changed face of the Belfast arts scene

Tony 'Chas' Emmerson, who was a former assistant director of the Belfast Festival at Queen's, has died after a short illness.

He was the brother of Michael Emmerson, who directed the festival with great and pioneering success for a number of years.

"Chas" Emmerson was born in Sunderland before coming to Belfast in 1962.

He read history at Queen's, and was also a strong supporter of the arts.

He and Michael produced not one but two festivals in 1964, which helped to transform the arts scene in Belfast.

The first two festivals had a wide range of distinguished guests, including Anthony Burgess, Alex Haley and Patrick Kavanagh, as well as the guitarist Julian Bream and the jazz virtuoso Humphrey Lyttleton.

Tony 'Chas' Emmerson gained a reputation as a "can-do" figure for the festival, and he was adept at sorting out financial and other problems, often at short notice.

In 1968, he married Mary Mills, who was his secretary at the festival, and that same year he stepped down as the assistant director.

He later made a career in education, during which he taught American History at the University of Ulster, where he was Head of American Studies.

In addition to teaching, he was also an important figure in the Irish Association of American Studies.

After his tragic death, Tony's brother Michael Emmerson said: "My brother played a key role in the development of the Queen's Festival from being a student festival in 1961 and 1962 to becoming a fully-fledged professional festival."

Belfast Telegraph


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