Brian Phelan papers

Biographical and Historical Notes

Award-winning Irish-born dramatist and screenwriter Brian Phelan (born 1934) writes predominantly for television. His dramas and adaptations have been praised for their historical accuracy and attention to detail.

Brian Phelan was born December 2, 1934, in Dublin, Ireland. At the age of eighteen, he immigrated with his family to Canada and obtained work as an apprentice builder. Phelan worked as a carpenter, stage hand, and stage manager in several Canadian theatres including The Crest Theatre, Toronto, and the Canadian Repertory Theatre in Ottawa. He later moved back to Dublin and acted in productions at the Abbey Theatre, the Pike Theatre, and the Gate Theatre in the 1950s. Most notably, he was a part of the cast of the production of Tennessee Williams's The Rose Tattoo at the Pike Theatre in 1957, where the director was arrested and the play nearly shut down. He also won Young Actor of the Year in Dublin in 1958. Phelan continued to act throughout the 1960s after his relocation to London until he established himself as a writer.

Phelan's first writing credit was on The Tormentors, a play written for television and aired as part of the ITV Play of the Week series in 1966. His adaptations and "docudramas" focus predominantly on Irish characters, the issues of Irish emigration, socialist and feminist themes, and major world events. Phelan's works have appeared on the BBC, HBO, and Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE), among others. His dramas and adaptations have been praised for their historical accuracy and attention to detail. He won the Cable Academy Award for Writer of a Dramatic Special for Knockback, (1984/85) and his drama Coded Hostile (Flight 007) (1989) was nominated for Best Drama of 1990. Phelan received the London Irish Post award for fostering understanding between England and Ireland, and his television movieThe Treaty (1992) about Irish revolutionary Michael Collins and the establishment of the Irish Free State was positively reviewed. Phelan also won the Golden Nymph award for best mini-series at the 42nd Monte Carlo Television Festival for No Tears , (2002) on the Hepatitis-C outbreak in Ireland in the 1970s due to a contaminated blood supply. He also won the Sapporo Prize at the Tokyo Television Festival for The Russian Soldier (BBC, 1986) and the Jacobs Prize in Dublin for Murphy's Stroke (1980).


Biographical information derived from collection.

"Brian Phelan." IMDb. 2013. 10 October 2013.

"Brian Phelan." Playography Ireland. 2014. 30 June 2014.

Scope and Content Note

The Brian Phelan papers document forty years of the literary career of Irish-born playwright and screenwriter Brian Phelan (born 1934). Phelan's adaptations and docudramas focus on Irish characters, the issues of Irish emigration, socialist and feminist themes, and major world events. The collection, which spans from the 1960s to the 2000s, comprises Phelan's working and project files and include correspondence, screenplays, scripts, contracts, photographs, and research.

The collection is arranged into two series: I. Projects; and II. Correspondence, speeches, and personal.

Series I. Projects, consists of Phelan's working and project files. Material consists of research, treatments, drafts, notes, correspondence, production information, and published materials that went toward a project for television, stage, and/or film. Project and working files are present in various stages of completion. The series includes material toward Phelan's most well known works, including The Treaty (1992), Knockback (1984-85), No Tears (2002), Coded Hostile/Tailspin (1989), and Being Normal (1983), as well as the stage playsHimself and The Signalman's Apprentice. The series also includes many lesser known, proposed, unproduced, and cancelled works. These working and project files contain substantial amounts of correspondence, predominantly between Phelan and his agents Shelia Lemon and Stephen Durbridge, as well as between Phelan and directors, producers, and heads of television corporations and theatres. Some personal correspondence is also included. General correspondence not pertaining to a particular work is also included in Series II.

This series offers a comprehensive overview of Phelan's writing process, including extensive research, drafts, editing and correspondence about editing, proof copies or shooting scripts, and reviews.

The files are organized alphabetically by title and may include research material, autograph and typescript drafts, computer-generated drafts, notes, books, production material, printed programs and scripts, contracts, photographs of productions, clippings and reviews, and audiovisual material. Phelan's original organization for much of his working and project files has been maintained.

Series II. includes personal correspondence, general correspondence with his agents, speeches and lectures, and acting contracts from Phelan's early career.