Maurice Henry Leitch was a Northern Irish author who passed away in September 2023 at the age of 90. His extensive body of work included novels, short stories, dramas, screenplays, and documentaries for radio and television. His second novel, Poor Lazarus, won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1969, and another of his works, Silver’s City, won the Whitbread Prize in 1981.
Life and Works – Ireland
Early Life and Education
Leitch was born on July 5, 1933, in the village of Muckamore, County Antrim, to parents Jean, née Coid, and Andrew Leitch of Templepatrick, Antrim. He received his education at Methodist College Belfast and Stranmillis College.
He began his career teaching in primary schools in Antrim. During this time, he wrote pieces about the Antrim countryside that were published in the Belfast Telegraph. Leitch then progressed to writing short stories for Northern Ireland Children’s Hour.
In 1960, Leitch joined BBC Northern Ireland as a producer/writer, a path paved by poets and writers like Louis MacNeice, W. R. Rodgers, and Sam Hanna Bell. During his time at the BBC in Belfast, Leitch wrote and produced documentaries, features, and radio dramas like The Old House.
The Liberty Lad
His first novel, The Liberty Lad, was published in 1965. This work dealt with themes of sexuality and repression and was one of the earliest descriptions of a gay bar in Irish literature, according to Jeff Dudgeon.
His second novel, Poor Lazarus, came out in 1969 and won the Guardian Fiction Prize. The novel created a stir due to its references to the ‘Romper Room’ where the UDA tortured and murdered victims.
Life and Works – London
Move to London and Radio Drama
In 1970, Leitch moved to London to join the BBC’s Radio Drama Department, where he worked under Martin Esslin. He was editor of Radio Four’s Book at Bedtime from 1977 until 1989, after which he left to write full-time.
Later Works and Achievements
Leitch was awarded an MBE for services to literature in 1998. He continued to produce over 30 readings of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, abridged for Corgi Audio with Tony Robinson as the reader.
Awards and Honours
- Guardian Fiction Prize for Poor Lazarus (1969)
- Whitbread Prize for Silver’s City (1981)
- MBE for services to literature (1998)
Maurice Henry Leitch leaves behind a rich legacy in both Irish and British literature. His work in broadcasting was significant, and his novels provided a unique Protestant voice in Irish literature. His life and works continue to be an important part of the literary and cultural landscape, serving as a mirror to the complex history and societal norms of his time.