Brian Behan
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Brian Behan

Brian Behan
Born(1926-10-10)10 October 1926
Died2 October 2002(2002-10-02) (aged 75)

Brian Behan ( BEE-?n; Irish: Brian Ó Beacháin; 10 November 1926 - 2 November 2002) was an Irish writer, public speaker, lecturer, and trade unionist.


Early Years

Behan was born in Dublin, the son of Stephen Behan and Kathleen Behan (née Kearney), nephew of Peadar Kearney (author of Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish National Anthem), younger brother of Brendan Behan and older brother of Dominic Behan. He is the father of the playwright and actress Janet Behan, journalist Rosemary Behan,[1] writer and musician Ruth Behan,[2] and musician and poet Daniel Tobias Behan.[3]

After being caught stealing money from the gas meter of a neighbour (an act he later tended to gloss over - describing it as "some minor trouble"), he was sent to what was effectively a penal institution, the Artane Industrial School, which could be described as a reformatory. Behan later claimed he was systematically abused at Artane; investigations into the school later found widespread instances of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Behan applied for and was posthumously awarded damages for the abuse - though he never fully recovered and would never return permanently to Ireland after leaving, as was the case with many victims of similar mistreatment.[4]

After Behan was released from Artane School he joined the Irish Army's construction corps.[5]

Move to England and Politics

In 1950, Behan moved to London to work as a labourer. Having long considered himself an anarcho-syndicalist, he became a prominent trade union activist[6] and was imprisoned in Brixton Prison for leading a go-slow on the Festival of Britain construction site.[5]

Behan then joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and soon became a member of its executive committee. He was taken on a tour of Eastern Europe, Russia and China, meeting Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, but was unimpressed. In 1956, he left the CPGB in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary,[6] instead joining the Trotskyist group The Club, who were active in the Labour Party. He quickly became the group's secretary, and in 1958, he wrote his first work, Socialists and the Trade Unions.[7]

In 1958, Behan obtained work on the Shell Centre site. He was soon fired, at which the shop steward's committee called a strike, which was given the full support of The Club. Brendan Behan came to support his brother on the picket line, but Brian was arrested after a scuffle and again jailed. The official union, the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers, opposed the strike and this, combined with Behan's opposition to the Labour Party, convinced The Club to leave and constitute the organisation as the Socialist Labour League (SLL).[8] Behan became increasingly uneasy about SLL leader Gerry Healy's control of the organisation, and was also concerned that Healy was reluctant to cut ties with the Labour Party. In May 1960, he was expelled from the group, along with a few supporters.[9] Behan then founded a short-lived "Workers' Party", which published Workers' Voice[10] and was active in support of the Seaman's Strike.[11]

Writer and Lecturer

In 1964, Behan wrote his first piece on his family life, With Breast Expanded. Forced to give up building work due to an arm injury, he moved to live on a boat in Shoreham-by-Sea and studied history and English at Sussex University. He then studied teaching, before in 1973 becoming a lecturer in media studies at the London College of Printing.[6] In 1972, he contested a swearing match at the British Museum, to mark the republication of Robert Graves' Lars Porsena.[5]

Turning increasingly to writing, Behan completed Time To Go in 1979, Mother of All The Behans in 1984, Kathleen in 1988, these last two inspired by his family life.[7] "Mother of all the Behans" would become a successful Dublin, London and New York theatrical production. Featuring Rosaleen Linehan, and produced and directed by Peter Sheridan, it ultimately became Behan's biggest critical success. In 1990, he also had his most successful theatrical run, with "Boots for the Footless" enjoying a 6-week sold-out run at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn; a promised West End production failed to materialise, however, when the financier fell from a balcony.

In 1989, he retired from teaching and moved to Brighton, where he took up nudism and worked on a number of plays, most of which were staged in the town. In the years before his death, his then-burgeoning acting career expanded to include a number of television commercials, and a short skit for MTV, where he portrayed an aged Keith Flint (frontman for electronic band The Prodigy).[5]


  1. ^ Behan, Rosemary (12 January 2007). "If only my leftie parents had been hypocrites". The Sunday Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2020.
  2. ^ "We interview Ruth Behan, whose writing will feature in Common People: an anthology of working class writers". Literature Works SW - Nurturing literature development activity in South West England. Retrieved 2020.
  3. ^ "Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Daniel Tobias Behan". The Wombwell Rainbow. 21 February 2020. Retrieved 2020.
  4. ^ Chapter 7, St. Joseph's Industrial School, Artane ('Artane'), 1870-1969, Section 7.01, Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse
  5. ^ a b c d "Obituaries: Brian Behan", The Daily Telegraph
  6. ^ a b c "Obituary: Brian Behan", The Guardian
  7. ^ a b "Obituary: Brian Behan", The Independent
  8. ^ Jim Higgins, "1956 and All That"
  9. ^ The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy
  10. ^ Cliff Slaughter, "What is Revolutionary Leadership?"
  11. ^ Foulser, George, 1920-1975

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