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O'Connor, James (1918-2001)


Main image of O'Connor, James (1918-2001)

James - or Jimmy - O'Connor had an unusual background for a television dramatist. He was an adventurous career criminal whose life changed in 1942, when he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. His reprieve came just days before he was due to hang. He served ten years but always maintained his innocence. Although the Home Office admitted misgivings about his conviction, he was never pardoned.

He became a crime reporter in the 1950s and then a car dealer. It was his own life experiences and those of his criminal acquaintances that informed his writing when he turned to television drama in the 1960s, with three scripts produced for The Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-1970) in 1965 alone - all of them directed by Ken Loach, using many of the same actors.

'Three Clear Sundays' (tx. 7/4/1965) was a grim, haunting and yet sometimes comedic account of a young man's hanging. Although written afterwards, 'Tap on the Shoulder' (tx. 6/1/1965), a lighter piece about a gold bullion heist and the criminality of nobility, reached the screen first. 'The Coming Out Party' (tx. 22/12/1965) depicted a pair of petty criminals forever entering and leaving prison and the effects of this on their son.

In 1965 O'Connor was reportedly writing the screenplay for a film of the 'Great Train Robbery', having himself known some of the robbers, but the project was never realised. Another Wednesday Play, 'Profile of a Gentleman' (tx. 22/11/1967, directed by John MacKenzie), dramatised the mechanics of a bank robbery. He also worked briefly for ITV, writing 'Thirty Stretch' (tx. 15/12/1967) for the anthology The Gamblers (1967-68).

'Her Majesty's Pleasure' (tx. 25/10/1973), for Play for Today (BBC, 1970-1984), concerned prisoners serving life sentences and brought a young Bob Hoskins to wider attention. In 1976 he published a best-selling autobiography, The Eleventh Commandment.

Oliver Wake

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Thumbnail image of 3 Clear Sundays (1965)3 Clear Sundays (1965)

Black, powerful drama that lent force to the campaign against hanging

Thumbnail image of Coming Out Party, The (1965)Coming Out Party, The (1965)

Poignant but comic tale of a 12-year old boy searching for his jailbird mum

Thumbnail image of Tap on the Shoulder (1965)Tap on the Shoulder (1965)

Ken Loach's first Wednesday Play, a tale of villainy and corruption

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