Press Releases

Hugh Leonard (1926 - 2009)

RTÉ today (Friday February 13th 2009) wishes to formally extend its sympathies to the family of the late Hugh Leonard. Director-General Cathal Goan has also announced RTÉ’s plans to mark the passing of the award-winning writer.

Says Mr Goan: “It is with sadness we note Hugh Leonard’s passing. His contribution to RTÉ Drama and to RTÉ generally, over many years, is considerable. As well as being a celebrated playwright and an astute columnist, he was a brilliant adapter of works for broadcast for both RTÉ Radio and RTÉ Television. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.”

As well as extensive tributes on all RTÉ’s television and radio news bulletins yesterday, and the repeat of a radio drama yesterday evening, RTÉ would like to announce further programming to celebrate the work of Hugh Leonard.

On Saturday evening at 6.05pm RTÉ Radio 1’s The Arts Show will take a look back at the week that was in the arts and will feature an interview with Joe Dowling, former Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, on Leonard’s life and works. At 8.02pm on Sunday night RTÉ Radio 1 will broadcast You and the Night and the Wireless. Specially commissioned in 2001 to celebrate both the 75th anniversary of Irish radio and the playwright’s own 75th birthday, the piece features Cathryn Brennan, Bosco Hogan and Des Cave in a radio-play about the advent of the wireless and the decline of the fit-up actors’ companies with the emergence of new media like the cinema. Bosco Hogan is Tyrone McMartin, the indefatigable impresario of a group of travelling players touring the provinces in newly independent Ireland, Cathryn Brennan plays his Pygmalion wife (counter-clerk to star-billing), and Abbey actor Des Cave plays their enlightened patron, the local parish priest.

On RTÉ Television, RTÉ’s Art Lives series will mark the life and work of Hugh Leonard with a newly commissioned film from the director of the award-winning Being John Banville. Charlie McCarthy’s film, Hugh Leonard: Odd Man In, will air on RTÉ One on Tuesday March 3 at 10.15 pm. As well as Leonard’s reflections, the programme will feature contributions from his partner, his daughter, his many friends, sometime enemies, colleagues and critics. For more information on the documentary visit

On RTÉ.ie, visitors can sample a classic interview with the author, as well as access recent news reports on his passing. Go to

Hugh Leonard had a long and varied career as one of Ireland’s most prolific and successful playwrights, memoirists and commentators. Much of that career saw him in collaboration with RTÉ Television, on projects such as A Walk on the Water (1963, adapted for RTÉ Television by the author), Insurrection (1966), Fine Girl You Are (1973, adapted for television by Hugh Leonard from the Anton Chekov short story The Darling), Strumpet City (1980, adapted from James Plunkett’s novel), Good Behaviour (1983, adapted from Molly Keane’s novel), A Life (1984, from his play of the same name), Parnell and the Englishwoman (1991) and The Celadon Cup (1994). Indeed it is with immense privilege that RTÉ acknowledges that Hugh Leonard’s last piece of produced work was the short film Heaven (2007), starring David Kelly, commissioned by RTÉ Television and the 50th Dublin Theatre Festival.

Hugh Leonard also contributed extensively to RTÉ Television programmes, on programmes like Off the Beat, a musical quiz featuring Frank Hall, and Off the Record, a weekly chat series presented by Marty Whelan, which featured the RTÉ Concert Orchestra playing the favourite music of the show's guest; he also featured regularly on The Late Late Show, and was a panellist on the programme when Gerry Adams appeared in interview with presenter Gay Byrne.

Hugh Leonard also had a long-standing relationship with RTÉ Radio 1. Over the years RTÉ Radio 1 has broadcast much of his work, including his three Broadway successes The Au Pair Man, Da and A Life. RTÉ Radio has also produced and broadcast radio adaptations of his autobiographical books, Home Before Night and Out After Dark, and several plays that Leonard wrote specifically for RTÉ Radio 1, such as his last radio-play, the feline fantasy Mogs (2006), starring Barbara Brennan and Frank Kelly, produced by Cathryn Brennan and introduced by the playwright himself.

Cathryn Brennan worked with Hugh Leonard on many occasions and commented today on the easy working relationship she had with him. “Hugh Leonard never interfered with radio productions, once he handed over the script he let us work away. He loved to come to the readings and recordings though and would always l have a bit of craic with the actors.”