In The News

Funeral takes place of James Ellis

Funeral takes place of James Ellis

THE Funeral has taken place in Belfast of the actor James Ellis.

Mr. Ellis, who was 82, passed away on March 8 after suffering a stroke in England, where he had lived for many years. But his family had revealed the popular actor had always expressed a wish to be buried in his home city.

The Funeral Service was held in St. Mark’s Church, Dundela, in East Belfast. During the Service, mourners were told that Mr. Ellis had grown up in the shadow of the Church.

A number of well known actors, including Adrian Dunbar, James Nesbitt and Frankie McCaffrey, were among the mourners, 

The Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher, The Rt. Rev. John McDowell, delivered the Homily. 

The Bishop began with a quotation from second century bishop, Ireneaus of Lyon: ‘The Glory of God is a man fully alive’. He then told mourners: “...that was my experience and the experience of so many of us here today of Jimmy Ellis. A man fully alive. Fully alive to himself and to those around him. Fully alive to both the majesty of human existence and to the tragedy of human experience.”

Recalling an occasion when he had the opportunity to have a long conversation with Mr. Ellis, the Bishop continued: “ It helped me to understand why Jimmy was such a very good actor. He was, of course, professional to his fingertips. He had taken the trouble to learn the craft before he presumed to practise the art. He was not a contortionist or a plate spinner or a tap dancer. He was an actor. Someone who made words live and who breathed life into characters. And it struck me quite forcibly that day that he was able to do this not just because of his careful professionalism, but because (and I borrow a phrase from the gospel reading) ‘he knew what was in men’s hearts’.”

Mr. Ellis’s son, Toto, told mourners his father had been “a down to earth Belfast boy” who had been proud of his roots. 

Following the Service, the Funeral cortege followed a route which included Park Avenue (where Mr. Ellis was brought up) and Connsbrook Avenue (where his primary school had been). The cortege continued on to Belfast city centre, where it past the City Hall and Queen’s University.

A private burial was later held in Castlereagh.


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.”

To view the Notice for Mr. Ellis, click here.

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