James ELLIS (1931-2014)

James Ellis This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 1063
  • Subject No: 1038
  • Broadcast date: Thu 25 Jan 2001
  • Broadcast time: 8.00-8.35pm
  • Recorded: Wed 10 Jan 2001
  • Venue: Teddington Studios
  • Series: 41
  • Edition: 10
  • Code name: Zed

on the guest list...

  • Robina - wife
  • Amanda - daughter
  • Hugo - son
  • Toto - son
  • Elizabeth Spriggs
  • Ralph Ineson
  • Jo McInnes
  • Chris Walker
  • James Greene
  • Kenneth Jamieson - cousin
  • Beth Ellis - ex-wife
  • Margery Mason
  • Tim Morris
  • Harry Towb
  • Frank Windsor
  • Joe Brady
  • Sharon Duce
  • Ian Cullen
  • Colin Welland
  • Rev Dr Colin Morris
  • Clive Graham
  • Gwen Taylor
  • Graham Reid
  • Rob Heyland
  • Paul Sellar
  • Bill Bryden
  • Frances Tomelty
  • Lorcan Cranitch
  • Victoria Smurfit
  • Catherine Cusack
  • Frankie McCafferty
  • Barry McGuigan
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Josh - grandson
  • Charlotte - granddaughter
  • Katie - granddaughter
  • Kenneth Branagh
  • Eileen - sister
  • Donal Donnelly
  • James Nesbitt
  • Adrian Dunbar
  • Joseph Fiennes

production team...

  • Researcher: Kate Greer
  • Writer: Joe Steeples
  • Director: John Gorman
  • Associate Producer: Helen Gordon-Smith
  • Executive Producer: John Longley
  • Series Producer: Jack Crawshaw
  • Producer: Sue Green
  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...
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Screenshots of James Ellis This Is Your Life

Sunday Mirror 25 March 2001

'The cop knew I'd go berserk if I found my son's killer'


Byline: Maeve Quigley

ACTOR James Ellis has issued a heartfelt thank-you to an Irish policeman who halted his vigilante crusade after the murder of his beloved son.

London copper Brendan Brett came to grieving Ellis' aid in 1988 but the star never got back to him publicly.

Now, 13 years on, James has decided to pay tribute to the officer who has become a friend.

Adam Ellis, 28, was stabbed to death as he fished one evening at the Grand Union Canal, London.

His distraught father was so enraged by what had happened to his gentle boy that he went looking for the killer.

He stormed in and out of pubs and clubs in the area, hunting Adam's attacker.

"If I'd found him at the time I wouldn't have been responsible for my actions."

James, 70, said he was saved from his own rage by a member of the Metropolitan police.

"I am very grateful to an Irish policeman, Brendan Brett, from Galway," he said.

"He wasn't even on the case but he knew I would go berserk."

"Brendan somehow knew I was running around the canals looking for the people that did this to my son and he came after me."

"He grabbed me and calmed me down, persuaded me to come on home."

"I was very grateful to him because he didn't need to do that but he did because he had a good idea how I'd be feeling."

"We've been friends ever since."

When James was presented with his own big red book on TV's This Is Your Life, Brendan was there.

"I would quite like to have thanked him publicly but, you know, it is a difficult subject to cope with in public."

"But after the cameras stopped I went over to Brendan and told people there about him and the two of us broke down."

"He's one of those fellas that's a credit to the police force. I'm proud to know him and what he did went way beyond the call of duty. He's a real good lad with a good heart."

"The world's a better place for some people and Brendan's one of them."

Recently newspaper and TV coverage of the vicious rape of Delphi Newman by the banks of the Grand Union Canal have brought James' heartbreak flooding back.

He described Adam's killing as a "mindless attack".

"I can't remember how much money he had on him - it was nothing," James said, his voice raw with emotion.

"It was just a bad boy who wanted to get someone. He was carrying a knife, he tried to mug Adam and then he just stabbed him."

"It upset me when I saw something in the paper the other day about that bunch who raped a girl on the very same spot."

Adam's attacker was caught - but James believes he could be out walking the streets now.

"I still haven't got a clear head about it all. My son lives on as far as I'm concerned but I have blotted this other person out of my head."

Speaking of his appearance on This Is Your Life, James said: "Seeing Michael Aspel with his red book was a real shock."

He appeared on the show with his second wife Robina, children Amanda, Hugo and 'Toto' - "it's his nickname and he refuses to be called anything else" - and grandchildren Charlotte, Katie and Joshua.

"The programme was recorded on our 25th wedding anniversary. I couldn't understand why Robina was so unenthusiastic about me taking her out for a meal."

"And I kept asking if I could get off my play rehearsals early but the director kept sending me to wigs, or getting me to repeat a scene I had already done."

James got his first taste of acting when he was accepted into Methodist College, Belfast, on a scholarship.

He went to study French and English at Queen's University but the call of the stage was too much and he left to join Belfast's Arts Theatre Company.

After a stint at Bristol's Old Vic he established himself as a director and actor in Belfast before moving to London where he secured his now legendary role as Inspector Bert Lynch in Z Cars.

Since then James has become one of the country's leading actors, most recently as Mr Mullen in the BBC football drama Playing The Field.

"I'm about to start recording another series of Playing The Field," said James, who is currently starring in a version of Playboy Of The Western World in London with Sorcha Cusack.

Although he often comes back to Ireland from his Nottinghamshire home to record plays for RTE ands BBC radio, the last Irish screen role he recorded was in Ballykissangel, where he played the lovable rogue Uncle Minto.

The veteran actor has also written two books, two plays and translates poetry into English.

His second book, Home And Away, has just been published by Lagan Press and he is to read some of his work on BBC Radio Three on May 14 at 7.30pm.

But he says he was disappointed that he never got a part in Puckoon, a film of a Spike Milligan novel which was shot in Belfast.

"I was asked to read the script with a view to getting a part."

"I waited and waited but it never came. It was being made in Belfast - that's what really got up my nose about it."

"I would love to come back here to do anything and I would certainly have liked to have been involved in Puckoon - if I'd ever got to read the script."

Belfast Telegraph 5 July 2008

Red book for Jimmy

ULSTER-BORN telly cop James Ellis has finally been brought to book - a big red one!

And, the acclaimed actor is over the moon at taking centre-stage in his own real-life drama.

Just over a week ago, he was thrust into the limelight when the BBC's Michael Aspel surprised him with those famous words, "James Ellis, this is your life."

The Thames TV special is due to be broadcast within the next few weeks.

Producers are keeping tight-lipped about its content and when exactly it will be aired.

However, they did admit last night, he was surprised during rehearsals for JM Synge's "Playboy Of The Western World," at the National Theatre, in London.

It's a far cry from his early days in east Belfast.

The son of a sheet-metal worker at Harland and Wolff shipyard, he became the first member of his family to go to university.

Although Ellis, 69, has been living in England for more than 40 years, he often remarks how his heart has always remained in his native city.

He first shot to fame in 1962 in the legendary TV police series Z Cars, patrolling the beat for 16 years as the popular Inspector Bert Lynch.

His career went from strength to strength, with a string of appearances in films and top television, radio and stage dramas.

Ellis has starred in literally dozens of TV shows, including the Billy trilogy of plays by Graham Reid, Ballykissangel, Sunburn, Playing the Field, Birds of a Feather, One By One and Casualty.

But he has more strings to his bow.

In his spare time, he composes music to his own translations of 16th century French poetry, and his own reworking of ancient Irish, Greek and Old Romanian myths.

Writing is one of his passions, and he has penned his own poems. short stories, and a play, entitled Cuchullain.

Ellis is also a well known figure on the Ulster charity circuit, supporting a number of local and national organisations.

But life hasn't always been easy for the hardworking artist. In 1988 his 28-year-old son, Adam was brutally stabbed to death by muggers, while he was fishing at a canal bank in London.

Series 41 subjects

Matthew Pinsent | Todd Carty | Vinnie Jones | Donald Woods | Linda Lusardi | Dorothy Tutin | Paula Tilbrook | John Humphrys
Andrew Davis | James Ellis | Sue Jenkins | Geoffrey Hughes | John van Weenen | Charles Dance | Mick Channon
Jonathan Ross | Simon Rouse | Midge Ure | John Barnes | Paul Jones | Patrick Robinson | Jim Shekhdar
Valerie Singleton | Darren Gough | Kevin Woodford | Richard Stilgoe