12 March, 2009

The great Hugh Leonard

I missed the news of the recent death of Hugh Leonard, one of the great comic writers - up there alongside Flann O’Brien, James Thurber and Damon Runyon.

For me,
Home Before Night (apparently out of print, shame on Penguin) is the funniest-ever novel and Da was the equally funny but more heartbreaking play that was based on it. It brought my Irish father to tears of sadness and joy when we saw it together (his first theatre visit) at London’s Kings Head Theatre in the 70s; he also spent rest of the evening drinking with the play’s star, Eamon Kelly.

Leonard’s series of half hour TV plays set in Dublin could have been called
Dubliners, if James Joyce hadn’t used the title first. The plays usually ended with David Kelly sitting on a street bench and summing up the preceding 30 minutes with the superbly philosophical, ”Ah well, der y’ar”, which is every bit as good as, "So it goes" in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5.

I wonder which modern English writer has written or could write as well about my own city of London and fellow Londoners?

Three more-or-less accurate quotations come to mind before I go back to his writing and savour the whole treasure trove:
Of a woman who lies about her age. “I’d hate to be hanging since she was 50.”
Of a dry, pedantic suitor who had been rejected by his love and at whose funeral “the only mourners will be a group of unsplit infinitives.”
On hearing that his writing rival, Ulick O’Connor, was in hospital, “It must have been something he wrote."

I picked out ‘Dublin’ among the host of Irish accents at Cheltenham yesterday – accompanied by ever-present laughter. Is the Festival the only world-class sporting event at which so many people have drunk a little too much, where even more have lost money but where everyone seems to be happy?

Photo Irish Connections

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