Gerry Stembridge


Life
1958- [Gerard Stembridge] b. Limerick; ed. UCD: author of the L & H; winner of The Irish Times debating Award; taught English at Mount Temple Comprehensive, Clontarf; taken on as script-writer at RTÉ, 1990-95; wrote The Truth About Claire (1990), the story of a suicide; wrote a play, That Was Then (Th. Abbey 2002), based on the reversal of Irish and English fortunes in era of the Celtic Tiger; collab. with Dermot Morgan on Scrap Saturday; wrote and dir. Melting Penguins (1994) for Passion Machine - a one-act play featuring five penguins distraught at depleting ozone layer; directed The Empire Laughs Back (BBC 1994), an Irish Troubles comedy show, and So You Think You’re Irish? (ITV 1997, 1998), an Irish amnesty gala series; scripted and directed Guiltrip (1995), for Temple Films, a study of marital infidelity and domestic violence in midlands Ireland, and winner of Amiens Youth Jury best film and Thessaloniki Film Festival best script awards; with Pat Murphy (dir.), became script-writer for Nora (1999), produced by James Flynn, et. al, and based on Brenda Maddox’s life of Nora Joyce - long-time companion and late wife of the famous Irish writer;
 
scripted and dir. About Adam (1999), an ingenious romantic comedy of three sisters and one boy in the ‘new’ Dublin, told successively from the view-point of each sister, with Stuart Townsend, Kate Hudson, et al., produced in collaboration with Marina Hughes and Anna Devlin of Venus Films and successfully promoted by Miramax in America; scripted Ordinary Decent Criminal, dir Thaddeus O’Sullvan (2000), in the Martin Cahill series (viz., The General, 1998), with Kevin Spacey in lead; co-wrote Nora, dir. Pat Murphy (2000), with Ewan McGregor and Susan Lynch in the chief roles; a play, Denis and Rose (Tallaght Civic Centre, Feb. 2002); a play, That Was Then (2002), studying changing Anglo-Irish relation at the personal level, was premiered at the Abbey, 16 May-29 June, 2002; directed a film, Black Day at Blackrock (2002), a sixty-min. studying the effect of the arrival of asylum seekers in an Irish town, with cast incl. Pauline McLynn et al., also produced by Venus;
 
read Ulysses on radio with Ronnie Drew, hosted by Gay Byrne (16 June 2004); issued According to Luke (2006), serialised in The Dubliner from Sept. 2004, in which the eponymous hero atones for his his father, a barrister and a crony of Charles Haughey; issued a novel, Counting Down (2009), his second novel, a tale of violence in modern Dublin; Unspoken (2011) is the third in the saga looking at changing Dublin through members of the Strong family; includes Dom, a portrait of Donagh O'Malley, the Fianna Fáil minister who introduced free secondary education in 1966; Stembridge lives with his partner on Howth Rd.

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Works
Drama, The Gay Detective (Dublin: New Island; London: Nick Hern Books 1996), 80pp. Fiction, Ordinary Decent Criminal (London: Headline, 2000), 183pp.; According to Luke (Penguin Ireland 2006), 236pp. [pb. 2007]; Counting Down (London: Penguin Ireland 2009), 315pp. Filmscript, About Adam (prod. Venus; distrib. Miramax in US).

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Criticism
Feature article on Guiltrip in Film Ireland (Dec 1995/Jan 1996); Donal McCann in conversation with Gerry Stembridge [Galway Film Fleadh/Film West] (Sun. 12 July 1998), 16pp.; Hugh Linehan [interview], in Theatre Talk: Voices of Irish Theatre Practitioners, ed. Lilian Chambers, Ger Fitzgibbon, Eamonn Jordan, et al. (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2001), pp.459-70; Mick Heaney ‘Gerry Stembridge’, in The Times Online (5 February 2006) [see extract].

See also interview by Anwar Brett, interview, BBC Home [Oct. 2003; online]

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Commentary
Cian Hallinan (Belgrave Rd., Monkstown, Co. Dublin), writes to The Irish Times (1 Feb. 2002): ‘In 1836 Disraeli wrote to the Times describing the Irish as “wild, reckless, insolent, uncertain and superstitious”, and the historian J. A. Fraude [sic for Froude] said that the inhabitants of Ireland “seemed more like tribes of squalid apes than human beings”. / On Monday night it appeared that these images of the Irish were still maintained, albeit by the Irish themselves. Black Day in Blackrock, by Gerry Stembridge, consolidated these ideas, and added a few more prejudices too. It would appear that we are all, particularly those living outside Dublin (with the exception of the one-in-a-thousand token hippy) a nation of racist, bigoted, red-necked, violent, leering buffoons … Perhaps Mr. Stembridge should rethink his attitudes on prejudicial stereotyping. It can work many ways.’ To which Robert O’Sullivan (Bantry, Co Cork) replies that the meeting which decided that the Travellers should be “encouraged” to move on was a ‘carbon copy of the one in the play’. (Ibid., 2 Feb. 2002.) Further letters include support for Hallinan from Desmond Wilson (Springhill Close, Belfast): ‘Anti-Irish racism by Irish people in Irish media is probably our primary racist problem ...’ (5 Feb. 2002). Note: Hallihan is an assistant at the James Joyce Tower, Sandycove.

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Mick Heaney, ‘Gerry Stembridge’, in The Sunday Times (5 Feb. 2006) :As a young writer and director with a taste for comedy, Gerry Stembridge was aware of the importance of timing, but until he got a call from Dermot Morgan he did not realise it could change his life. For most of the 1980s, Stembridge had been building a reputation for his lively theatre productions and offbeat television projects, but in the moribund Haughey years, he held out little hope for wider success. That changed when Morgan came along with a proposal for a satirical radio show: Scrap Saturday. /“I think the reason people think so kindly of it was timing: the thing happened, and we became symbolic of something, and then it went,” says Stembridge of the era-defining show that first aired in 1990. “But it was a total accident. I was always interested in doing comedy; I had done occasional things on radio and TV, and Dermot had just spotted them. It wasn’t fully formed, but he was looking for stuff and phoned me out of the blue. [...] (For full text, see RICORSO, Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, as attached

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Quotations
According to Luke”, in The Dubliner (Sept. 2004), opens with a young man’s memory of being caught in bed with a French girl on holidays in Kerry when his parents bring “The Boss” [Charles Haughey] back to the cottage. Chap. 1: ‘Luke is fascinated how Frank [his father], like the good lawyer he has always been, constructs without faltering, this seamless narrative of family life. He is never so crass as to pretend that they had been poor, but casual usages like the “old banger” referring to the top of the range Merc of the time, and joking references to the lack of basic facilities in what he calls the Itigin’, all serve to imply a simplicity of living, years of joyous endeavour, which if fortunate, was really God’s good fortune smiling on them, rewarding their essential decency. Like the roads they are travelling on, life always seemed to get better, and by-passes were an important part of that success. Luke can hear in Frank’s voice just how real the sentimental love for his family is. The narratiwve which now carries them from the Naas road along the canal towards Ranelagh is nothing but the truth as far as his father is concerned. So close to home, Luke now knows that this journey into autumn has failed to bring to the surface the other unspoken narrative. Did he really think it would?’ (p.33.) [Cont.]

According to Luke”, in The Dubliner (Sept. 2004) - cont.: ‘It was a confident gravelly voice familiar to the entire nation. Luke heard his father telling an Taoiseach where the bathroom was, at exactly the moment the alarm clock rang. It was one o’clock. The shock made Luke jump. It made Bobbi scream; an unquestionably female scream. Luke grabbed the clock. The alarm seemed utterly deafening, yet he heard the deadly click of the bedroom door as it opened. His father stood there, looing at his teenage son, naked on a bed, fumbling with an alarm clock; a naked teenage girl next to him. The Leader of the Nation now put his head around the door. As he took in the scene one quiet, spontaneous, possibly admiring word escaped his lips.’ (p.35; end of episode.) [See Life Acording to Luke (Penguin 2006), 240pp.]

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Kevin Power, notice on Unspoken, in The Irish Times (2 June 2012), Weekend Review - Paperbacks: ‘Gerard Stembridge’s third novel is about Ireland under a Fianna Fáil government, during a period of economic growth, but don’t panic: Unspoken isn’t a Celtic Tiger novel. Instead it follows a varied assortment of characters through the turbulent 1960s: the ageing, increasingly blind president, Éamon de Valera; Gavin Bloom, a homosexual floor manager at the new Teilifís Éireann; Baz Molloy, a cameraman; Corman Kiely, an architect; a young and rapacious Charles J. Haughey (known as the Lizard); and, most movingly, Dom, or Donogh O’Malley, Limerick man and minister for education under Seán Lemass, who made education free for Irish children. And, representing the plain people of Ireland, there is the Strong family. The book’s length and steadfast devotion to the ordinary make for occasional longueurs, but, throughout, Stembridge is reminding us that the larger moods of history begin in the small moods of individual moments, and he has done an excellent job of capturing both.’

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Reference
BBC Comedy website lists The Empire Laughs Back (1994); So You Think You’re Irish (1997) So You Think You’re Irish, 2 (1998), all directed by Gerry Stembridge [online; accessed 16 March 2 & see Notes, infra].

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Notes
The Truth About Claire (1990), a TV docu-drama in two episodes that traces about story of a suicide as reconstructed from interviews with neighbours on the housing estate where she has come to stay with her friend Denise in the days before she goes to England for an abortion; interspliced with scenes of the editor, played by Stembridge, replaying the interviews, and concluded with a playing of his documentary in which a version of truth about Claire emerges, thus putting in quesion media coverage. The cast were: Ann Callanan (Claire), Andrew Connolly (Colman), Peter Hanly (Paul), Eamonn Hunt (David), Pauline McLynn (Denise). Note: RTE transmission was interrupted by a power-out caused by ESB workers strike.

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The Empire Laughs Back (BBC 1994), a stand-up comedians’ evening directed for TV by Stembridge in an old Presbyterian church in the Botanic district of S. Belfast, was part of BBC Comedy commemoration of 25 Years of Northern Irish Troubles, with Patrick Kielty, The Hole In The Wall Gang and Jake Junior. [BBC link].

So You Think You’re Irish (ITV 1997), a single broadcast recorded in Dublin during Amnesty International Gala, featured stand-up spots by Barry Murphy, Kevin McAleer, Kevin Gildea, Tommy Tiernan and stage-sketches starring with Pauline McLynn and Dermot Morgan, et al. A second series of 3 episodes was broadcast in 1998.

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Guiltrip (1995): set in an Irish midlands ‘garrison’ town; deals with the troubled marriage of army corporal Liam and Tina, a young married couple, it starts with a violent quarrel when Liam arrives home drunk, to be followed by a series of flashbacks filling in a 24-hour period up to that during which Liam pursues another woman while Tina passes the day in meaningless encounters. Written and directed by Gerry Stembridge; photographed by Eugene O’Connor; with Andrew Connolly and Jasmine Russell in the main roles and Peter Hanly, Michelle Houlden, Pauline McLynn, Mikel Murfi and Frankie McCafferty in others. (Temple Films, with Fandango and Smile Productios; 87 mins.) Circulated in Italia as La Colpa.

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About Adam (1999), a film written and directed by Gerry Stembridge, produced by Marina Hughes and Anna Devlin of Venus Films and promoted successfully in America by Miramax, and by BBC Films and HAL Films in Britain. About Adam is a romantic comedy set in Dublin with Stuart Townsend, Kate Hudson, Frances O'Connor, Charlotte Bradley [the sisters], Rosaleen Linehan [the mother of the Owen girls], Tommy Tiernan, Alan Maher [younger brother], and Brendan Dempsey acting. Adam is the perfect boyfriend. His apparent devotion to Lucy has swept her off her feet, but he is surreptitiously courting and seducing the rest of her family on his way to the altar. In the film, Townsend is fitted with differently coloured contact lens in his scenes with each of the girls [UK release 30th March 2001; see BBC online.]

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That Was Then (Abbey 2002) is set in Ireland and London in the recent past and future. In the first part, Noel, a businessman (played by Stephen Brennan) and his conventional wife May (Marion O’Dwyer) host an English couple, Julian (Nick Dunning) and June (Julia Lane) in their home. In the second, Julian and June await a visit from the others at their London apartment in the near future. The difference is that, while the Noel needed financial help from the Englishman in the past, it is the Englishman who now needs help from the ‘Celtic Tiger’ Irishman.

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Black Day at Blackrock (2002), a study of the explosion of prejudice triggered off by news that 30 Eastern European and African asylum-seekers are coming an Irish town; 60 mins; dir. and script by Gerry Stembridge; produced by Venus Productions (Marina Hughes & Anna Devlin); cast: Don Wycherly,  Julie Hale,  Tom Hickey,  Pauline McLynn,  Jasmine Russell,  Anna Manahan; filmed in Co. Meath. 

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According to Luke (2006): Luke Reid, the son of a upper-middle class family, finds his life turned upside-down when he finds about his father’s earlier involvement in sleeze politics of the Haughey era and sets out to make amends by transforming his own life, while the viewpoint of other family members including his long-suffering mother Norma reveal the alcoholic excesses and infidelities of his father.

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Counting Down (2009), concerns Joe Power, a thirty-something man who risks his life nightly on risky itineraries through modern Dublin, entoiled in the excesses and moral confusion of the Celtic Tiger. Power is counting the days until he sees his son, counting the years spent with his wife, counting the inches he has lose, counting the friends who tell him to get his act together, counting the hours before he takes his next walk - until he finally meets the act of violence that he continually anticipates and which marks him forever.

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Counting Down (2009), Joe Power comes across a count-down clock which should have stopped at the new millenium but seems to have the ability to predict the lifespan of whomever inserts new batteries in it; he becomes obsessed after his 5-year-old son Milo is killed right on cue. Joe, a thirty-something interested in himself and his swelling waistline, caught up in the consumerism - he buys the entire list of a spurious “best music of all time” at HMV); satire on the Celtic Tiger; haunted by a sense of loss; includes bad language and notably the c- word for female characters. (See Arminta Wallace, Paperbacks, in The Irish Times, Weekend Review, 17 Feb. 2010.)

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Guilt trip? Note that Guiltrip is often erroneously produced as Guilt Trip on film websites. E.g., ‘[...] “Only recently has a climate existed whereby a young filmmaker could tell a story about contemporary Ireland, which in itself is a leap forward,” says Peter Walsh, film programmer at the Irish Film Centre in Dublin. Walsh points to Jerry Stembridge’s Guilt Trip, a domestic violence drama, and Johnny Gogan’s The Last Bus Home, which looks at Dublin youth culture of the ’70s, as examples of the new diversity in Irish film stories.’ (Edward Guthmann, SFGate Chronicle, Sun. 14 Feb. 1999; online - accessed 07.07.2009.)

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