Thursday, 5 July 2012

Stories about my father

Recently, I've been writing about my father, Leonard Maguire. Thinking about him, his career, his professional & private personae, his talents, my perception of them, of him, over time, both during his life and since he died. It's for a programme in the BBC Radio 4 series 'Great Lives' and will air in August (date tbc).

Liaising with the producer in Bristol on the running order for clips and discussion about his life has caused me to focus on him a lot these past few weeks, and to become even more aware of the parallels between us. I'd describe him as an actor/writer, whereas I might perhaps be described as a writer/performer. Spot the difference? He really was a remarkable actor, and I've no claim to such skill (Well of course not, he had a lifetime's experience learned from working with & observing the very best: you, daft lassie, rarely worked in ensemble pieces, learned by doing stand-up & comedy presenting, and have done little performance of any kind since the '90s other than read the odd self-penned radio story. Ed.).  When I read his plays and his unpublished prose, I'm always moved by what a perceptive eye he had, how beautifully he phrased a sentence - balance, content, tone, character, direction, humour, drama, space to breathe, all in his gift. Our writing styles & themes are very different, and I'm not attempting to draw a comparison - there isn't one, except perhaps in intention or in sincerity of purpose.

He began acting when, in 1943, he joined the newly-formed Citizens' Theatre Company, after which he worked in the '40s in London's great theatres with the greatest actors of the era (Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Edith Evans, Tyrone Guthrie, John Gielgud). In the '50s, he moved back to Scotland, worked predominantly for the BBC on radio, writing dozens of scripts for Schools' programming and then presenting a magazine programme, Scope, (in collaboration with writer Eddie Boyd & producer  James McTaggart) weekly for 4 years. In the '60s, Television and Stage roles continued, with appearances in many plays and prestigious series, both historical and contemporary, and he had leading roles at Edinburgh International Festival official productions (an exhausting bear-skin-cloak-wearing Macbeth being one of them.)

Acting earned him not only a living but the respect of his peers (and his juniors, who used to imitate him); it brought accolades and - particularly in later years - opportunities to work in some very interesting places (Greenland, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Germany, Italy) and with some very talented people (Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, Michael Caine and many more.)

What I'm reflecting on now, as the recording date draws near, is that although his working life brought him into contact with so many people, the man I knew was quintessentially a 'loner' - and that now, as a writer of some years myself, I understand so much better the nature of the work (the pitfalls of it too). I'm also very glad that I encouraged him to write accounts of his life, which he did in letter form; and to have so much written evidence of his love for me, his approval for my own labouring-with-words, and examples of his humour and intelligence which still delight me to rediscover.

For years after he died I felt the loss of him more deeply than I could express, and at times more than I felt able to bear. More recently, I feel that he is not 'gone' -  that people live in our minds as long as we have memory and love and the desire to commune with them.

This process (assisting in research for the Great Lives programme) has been rewarding because it's reminded me, in a very practical way, of who I am, of where I came from, of what I'm doing and why, as I write my own work. My OWN work: work which I own. With hindsight, I see that need - to say something that nobody else could say - also drove him to write his personal projects; among them, 3 Fringe-First-award winning plays on the lives of poets William Dunbar, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Henrysoun.

More on this, perhaps, when the programme has been made, or after it airs. Meanwhile, here's a pic of my father from the early 1970s - a look one might describe as wary-mischievous.

p.s. yes, that Leonard Maguire Wikipedia page is pathetic; no idea who wrote it. When I've got more time I'll update & correct it...

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