DCSIMG

Ulster-born television veteran broke mould

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“Very tasty Janey. You haven’t a drop more sauce have ye?”

It was with these words – delivered in his broad Belfast brogue – that late actor James Ellis began his mould-breaking, career-defining role on British television as Bert Lynch in Z Cars.

While other characters fell by the wayside, he maintained his role for 16 years and several hundred episodes; from the very first show in 1962 to the final series.

Not only was Z Cars a fresh look at policing, depicting the tedium and failings of the job, but for many on the UK mainland Ellis’ character was perhaps the first sustained exposure they had to a full-on, unmoderated Ulster accent.

Before that, he had been active in theatre in the Province, and claimed in an interview to have given then-unknown Frank Carson an early break with a pantomime role.

Following his role in Z Cars, he went on to play working-class Protestant father Norman Martin in the “Billy” trilogy, starring alongside Kenneth Branagh.

His other subsequent appearances included the shows Nightingales, Ballykissangel – and many more.

Born in Belfast on March 15, 1931, he was the son of a shipyard sheet-metal worker who had worked on Titanic.

He studied at Methodist College then took on English literature and French philosophy at Queen’s University, before dropping out to take up acting, and securing a scholarship to Bristol’s Old Vic.

He married in 1956 to Elizabeth “Betty” Hogg, and the couple had three children: Amanda, Adam and Hugo.

They divorced, and in 1976 he married Robina Taylor. They had one child, Toto (originally known as Matthew).

His personal life was scored with painful episodes.

In 1988 Adam, 28, was murdered in west London, while Hugo died by suicide in 2011, having fought a long battle with depression.

James Ellis had lived in Collingham, Nottinghamshire at the time of his death.

Aged 82, he died in Lincoln Hospital on March 8 following a stroke.

Ellis is survived by first and second wives as well as son Toto and daughter Amanda.

At time of writing, plans were being drawn up for his funeral, but his family have pledged it will be in native city of Belfast.

 

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