Brendan Behan…..

I have a new book coming out in a few weeks – The Men who stare at Hens published by The History Press. It is intended as an homage to some of the wonderfully dotty individuals of the Emerald Isle. To give you an idea of its content I have posted below a paean on the remarkable Brendan Behan……

Brendan Behan (1923–64) was probably the greatest Irish writer of his generation, who wrote the critically acclaimed Borstal Boy and The Quare Fellow, famously described himself as ‘a drinker with a writing problem’. He was raised on whiskey by his maternal grandmother because ‘it was good for the worms’. This was also the same
grandmother who, Behan claimed, would only get out of bed to go to funerals.

He achieved national notoriety with a series of drunken appearances on television, most memorably on a 1956 episode of BBC’s Panorama when after mumbling through an interview he suddenly got up, stating, ‘I have to take a leak’, and did not return. He reprised this a few years later when he was a guest with the American actor Jackie Gleason on an American chat show, during which he didn’t manage a single comprehensible word. Gleason described the incident by saying: ‘It wasn’t an act of God, it was an act of Guinness.’

Back in Ireland, Behan was contracted to write an advertising slogan for Guinness – now recognised as possibly one of the worst decisions ever made by an advertising agency. He was given half a dozen kegs of their product for inspiration. After a month the company asked the legendary writer what he had come up with. Behan replied, ‘Guinness makes you drunk.’ There is also that famous story of when he was visiting Canada in 1961 and was asked by a reporter, ‘What brings you to Canada, Mr Behan?’ Behan is supposed to have replied, ‘Well now, I was in a bar in Dublin and it had one of those signs, and it said “Drink Canada Dry”, so I thought I’d give it a shot.’ He was also in the habit of interrupting his own plays. One night he yelled out, ‘That’s not what I wrote!’ and then clambered on to the stage, only to discover he was in the wrong theatre, watching a totally different play.

When he was not ‘in his cups’ he was a very witty man. On being asked by a journalist to describe the difference between poetry and prose, he replied:

There was a young man named Rollocks

who worked for Ferrier Pollocks.

As he walked on the Strand

With his girl by the hand.

The tide came up to his knees.

‘Now that’s prose,’ he said. ‘If the tide had been in, it would have been poetry.’ His love of the bottle finally claimed him on 8 March 1964, when he collapsed at the Harbour Lights bar in Dublin, and died a few days later, aged 41.

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