A new bridge named after actor, director and Belfast icon James Ellis – best known for his roles in Z Cars and the Billy plays – opened yesterday in east Belfast.
Part of the Connswater Community Greenway Section from CS Lewis Square to Victoria Park, it follows the April 2014 opening of Sam Thompson Bridge, which also stretches over the River Connswater.
The unveiling was a proud moment for the Ellis family, made all the sweeter by the fact Ellis was essentially exiled by the Over the Bridge controversy in 1960.
As director of the Group Theatre he was approached in the centre of Belfast by Ballymacarrett-born Sam Thompson, by trade a painter in the shipyards, who challenged him with the immortal line: ‘I have a play here you won’t touch with a bargepole.’
Ellis had accepted Over the Bridge for production, cast, rehearsed, and publicised the play, when the Group’s board of directors informed him that it was cancelled following a vote.
Ellis resigned from the Group and with Thompson set up a company that staged Over the Bridge at the Empire Theatre in January 1960.
Seen by 42,000 people, it was noted that audiences were overwhelmingly made up of shipyard workers, many of whom had never been to a theatre before.
The bridge opening also coincides with the screening of Two Angry Men, a short film written and directed by Ellis’s son Toto, on BBC1 this Sunday at 10pm.
Two Angry Men dramatises the Over the Bridge affair and stars Adrian Dunbar as Thompson, Michael Shea as Ellis, with Michael Smiley, Stewart Love, Julia Dearden and Game of Thrones’s Conleth Hill in strong supporting roles.
It was screened in east Belfast and London at the end of last year and is due to feature at festivals in Rome and Chicago.