Alex Massie

Death of a Gadfly Playwright

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Hugh Leonard has died. His Telegraph obituary reeks of boozy afternoons in Dublin's finest hostelries:

Indeed, Leonard relished quarrels. "An Irish literary movement," he used to say, "is when two playwrights are on speaking terms"...

Leonard resented what he saw as his exclusion from the Irish arts world, and poured vitriol on lesser performers. The trouble with Ireland, he said, was that it was "a country full of genius, but with absolutely no talent". His critics were equally forthright about the Leonard ego. He was, said one, not an original playwright, merely "an adapter always in search of a plug".

Leonard retorted in kind. He eagerly debunked other famous names, including Brendan Behan, who, he said, owed all his success to Joan Littlewood's editing. This critique was later extended to others of the Behan tribe. Brian Behan was, he said, similar to Salman Rushdie in that, given the quality of his writing, his life could be in danger if he did not disappear. Behan replied that Leonard had no enemies in Dublin. "It is his friends who hate him", he said.

No surprise, then, that Leonard had a column in the Sunday Independent, a paper that in my Dublin years was a shameful, ghastly pleasure every week.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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