‘The Drama League was run by idealists and artists, and by down to earth enthusiasts who made a living in the academic institutions, and the commercial and industrial establishments of old Belfast.’
By getting in contact with his aunt in San Francisco Jack got told by his aunt of an old friend of hers that he should speak to when he returned back home. This woman was Margaret Weir and she was in charge of the Northern Drama League. Margaret encouraged Jack to join the Drama League which formed his identity and developed his knowledge and passion for the arts. The Drama League nurtured Jack in becoming the actor he was in later years of his life.
In his memoir Jack speaks of the joy acting brings to so many people’s lives. Professor H.O Meredith of Queen’s University Belfast organised plays performed by the unemployed of society. ‘In those days the dole way very much a subsistence allowance. The only thing the unemployed had in abundance was enforced idleness, so the professor had no trouble in getting men to join his association.'(155) This allowed these people to have purpose in their lives when they felt quite lost. It enabled them to tap into their creativity that they may not have done so since they were a child.
Jack considers the political and social factors that were different back in his early days of acting. There was less to be afraid of in those times. ‘The political autobiographies assert the world changing and the worker’s adequacy to change.’(Gagnier, 1991, 351) Jack reminisces about these simpler days where it was not a danger to be in public. ‘No barriers had to be crossed, no bombs were heard going off in the streets, no muggers were tolerated as they are today waiting to accost old people who happen to be making their way home at night.'(157)
Below is a snippet of some of the plays Jack has performed in. This does not mention all of the plays he has performed as many he has mentioned in his memoir is not included in the playography.
Political violence created anxieties amongst the public about going to the theatre. ‘But it was in 1969 that the good times for the theatre in Northern Ireland were brought to an abrupt end for a good while.'(251) Many were too afraid of being caught in a random act of violence. ‘People began to consider it safer to sit at home and watch the “telly” grim as it sometimes was in its presentation of news reports and badly researched investigations into the cause of the “troubles”.'(251) Jack speaks about how political violence affected his daily life too. ‘Formerly I used to go along the embankment on my way home…I was lifted in my car a few feet along the road with the blast of a bomb that had gone off in a garage I had just passed a few seconds ago. A few seconds later and I would have been the innocent victim.'(259) ‘The Troubles’ changed how Jack seen the world. What was once a safe city to drive whatever route of your liking was no more as one wrong decision could leave you in the crosshairs of violence.
These times of hardship did not deter Jack from acting in the theatre. In 1972 Jack performed the role of Dogsborough in ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.’ I was fortunate enough to find a copy of the cast programme and also a production shot of Jack rehearsing the play.
At 67 years of age Jack was still doing what he loved and performed on stage. This play was performed in the Lyric Theatre. ‘The Gathering’ by Edna O’Brien has familiar face in the cast photo below. ‘Though it did bring to the fore Liam Neeson who played the part of Larkin with great skill, it did not provide a spectacular enough piece of work to celebrate the occasion.'(266) Liam Neeson was only at the cusp of his acting career. It is evident that Jack recognised his talent for acting before his celebrity status.
Jack portrayed how political and religious barriers are broken down through the theatre. ‘They loved big cities – Sharon and Michele – one from the east side and one from the west side of Belfast. They became good friends on the tour though they came from districts miles apart in politics and in religious persuasion.'(273) These two young cast members would most likely not have a friendship if they had not met through acting. Jack conveyed how this art takes away the prejudice of members of opposing political and religious sides. Everyone is welcomed for who they are in the theatre and are not judged for it.
Jack’s 50+ years of being an actor was rewarded when he was invited to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the BBC Belfast. ‘Well, yesterday I received an invitation from the Controller of BBC Belfast, inviting me to a lunch to celebrate sixty years of broadcasting in the province.'(323) After meeting so many old friends this event made Jack ponder if the BBC still had his work in their archives. ‘Seeking through my own archives, I doubt if the material concerning my writing and acting efforts is still in the archives of the BBC.'(325) This memoir preserves Jack’s record of his contribution to the acting community.
Gagnier, Regenia. Subjectivities: A History of Self-Representation in Britain, 1832-1920. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
McQuoid, Jack, ‘One Man in his Time’ pp.328, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4.
NB: all pictures and images have links of their source.
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