Hugh Leonard (9 November 1926 - 12 February 2009) was an Irishdramatist, television writer and essayist. In a career that spanned 50 years, Leonard wrote nearly 30 full-length plays, 10 one-act plays, three volumes of essays, two autobiographies, three novels and numerous screenplays and teleplays, as well as writing a regular newspaper column.
Life and career
Leonard was born in Dublin John Joseph Byrne, but was put up for adoption. Raised in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, by Nicholas and Margaret Keyes, he changed his name to John Keyes Byrne. For the rest of his life, despite the pen name of "Hugh Leonard" which he later adopted and became well known by, he invited close friends to call him "Jack".
Leonard was educated at the Harold Boys' National School, Dalkey, and Presentation College, Glasthule, winning a scholarship to the latter. He worked as a civil servant, for 14 years. During that time he both acted in and wrote plays for community theatre groups. His first play to be professionally produced was The Big Birthday, which was mounted by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1956, his career with the Abbey Theatre continued until 1994. After that his plays were produced regularly by Dublin's theatres.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Leonard was the first major Irish writer to establish a reputation in television writing extensively for television including original plays, comedies, thrillers and adaptations of classic novels for British television. He was commissioned by RTÉ to write Insurrection, a 50th anniversary dramatic reconstruction of the Irish uprising of Easter 1916. Leonard's Silent Song, adapted for the BBC from a short story by Frank O'Connor, won the Prix Italia in 1967. He wrote the script for the RTÉ adaptation of Strumpet City by James Plunkett.
In 1984, Leonard discovered his accountant Russell Murphy had embezzled IR£258,000 from him. Leonard was particularly upset that Murphy had used his money to take clients to the theatre and purchased expensive seats at some of Leonard's plays.
Leonard wrote two volumes of autobiography, Home Before Night (1979) and Out After Dark (1989). Some of his essays and journalism were collected in Leonard's Last Book (1978) and A Peculiar People and Other Foibles (1979). In 1992 the Selected Plays of Hugh Leonard was published. Until 2006 he wrote a humorous weekly column, "The Curmudgeon", for the Irish Sunday Independent newspaper. He had a passion for cats and restaurants, and an abhorrence of broadcaster Gay Byrne.
In 1994 Leonard gave a review of 'Katie Roche' by Irish Playwright Teresa Deevy which was performed in the Peacock Theatre, and he recalls his own acting role in an undated amateur production of 'Temporal Powers' which Teresa Deevy attended.
Even after retiring as a Sunday Independent columnist, Leonard displayed an acerbic humour. In an interview with Brendan O'Connor, he was asked if it galled him that Gay Byrne was now writing his old column. His reply was, "It would gall me more if he was any good at it." Leonard was a patron of the Dublin Theatre Festival.
Hugh Leonard- Odd Man In, a film on his life and work was shown on RTÉ in March 2009. Leonard's final play, Magicality, was not performed during his lifetime; a rehearsed reading of the second act was staged at the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre in June 2012.
Leonard died in his hometown, Dalkey, aged 82, after a long illness, leaving EUR1.5 million in his will.