Brian Phelan

Brian Phelan
Brian Phelan



Brian Phelan was born in 1934 in Dublin.   He began his career on British television in 1960.   Among his film credits are “The Criminal” with Stanley Baker, “The Kitchen”, “H.M.D. Defiant” and “Four in the Morning” with Judi Dench in 1964.   His partner is the actress Dorothy Bromiley.


Brian Phelan (born December 2, 1934) is an Irish actor, dramatist, and screenwriter. His works include A High Wind in Jamaica (1965), The Knockback (two parts, 1985), and The Treaty (1991).

Phelan was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1934. He first apprenticed as a carpenter at the age of 15.[ When Phelan was eighteen, he and his family immigrated to Canada. While there, he was able to obtain his first professional job at the Crest Theatre in Toronto as an assistant stage carpenter.

In 1956, Phelan returned to Dublin to pursue his acting career. He appeared in productions at the Abbey Theatre, the Gate Theatre with the Edwards McLiammoir Company, and the Pike Theatre in the 1950s.[

While he continued to work as a full-time actor in the 1960s, Phelan began his screenwriting career.[ His first television play was The Tormentors (1966), starring James Mason and Stanley Baker, produced by ATV Writing predominantly for television, Phelan’s other works include The Russian Soldier (BBC, 1986), The Emigrants (BBC, 1977), In the Secret State(BBC, 1985), The Ivory Trade (HBO), and No Tears (RTÉ One, 2002).[ Phelan has written for films as well, including Little Mother (also known as Woman of the Year, 1973), Honeybaby, Honeybaby (1974), and Tailspin: Behind the Korean Airliner Tragedy (1989). His stage plays include The Signalman’s Apprentice (1971), which has been produced worldwide, Article Five, Paddy, News, and Soft Shoe Shuffle. In 1961, Phelan co-presented with Robin Fox the first production of Tom Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Apollo Theatre

Phelan has received awards including the CableACE Award for the Writer of a Dramatic Special for Knockback in 1987, and the Sapporo Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festivalfor The Russian Soldier.[9] Murphy’s Stroke, a film written by Phelan, won a Jacob’s Award in 1980.[ He was also awarded the London Irish Post Award for his work on The Treaty(1992), and a Golden Nymph Award for Best Mini Series for No Tears (2002) at the 42nd Monte Carlo Television Festival

His papers have been acquired by Special Collections at the University of Delaware.[

Guardian obituary in 2024

My friend Brian Phelan, who has died aged 90, was an actor turned playwright whose work was performed on television and on stage between the mid-1970s and early-2000s.

Over that period he produced works such as Woman’s Estate (1974) and Holding On (1977), both for LWT; The Russian Soldier (1986), directed by Gavin Millar for the BBC; Murphy’s Stroke (Thames Television, 1980); Knockback (1987 for the BBC) and Coded Hostile for Granada in 1989.


His many stage plays included Article 5 (1975), The Signalman’s Apprentice (1974), which was perhaps his best known creation, Paddy (1977) and Himself (1993), the last of which starred Timothy West at the Nuffield theatre in Southampton, the Theatre Royal in Bath and Richmond theatre, London.

Later on, No Tears, which he wrote for RTÉ in 2002, won the best miniseries award at the Monte Carlo television festival.

Brian was born in Dublin to Micheal, a builder, and Theresa (nee Fogerty), a housewife. Educated by the Christian Brothers, Brian was apprenticed as a carpenter before emigrating at the age of 18 with his family to Canada, where he began acting in theatre and television.

In his early 20s he returned to Ireland, and in 1956 landed his first notable stage role there at the Abbey theatre in Dublin, in Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow. Moving to the UK shortly afterwards, he met the young Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, resulting in a long-lasting friendship, and appeared in Miss Julie at the Arts theatre, as well as in a number of films, including The Kitchen (1961), HMS Defiant (1962) and three movies for Joseph Losey – The Criminal (1960), The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967). I met Brian in London in the late 60s when I was working at the BBC, and we discovered that we had mutual friends and shared cultural interests.

While still acting Brian delivered his first television script to ATV – The Tormentors (1966) – which became an ITV Play of the Week starring James Mason and Stanley Baker. Its success prompted him to turn away from acting to concentrate on his writing.

Both in his work environment and outside, Brian was a man of great loyalty and simpatico, and his many friends were a vital part of his life.

His first marriage, to Jan Heppell in 1960, ended in divorce in 1964, and he spent the rest of his life with his partner, Dorothy Bromiley, an actor who predeceased him by only a few days.

He is survived by their daughter, Kate, and by Josh, Dorothy’s son from a previous marriage.

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