Documentary on One

An Irishman Chained to the Truth

Brian Desmond Hurst was the most prolific Irish film director of the 20th century - Allan Smith delves into his family history to find out more about his great great uncle Brian's adventures in Hollywood.

An Irishman Chained to the Truth

Playboy of the Western World 1962 - Brian Desmond Hurst relaxing before shooting the beach horse race scene on Inch Strand. (Courtesy of British Film Institute)
Playboy of the Western World 1962 - Brian Desmond Hurst relaxing before shooting the beach horse race scene on Inch Strand. (Courtesy of British Film Institute)

Allan Smith goes in search of the truth behind his great great uncle Brian.

For Allan, as a child, 'uncle' Brian Desmond Hurst was the jovial man who dressed up as Santa when he came home to Belfast each Christmas for what he called his 'spiritual bath' and told tall tales of his adventures in Tinsel town.

Allan was only vaguely aware at the time of Brian's work in Hollywood as a film director but ever since he has had a love of films, and a yearning to find out more about the man who bewitched him with unlikely stories of socialising with John Wayne, working with his 'cousin' John Ford, and giving Sir Roger Moore his first break in the movies. And he is intrigued to find out why Brian died penniless in 1986, having made no will.

Decades later, Allan now has that chance. He has obtained probate and has begun collecting Brain's scrapbooks, tape recordings, films, correspondence and papers. Among them is Brian's unpublished autobiography beginning with the words "I am truly in a predicament - an Irishman chained to the truth".

Radio Producer Adam Fowler follows Allan over the course of a year as he sets about finding out how much truth there actually is in the stories he remembers and, in the process, comes across many anecdotes, testimonials, and a few surprises which make him suspect that those tales were not so tall after all.

The programme charts Allan's search to understand Hurst's creative and psychological development from an East Belfast blacksmith family, to the cruel slaughter of Brian's regiment on the slopes of Gallipoli in the First World War, to Hollywood and, eventually, Belgravia in London, from where he directed films such as the classic Scrooge (1951) and the box office blockbusters of their times Malta Story (1953) , Tom Brown's Schooldays (1952) and Theirs is the Glory (1946). Allan discovers that Brian's Ourselves Alone (1936) - a story of love set during the Irish War of Independence - was censored in the Republic and banned completely in Northern Ireland and that his On the Night of the Fire (1939) now receives significant artistic and critical acclaim.

But this is not just a personal voyage for Allan, it is also his attempt to re-instate the reputation of Brian as a moviemaker: his forgotten influence on so many filmmakers and actors in Ireland, Britain and Hollywood. Allan makes contact with Dan Ford (John's grandson, who has fond childhood memories of Brian) and, spurred on by Dan's encouragement, he seeks to have Brian recognised in Belfast, the city of his birth.

In "An Irishman Chained to the Truth" Allan Smith discovers that his own boyhood hero really is one of moviemaking's unsung heroes too. And by doing so, he comes closer to Hurst, the man who took him under his wing as a youngster, and who filled his head with tall tales and the romance of dreams.

Produced by Adam Fowler.

Piano rendition of warsaw concerto by the Italian pianist Annarita Santagada.


First broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on Saturday 6th August 2011 @ 1pm

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.

Documentary Maker: Adam Fowler

Adam Fowler
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