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Belfast mourns passing of James Ellis

Belfast mourns passing of James Ellis

A BOOK of Condolence has been opened at Belfast City Hall for actor James Ellis who passed away at the weekend aged 82.

Over a career which spanned more than 50 years, Mr. Ellis had enjoyed success on stage and screen. His first big break in television came in the 1960s when he was cast in the TV police series Z Cars. He played the role of Bert Lynch in the series which ran from 1962 to 1978.

But his television work over the years involved appearances in many of British television’s most popular shows. These included Till Death Us Do Part, Boys from the Blackstuff, Doctor Who and In Sickness and in Health.

Jimmy Ellis had started his acting career at Belfast’s Group Theatre in the early 1950s. In 1959 he was appointed director of productions at the theatre, but the following year he resigned when the theatre’s board refused to stage a production of Sam Thompson’s play Over The Bridge. He decided to stage his own production of the play which confronted the issue of sectarianism in Belfast Shipyard. 

The issue marked a turning point in his career. Within months he was working in England and was soon becoming known to a national audience with his role in Z Cars.

But despite his heavy workload in England, the actor never forgot his roots and always took the opportunity to return to Belfast. He returned to work on BBC Northern Ireland’s series of “Billy” plays.

The trilogy by Graham Reid first got a national airing in 1982 with Too Late To Talk To Billy in which Mr. Ellis played the character of Norman Martin the father of Billy, played by Kenneth Branagh, who had just left drama school.

In recent years he had appeared in television dramas such as Heartbeat and Casualty. He final credit was an appearance in the TV series Eternal Law in 2012.

He suffered tragedy in his personal life in 1988 when a son, Adam (28), was murdered in London.

Among many warm tributes paid to the actor was one from Sir Kenneth Branagh who said: “I was blessed to begin my career working with him and I will never forget his generosity to me. He was a highly intelligent, funny and kind man, and a tremendous actor.”

Mr. Ellis passed away in Lincoln Hospital after suffering a stroke. In a statement his son Toto said: “It was sad to watch him slip away, The last words he heard were that he was a hero, a legend and that we all loved him.”

The family said his remains will be brought back to Belfast for burial.

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