Northern Ireland

Director and producer Chris Parr, best known for The Billy Plays, has died

Chris Parr was best known for producing The Billy Plays starring Sir Kenneth Branagh and Jimmy Ellis
Chris Parr was best known for producing The Billy Plays starring Sir Kenneth Branagh and Jimmy Ellis Chris Parr was best known for producing The Billy Plays starring Sir Kenneth Branagh and Jimmy Ellis

Theatre director and TV producer Chris Parr has been remembered as a man with "enormous vision and talent" following his death, aged 80.

Mr Parr, best known for The Billy Plays starring Sir Kenneth Branagh and Jimmy Ellis, passed away last Friday following a long illness.

Late of north Belfast, tributes have described him as a "first class producer and director" as well as an "extraordinarily kind and generous man".

Originally from Sussex, he was awarded a scholarship to Oxford University, but later left to pursue his love of theatre.

He worked with Bradford University Drama Group, before becoming artistic director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in 1975, where he ran the Royal Court Theatre's Sunday Night Programme.

He developed and regularly directed plays by new and emerging Scottish playwrights.

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He held roles as head of drama at BBC Birmingham, where he produced the serial Takin' Over the Asylum, which won a BAFTA award and also worked as the BBC's head of drama series in London.

But his most notable works were the Billy Plays after he was headhunted to become the founding producer of the BBC NI TV drama department.

His first production, Too Late to Talk to Billy in 1982 was a success, focusing on the stormy relationship between Norman Martin (Ellis) and his son Billy (Branagh)

It was his debut as a producer and Branagh's as an actor.

He went on to produce A Matter Of Choice For Billy (1983) and A Coming To Terms For Billy (1984), while a fourth play - Lorna - about the Martin family was broadcast in 1987.

It was during his time in Belfast that he met his wife Anne Devlin, an author and playwright.

Speaking last year ahead of the plays being broadcast again, Mr Parr said they "truly transcended the Troubles".

He said it was "a truthful account of Northern Ireland in the 1980s, which was welcomed by people from both parts of the community".

"It was about family life and working-class life and you could be from either side or neither side."

Following his death, many tributes have been paid, including one from his brother-in-law Joe Devlin, who wrote on social media that he was "an extraordinarily kind and generous man with enormous vision and talent".

He said Mr Parr had "worked with some of the best artists in the industry and helped so many young and emerging artists in his six decade career".

Director Michael Quinn also wrote on X hat he was "sad to hear" of Mr Parr's death and said his work on the Billy Plays "remains a high watermark for NI drama".

Erskine Holmes, chair of UK Labour NI, also wrote: "RIP Chris Parr, husband of playwright Anne Devlin and father of historian Connal Parr.

"A modest high achieving drama and TV producer who easily became one of us and shared our hopes for a new Belfast.".

Mr Parr's funeral is being held on Friday at Roselawn Crematorium and afterwards to the Lyric Theatre.