The World of Ephemera: Before Z Cars…

Time for some more ephemera,

Found in amongst a pile of old theatre programmes, this edition of the school mag of M.C.B. – Methodist College Belfast from June 1949. My mum went there, and must have been in the sixth form when this edition was published. Sadly, despite being a classics scholar and singer she doesn’t get a mention, but someone else, who may be familiar to those of you who grew up in the 1960s, does…

There is a rather wordy review of the school’s production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street by Rudolf Besier. The reviewer known only by the initials R.M., starts off by telling us that this production had a lot to live up to, after the school’s phenomenal one of Agamemnon a couple of years previously. Then he(?) comments on the choice of play:

The choice of this year’s play may be open to some degree of criticism in so far as the play is a study of morbid mentality: but apart from that, the play has characteristics which make it suitable – a literary background, a large cast, opportunity for picturesque costume and a single set with no great calls for stage mechanism.

Gulp!  However, the reviewer enjoyed the play, commenting in his summary:

And above all they had trained the speech of the actors so that character was revealed fully and compellingly, without the players avoiding the Scylla of stodginess only by running into the Charybdis of cariacature.

The review is illustrated by a monochrome print – you may be able to make out the signature at the bottom, which leads us to one of the production photos…

Now can you recognise the chap on the left at all, playing Dr Ford Waterlow?  The reviewer says:

[X] was most skilfully doddery as Dr Ford Waterlow, without overstepping into caricature.

I can now reveal that X is James Ellis – yes, Sgt Lynch in Z Cars and the longest serving TV policeman ever at over 550 episodes through all twelve series broadcast between 1962 and 1978.

Although in the same year my mum wasn’t in his form and didn’t know him very well.

Here he is in 1964 with Jeremy Kemp. His character was one of the few Northern Irish voices you’d hear on the BBC back then (except for the politicians ranting). Z Cars went on to make stars of many of its cast – including Brian Blessed who was in the first five series. We always watched it in our household.

Ellis died in 2014. You can find a lovely obituary on a blog called Blood and Porridge here.

But back to the MCB magazine, where Jimmy also had a poem published:


When through the veil of evening’s vap’rous shroud
I gaze upon the land’s distorted waste,
And see its features, sordid, and defaced
By Death, base remnants of a soul once proud;

When I behold its piteous limbs still strained
Upon the rack of human strife and woe,
And see its wretched fames more wretched grow
From hour to hour – then is my spirit chained

Within the vesture of morality,
And all my heart with heaviness is fraught;
Ambition, Hope, yea Love itself is naught
Before the truth of grim reality.

How can we strive for fame or empty praise
Whilst Nature into barren dust decays!

James Ellis (Sch.).

6 thoughts on “The World of Ephemera: Before Z Cars…

  1. Cathy746books says:

    How fantastic! What a great thing to have. I love James Ellis, we’re very proud of him here in Northern Ireland. Thanks for sharing. Would you mind if I linked this up to the Read Ireland Month master post?

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Go ahead Cathy! Good timing that I found it, eh? (I’m halfway through Gull and enjoying it a lot btw)

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    How fascinating! I used to love watching Z Cars in the later years and Lynch was one of my favourites – I still recall the closing scene of the last episode when the shutter rolled down in front of his face!

  3. FictionFan says:

    I remember Z-cars with affection, and James Ellis too. I had to chuckle at his poem though – what is it that makes us all so totally morbidly depressed when we’re teenagers?? Thank goodness we’ve usually cheered up a bit by the time we’re thirty or so… 😉

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