Belfast Telegraph

Pioneering star Ellis remained true to his roots

Editor's Viewpoint

The death of Jimmy Ellis leaves a void in the artistic life of Northern Ireland and brings to an end the remarkable story of one of our best-known actors and Ulster 'characters', who made his mark at home and much further afield.

The symbolism and sadness surrounding his funeral in Belfast underlined the unique position he held in the affections of people here.

It was fitting to see his familiar picture on the big screen outside the City Hall, and also comforting to realise that he had chosen his beloved Belfast as his last resting place. It was also touching to witness the general public lining the streets to applaud his hearse as it went by, and that he attracted a fitting turn-out.

However, Ellis was much more than a very good 'local' actor. He was a colossus of the arts, an Everyman who showed the world our better natures, and he was always a great Ulsterman.

He was also a consummate professional who pioneered the way for other actors from Ulster. In his long stint in the BBC's Z Cars, it would have been easy to play the stereotyped 'Irish' policeman, but he insisted on giving his character, Bert Lynch, a distinctive Ulster personae.

He was more than a one-dimensional actor in a career which included a savage yet tender portrayal of Norman in the Billy plays and his surreal distinctiveness in the cult comedy Nightingales. Ellis was shaped by many experiences. He came from working-class east Belfast, which gave him the background for his gritty backing for the highly-controversial play Over the Bridge. He and his father knew the power of learning as well as the beauty of words, and his education at Methodist College and Queen's University gave him a confidence and literacy that stood him in good stead. Jimmy Ellis was also an imaginative writer and poet who moved beyond the Ulster stereotype to create classic European and indeed universal themes on love, life and mortality.

He always remained true to his roots but he also moved well beyond them.

He will be sorely missed.

Belfast Telegraph


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