Stephen BEHAN

Stephen Behan This Is Your Life
  • The first time the programme is recorded outside the UK

programme details...

  • Edition No: 205
  • Subject No: 206
  • Broadcast date: Tue 4 Dec 1962
  • Broadcast time: 7.55-8.25pm
  • Recorded: Mon 19 Nov 1962 7.30pm
  • Venue: RTE Studio 1, Dublin
  • Series: 8
  • Edition: 10

on the guest list...

  • Brendan Behan – son
  • Chrissie Richardson
  • Jimmy Watson
  • Kathleen Behan – wife
  • Dominic Behan – son
  • John Behan
  • Sean O’Sullivan
  • Jim Kearney

production team...

related pages...

Jack of all Trades

from domestic cleaner to teacher


the show's fifty year history

Somewhere, Someone - This Is Your Life

Talk of Thames feature on the programme's 1969 relaunch

Eamonn Remembered

RTE Guide tribute to Eamonn Andrews

Stephen Behan This Is Your Life Stephen Behan This Is Your Life

Photographs of Stephen Behan This Is Your Life

In his autobiography, This Is My Life, published in 1963, Eamonn Andrews recalls this particular edition of This Is Your Life...

Since This Is Your Life began, certain names have automatically suggested themselves. Certain film starts for example would obviously make good, interesting programmes. Indeed, almost any name that captures the public imagination is at one time or another considered as a possible. Such a name is Brendan Behan. But as with many that seem stand-out choices, Brendan’s always gave us pause. He was so utterly unpredictable.

On and off, whenever he came under discussion, great enthusiasm was generated. But there was always fear, too, and the project would be shelved. Brendan appeared on an interview programme with Malcolm Muggeridge, but was so obviously and self-confessedly pickled as to be almost unintelligible. Then there was a little affair with an Ed Murrow programme which was equally ineffective as a sales vehicle for the Behan talents.

I have a great admiration for him as a writer and as a person. I knew he’d got a “terrible tongue”, but at least it is a fault that is obvious. Most of us have faults that are hidden. Fred O’Donovan in Dublin had the idea of trying to do a filmed interview with him, as he was sure it would make good entertainment. Main thing was to get him sober.

The interview was eventually set up, and I flew across from London to Dublin, met Lorcan Bourke, my father-in-law, and drove out to the Behan house at Ballsbridge. We were to take Brendan out to a hotel in Bray, close to the Ardmore Studios, so that an early start could be made the following day. There was a light misty rain falling over the city as we drove to Brendan’s place.

When we knocked at the door, out came a figure with a great mop of hair falling around his eyes, sleeves rolled up to the elbow, and shirt front open down to the navel.

“hello, Brendan,” I said, “Are you ready?”

“I’ll be with yez in a minit,” he said, and slammed the door in our faces.

Standing on the street in the cold and wet, I turned to Lorcan:

“Well he’s your relative,” I said, “not mine. What are you going to do now?”

“Let’s sit in the car,” Lorcan mumbled, “we’re only getting wet standing here.”

We were just about to get into the car when the house door opened again. Brendan was standing there.

He said (and from here on you can insert any words you like wherever I leave a gap, Brendan’s choice of adjective’s and adverbs is pretty wide): “Whay don’t ye _____ come in?”

“It’s very hard, Brendan, to come in through a slammed door.”

“Ah I was only tryin’ to keep in the ____ cat.”

We went in, and one thing I remember distinctly is that there were piles of monkey nuts on the sideboard. Standing at the fireplace was an unshaven character who was introduced as an artsist, and on the settee in the middle of the room was a threadbare overcoat, at the top of which, was, presumably, a head, because there was a peaked cap atop the lot. Then I saw a bottle of stout being held from one of the sleeves. And underneath the cap a red nose was flashing. Perhaps glowing is a better description.

“Are you coming, Brendan?” I asked.

“Oh Beatrice is packin’ the bag,” he said. Then he turned away and yelled: “Have ye got the ____ bag packed yet, Beatrice?”

A gentle voice floated down the stairs: “Just a minute darling.”

Brendan produced a half-bottle of Irish whiskey, and two champagne glasses. He handed these to Lorcan and me and poured whiskey in them.

He turned to me an apropos of nothing said: “Fame is a great ____ thing, but you’d know all about that, on the ____ television.”

“What do you mean, Brendan?”

“Well, I came home today in a ____ taxi, and when I got here the taxi-driver wouldn’t take the ____ fare. He recognised who I was. Marvellous.”

“Well, that’s great, Brendan,” I said, “I’m delighted you’ve got recognition at last.”

He went on for some time about the taxi-driver, dwelling eloquently and luridly on the marvels of being recognised and having no fare to pay.

Then Beatrice, Brendan’s wife, came into the room with the bag packed and ready. Before we went out, Brendan, who was very generous, picked up the whiskey bottle in which there was still quite a lot left. He walked over to the overcoat on the settee, opened on of the pockets, and pushed the bottle in. “There you are, Mick, that’s for you.”

The overcoat struggled into a wobbly standing position, and the mouth of its inhabitant opened in an effort to say “Thank you”. But no words came out whereupon the overcoat relapsed into a reclining position again, and finished its bottle of Guinness before rising once more.

On our way out to the car, I was at the end of the convoy with Brendan. I was curious about the overcoat. I touched Brendan’s shoulder, gestured with my thumb and whispered: “Brendan, who’s Mick?”

“Oh, him?” said Brendan, “He’s the ____ taxi-driver.”

Believe it or not, we succeeded in making the film the next morning. There was a jug of Guinness hidden out of shot, and when we had to reload the cameras we reloaded Brendan, too. In fact, he was a perfect, sober, entertaining and philosophical interviewee. But we never did try to get him for This Is Your Life. Instead, a couple of years later we picked his father – Stephen Behan, a roguish, talkative, witty housepainter. This decision lessened but did not remove the problem of Brendan. Producer Leslie Jackson had no doubts: “We cannot do the programme unless we have Brendan in it.”

The snag was that Brendan was “taking the cure” somewhere in the South of France. Finally we tracked him down, and from a hotel in Newcastle I talked to the “Quare Fella” and told him what we were proposing to do. Back over the Continental line crackled Brendan’s voice. “Yeh, yeh, a great idea. How much is the ____ fee?”

Having got over that one, he asked me to call him back next day and spelt out the telephone exchange of where he would be. I wonder how in many junction points across Europe there were blushing English-speaking telephonists. All I can say is that Brendan did not use the standard identifications for clarity – F for Freddie. A for Apple. S for Sugar. Nevertheless, I was quite clear which exchange he meant.

Arrangements were made to get him back from France in time for the programme. The next thing I saw was a newspaper photograph of him disembarking from a plane, hand clutching and ominous-looking bottle. The heart sank inside me – the cure obviously hadn’t worked for Brendan.

Jacko got him in tow and escorted him to Dublin. I was to follow on a later flight. When I got there, forebodings were borne out when Jacko told me that Brendan had vanished. We ran him to earth finally, holed up in a cold room with Des MacNamara, a distinguished sculptor, and a bearded writer. Scattered around were half-empty stout bottles, but no bedclothes, not a crust of food.

As soon as he laid eyes on me, Brendan opened up. Again it was apropos of nothing I could see. “There was ould women with string bags at your weddin’, but my bloody mother wasn’t invited.”

I said: “now, Brendan, we’ve got a programme tomorrow. You’re talking about something that happened nearly ten years ago.”

Eventually we made peace, and the clock moved steadily on into the morning. By the time the half-empty bottle of stout became empty he agreed to go to a hotel if we could get him into one. A shrinking market, I’d say. Jacko, however, persuaded the night porter at his hotel to accommodate all three.

Next day he vanished again, was reported to us as sleeping at about three o’clock, and eventually turned up at the studios at 6.30pm. He persisted in rambling around, scaring all of us in case he ran into his father and gave the whole game away. I tried to get into his head to say something about his father when he came on the show. Oh, he’d say something all right – and he proceeded to disg out a stream of Rabelaisian stories which he threatened to tell. Terrifying. It was almost programme time.

“Ah go on, go on,” Brendan said to my pleading, “I won’t let you down at all.”

It was to be an audience pick-up; the subject would be in an audience, many of whose stories the programme could obviously be telling. When I got to where Stephen Behan was sitting, I could see him staring up at the monitor screen above his head. In the picture he could see himself, with me standing close by.

I said: “What’s your name?” We had never met.

Without turning to me, still trying the fathom the mystery of seeing himself in a picture looking at himself in a picture, etc, etc, he just said “Behan”.

I said: “Are you anything to Brendan and Dominic Behan?”

He could see me too in the picture, so now he looked down for a moment, flicked his eyes towards me, and then shot them back to the monitor to see if it was the same fellow standing alongside and talking.

Then he answered the question. “Yeah, I’m married to their mother.”

Next I asked a question which I knew what the answer would be. It would be “Me, of course.”

I said: “When Brendan comes home, who does all the talking?”

This puzzled him. As if it were a stupid question. “Hah! Their mother,” Stephen said. The audience roared.

I sprang the surprise on him, helped him out of his overcoat and got him to the chair of honour. The first spot on the programme was to be Brendan. On he came, looking encouragingly spruce. After he had sat down, and to get things away to a smooth start, I asked him: “What are your father’s outstanding qualities?”

He ignored me completely. He looked beyond me, down to where the studio audience sat. He said: “That’s Tony O’Reilly down there, the rugby player. D’ye know him? I played soccer with that fella once.”

He elaborated on that. We had now lost two and a half minutes of programme time, and the whole thing looked like tumbling down.

“It’s your father’s life you know, Brendan,” I said, “Tell us about him.”

“Oh, I’ll tell ye about him.”

He sat down and pulled out a packet of French cigarettes. He offered one to Stephen, then one to me.

“No thanks,” I said.

He lit his own. “I suppose you can afford better ones, with all this television, hah?”

From that point on it was hilarious, but hardly relevant. Father and son warmed to the situation. How I got Brendan off I’ve no idea, but eventually he shuffled off, leaving some of the audience horrified and some hilarious. Then came Stephen’s wife, Cathleen, Dominic, friends, relatives. The latent actor in all Dublin people came out, all preconceived ideas of a timing schedule went haywire, and everyone save me had a ball.

One little incident which viewers never realised but to which I was a helpless witness concerned Stephen’s pipe. Stephen and the pipe were inseparable. It was part of his character. But when I helped him out of his overcoat in the audience, the pipe was left behind in the top pocket. When this was realised, Peter Moore, the writer, slipped down, recovered the pipe and the little brown paper bag of baccy that nestled with it in the pocket. Thus when one of the later guests in the show came on, the pipe and paper bag were handed over again to Stephen.

But the man who did the recovery job clearly wasn’t fully aware of the habits of the Dublin working man. You see your Dubliner often carries two such paper bags with him, one containing tobacco, the other a mixture of sugar and tea for the billie-can. The wrong bag was handed to Stephen. I knew it as soon as I saw the puzzlement on his face as his fingers dealt with the strange-feeling mixture which he was trying to stuff into the bowl of his pipe. All the way through, I could only stand and watch as poor old Stephen tried to get his pipe going on sugar and tea.

Gus Smith biography of Eamonn Andrews

Gus Smith recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, Eamonn Andrews His Life...

Although Eamonn had coped confidently with Brendan (Behan) in the filmed interview he still was reluctant to have him as the subject on This Is Your Life. Apart from his unpredictability, he feared he would steal the limelight from everyone else on the programme and that was something he had tried to avoid, even in his own role as presenter.

Eventually, when it was decided to hand the large Life book to Brendan’s father, Stephen, Eamonn said to producer Leslie Jackson, ‘We mustn’t allow Brendan to upset the show. Can we keep him in check?’ Jackson, a seasoned producer, knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Brendan could be boisterous if he had too much to drink. When Eamonn met him before the show, however, Brendan promised, ‘I won’t let you down at all. I give you my word.’

It was decided to pre-record the show at the RTE Studios in Dublin, thereby ruling out a ‘live’ performance by Brendan Behan, for the programme would not be screened until two weeks later. Eamonn recalled, 'When I got to where Stephen Behan was sitting among the audience, I could see him staring up at the monitor screen above his head. In the picture he could see himself, with me standing close by. I said, "What's your name?" We had never met. Without turning to me, still trying to fathom the mystery of seeing himself in a picture, he just said, "Behan".' The audience looked in Eamonn's direction as he asked the genial old man, 'Are you anything to Brendan and Dominic Behan?’

The audience laughed as Stephen remarked, 'I'm married to their mother.'

Eamonn: 'When Brendan comes home, who does all the talking?'

After a puzzled pause, Stephen said, 'Their mother.'

The audience was enjoying the fun. Just then Eamonn sprang the surprise, but Stephen did not appear to comprehend fully what was going on. When Brendan was announced as the first guest he seemed to ignore Eamonn and, instead, began to talk about Tony O'Reilly. ‘D'you know him, Eamonn? I played soccer with that fella once.'

Eamonn did his best to try to steer him back to the programme. 'It's your father's life you know, Brendan. Tell us about him.'

Brendan shrugged his shoulders. ‘Oh, I'll tell ye about him.'

Leslie Jackson was on tenterhooks in the wings, wondering what Brendan was going to say and if, afterwards, they would be able to get him off to allow the other guests on. Brendan was acting as though he was in a Dublin ‘local' and chatted affably with Stephen, oblivious of Eamonn. The audience by now had entered fully into the spirit of the show.

To Eamonn’s relief, Stephen was holding his own and refused to allow Brendan to steal the limelight. Eventually, Brendan shuffled off, muttering to himself. It was the cue for the entry of Stephen's wife, Kathleen Behan, and she quickly endeared herself to the audience, with her witty stories about her husband and sons. There was a spontaneous laugh when she announced she would ‘love a bottle of stout.’

Eamonn admitted later that he enjoyed the programme despite the obvious Behanesque hazards he had to contend with. He liked to recall one particular incident which he was to find almost moving: 'I was actually a helpless witness to it. It concerned Stephen Behan's pipe. Stephen and the pipe were inseparable. It was part of his character. But when I helped him out of his overcoat in the audience, the pipe was left behind in the top pocket. When this was realised, Peter Moore, the writer, slipped down, recovered the pipe and the little brown paper bag of baccy that nestled with it in the pocket. Thus, when one of the later guests in the show came on, the pipe and paper bag were handed over again to Stephen. Unfortunately the wrong bag was handed to him. I knew it as soon as I saw his forlorn face. All the way through I could only stand and watch as poor old Stephen tried to get his pipe going on sugar and tea!'

At the party after the show in a nearby hotel the Behans and their friends had one big celebration. As Leslie Jackson would joke later, 'I was glad I wasn't picking up the bill!'

The show again demonstrated that Eamonn was able to cope with the unexpected. Yet he was not able to say, as he left the hotel, that he was prepared to hand the Life book to Brendan Behan, as much as he would have loved to.

Series 8 subjects

Rupert Davies | Kenneth Revis | Sydney MacEwan | Cleo Laine | Arthur Baldwin | Edith Sitwell | Ben Fuller | Robert Henry McIntosh
Mabel Lethbridge | Stephen Behan | Ruby Miller | Richard Attenborough | Daniel Kirkpatrick | Michael Wilson | Dick Hoskin
James Carroll | Uffa Fox | George Thomas Cummins | Hattie Jacques | Sam Derry | Finlay Currie | Phyllis Lumley | Ben Lyon
Bertie Tibble | Zena Dare | Victor Willcox | Learie Constantine | Phyllis Richards | Michael Bentine | Joe Loss | Gladys Aylward