Patrick Magee

#History: Ulster History Circle to commemorate Irish actor Patrick Magee on July 29th

The Ulster History Circle will commemorate Irish actor Patrick Magee (1922-1982) by the unveiling of a Blue Plaque on Saturday, July 29th at 12 noon at 2 Edward Street, Armagh. The plaque will be unveiled by Oscar-nominated Actor, Stephen Rea, at Patrick’s birthplace, as part of the John Hewitt International Summer School.

Guests from stage and screen will gather to hear tributes from Patrick’s son and daughter, and from two people who formerly worked with Magee; actor, novelist and screenwriter, Shane Connaughton and actor and director, Sam McCready. Playwright and screenwriter, Daragh Carville, will also pay tribute and post unveiling, readings and further tributes will continue at the Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre, where guests will also enjoy a presentation by Armagh-born poet, Professor Conor Carville. Professor Carville, supported by the University of Reading has campaigned to have Magee’s work more widely recognised.

Patrick Magee born in 1922 was the eldest of five children and was educated at St. Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh. His early days on the stage were with the McMaster Touring Co. performing the works of Shakespeare. In 1954 Magee moved to London from Ireland and became a pioneer in the interpretation of Samuel Beckett’s radio work at the BBC.

Patrick Magee is a very important and unjustly forgotten figure who represents an important aspect of the cultural ferment of the 1960’s and 1970’s in Britain. Magee was instantly recognisable for his distinctive cracked Irish voice and after hearing a recording of him in 1958, Beckett wrote his classic play Krapp’s Last Tape especially for Magee who is known for bringing Beckett’s writing to life. The persona he had off-stage was that of a hell raiser, and this blended into the roles he was cast in. He was at the forefront of theatrical and cinematic experiment of the time, and yet, as a BBC stalwart on both radio and TV and a West End actor, he was also ensconced in the mainstream. As well as this, immersion in the new British horror genre meant that he moved in underground circles. The avant-garde phase of his career reached its pinnacle in 1971 when he starred in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange which was famously withdrawn from presentation after heated debate over its depiction of violence.

Despite his fame as 1960’s avant-garde bad-boy, Magee struggled with addictions to alcohol and gambling. However he remained a firm favourite of Beckett’s and for years he continued to write to Patrick to enquire about his health.
Professor Conor Carville

Patrick Magee is acclaimed as an actor of distinction, on stage and screen alike. Playwright Samuel Beckett regarded him as the best, and film director Stanley Kubrick regularly sought out his exceptional talent. Thirty five years after his death in 1982, the Ulster History Circle is delighted to commemorate Patrick Magee with a blue plaque at his birthplace in Armagh.

The Circle would like to thank Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council for their financial support towards the plaque, and Armagh and District History Group, Armagh Theatre Group, and the John Hewitt Summer School for their assistance.
Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle

Patrick Magee, who was married to Belle Sherry and the father of twins, died of a heart attack at his London flat on 14th August 1982 aged 60.

Magee through the years

1954 – After years touring Irish provincial theatres alongside future Nobel Prize-winning English playwright Harold Pinter, Magee moves to London and becomes a pioneer in the interpretation of Beckett’s radio work at the BBC.

1957 – Magee meets Samuel Beckett, who tells him of his admiration for his distinctive voice.

1958 – Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape written especially for Magee, is first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London in October 1958. The play was later broadcast on BBC television in 1972, also starring Magee.

1960 – A 38-year old Magee plays the role of Barrows in The Criminal which starred Stanley Baker – his first film appearance.

1961 – Stars in Tom Murphy’s violent and controversial A Whistle in the Dark described by The Times as an example of a new Theatre of Cruelty.

1964 – Plays Surgeon James Henry Reynolds in Cy Endfield’s film Zulu. Magee joins the Royal Shakespeare Co. after Harold Pinter requests he play the role of McCann in his play The Birthday Party. Magee consolidates his reputation as a foremost actor of the new avant-garde theatre by taking the main role in all four of the highly contentious so called Dirty Plays at the Aldwych. This included Peter Brook’s Marat/Sade, another play that was dubbed cruel by an outraged press.

1971 – Magee plays Frank Alexander in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange

1981 – In one of his final film appearances before his death, Magee plays Lord Cadogan in Chariots of Fire.