Billy is coming home
So Graham Reid the writer of the Billy plays confirmed with me on BBC Radio Ulster's "Arts Extra" programme that he has written a new Billy play, which will be premiered at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast this Autumn. It's 30 years, next month, since the first play was shown on BBC network. A play for today from BBC Northern Ireland,"Too Late to talk to Billy" aired at 9.25pm on BBC 1 on Tuesday the 6th February 1982. It was the first time people here got a chance to see themselves played back to themselves on screen. It was a significant moment for me as I was allowed to sit up late to watch it!
I re-watched them a few years ago ahead of an event at the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh which re-united Graham Reid, James Ellis, and Chris Parr the producer, among others on a panel discussion about the plays' importance. With tv drama becoming much more slick and cinematic in the last 30 years, audiences have a more sophisticated televisual language. But while there is a dated quality to some of the shots, with less cuts and pace than we expect now in tv editing, the passion of the writing and the energy of the central performances more than carry them.
To mark the 30th anniversary BBC Northern Ireland is going all out to celebrate the Billy legacy. The season begins on 5th of February with a documentary talking to the writer, cast and crew about the making of the plays, followed by the first Billy play, and BBC Radio Ulster starts a new series with people's memories of the plays on Monday 6th February at 11.55am.
Billy was Kenneth Branagh's first job, leaving RADA before the end of his course, and finding himself back in his hometown of Belfast. Branagh is keen to reprise the role which launched his career, as is everyone else associated with the new play. They are in the rare position of having all the original cast still alive.
But Reid is sanguine, aware that with Branagh's recent Oscar nomination and roles pouring in, will he have time to squeeze in a play in Belfast?
I don't doubt that he will. He is passionate about the part, and I think he would crawl over hot coals to do it. Hopefully he won't have to do that! He has got the part!!