Joe Lynch

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The Independent Online

Joseph Laurence Lynch, actor and singer: born Mallow, Co Cork 16 July 1925; married 1952 Marie Nutty (one son, one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died Alicante, Spain 1 August 2001.

To British audiences, Joe Lynch will be best remembered as the Irish tailor in Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width, (1973) sparring with John Bluthal as his Jewish partner in the television sitcom about two men of differing beliefs running a business in the East End of London.

But Lynch switched effortlessly between drama and comedy in both Britain and his native Ireland, and just as easily stepped from stage to screen. As Ron Mather among the cobbles of Coronation Street, he was a notch on the vamp Elsie Tanner's well-worn bedpost, before taking the long-running role of the lovable rogue Dinny Byrne in the Irish serial Glenroe. Lynch's versatility was enhanced by his skill as a singer in stage, screen and radio variety shows, and he made noted recordings of popular airs such as "The Rose of Mooncoin" and "The Stone Outside Dan Murphy's Door".

His all-round performing skills were developed as a child. Born in Mallow, County Cork, in 1925, the son of an engine driver and a bookbinder, Lynch excelled in sports at school, played many musical instruments, including the piano and tin whistle, demonstrated a fine tenor voice and enjoyed Irish dancing.

While still at school, he gained acting experience with the Cork Shakespearean Company, which had been known as the Loft since establishing itself in rented premises above a sweet factory. On leaving Blackrock College, Dublin, Lynch acted part-time at the Cork Opera House and trained at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, while earning a living with a string of jobs that included horse-breaking, tree-felling and managing a wine shop.

By 1947, when he joined the newly formed Radio Eireann Repertory Company, he was performing full-time. He acted, sang and compered radio programmes such as Young at Heart, The Balladmakers' Saturday Night and Living With Lynch (1954-58), his own comedy series.

He combined this light entertainment career in broadcasting with impressive roles in the theatre. On the Irish stage, he played Bull McCabe in J.B. Keane's The Field (Abbey Theatre, Dublin), and Christy Mahon in both J.M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World (Abbey Theatre) and the subsequent musical version, The Heart's a Wonder (Gaiety Theatre, Dublin). For his role as the waiter in George Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell (Gate Theatre, Dublin), Lynch spent long sessions observing waiting techniques and etiquette in the Trocadero restaurant in Andrew Street, Dublin.

Following small parts in films such as A Terrible Beauty (1960), The Siege of Sidney Street (1960), Johnny Nobody (1961), The Running Man (1963), Girl with Green Eyes (1964) and The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), Lynch made his mark on the Irish television network RTE with a powerful performance as Einstein in Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Physicists and a moving portrayal of Cathal Brugha in Hugh Leonard's series Insurrection (1966), which marked the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

He then played Blazes Boylan, Molly Bloom's lover, in the American director Joseph Strick's film version of James Joyce's novel Ulysses (1967), which was banned in Ireland until last year. Controversy about the picture also raged outside Ireland. It was also banned in Australia for a while and the French subtitles were obliterated with a grease pencil for its screening at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival.

In the cinema, Lynch was also seen as Father O'Shaughnessy in Loot (1970, based on Joe Orton's play), appeared in the director John Huston's espionage thriller The Mackintosh Man (1973), the IRA drama The Outsider (1979) and the Irish drama Eat the Peach (1986), and provided the voice of Grundel in the animated film Thumbelina (1994).

But it was in British comedy that Lynch made his widest impression, starring as the Irish Catholic trouser-maker Patrick Kelly in 39 episodes of Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width (1967-71) alongside John Bluthal as Manny Cohen, a Jewish jacket-maker. For the series, written by Vince Powell and Harry Driver, Lynch took over the role previously played by Frank Finlay in the pilot episode, which had been screened as an Armchair Theatre play in 1967.

The humour revolved around the pair's cultural and religious clashes as they ran a tailoring business in the East End. Manny saw Patrick as a bigoted Catholic, while Patrick considered Manny to be an ignorant heathen, but they had great respect for each other's tailoring skills and were solid as a partnership.

Such was the success of the sitcom that, when the programme's producer ABC lost its ITV franchise in 1968, it was continued by the newly launched Thames Television and, five years later, Lynch was awarded honorary membership of the Shopkeepers' Association in the Chapel Market area of London. Lynch and Bluthal also starred in a 1973 film version in which the pair fall out after Patrick takes the day off to attend a funeral that ends in a drunken wake.

Lynch subsequently starred in Vince Powell's sitcom Rule Britannia (1975), about the reunion of four shipmates 25 years after leaving the Navy. He acted the skint Irishman Paddy O'Brien, who, with the Scotsman Jock McGregor and Welshman Taffy Evans, visits Englishman George Bradshaw and leads him astray on drunken binges and punch-ups, to the disgust of his wife, Lil.

Then, in Coronation Street (1978-79), Lynch played one of Elsie Tanner's boyfriends, the taxi driver Ron Mather, with whom she found love following the break-up of her third marriage. After taking a chauffeur's job in Torquay, he persuaded Elsie to join him as a domestic servant in the same household, but the couple parted after the boss made a pass at Elsie and Ron turned a blind eye. On British television, Lynch also provided all the voices for the children's animated series Chorlton and the Wheelies.

Back in Ireland, he joined the rural drama Bracken (1980-82), created by Wesley Burrowes for RTE and starring Gabriel Byrne. Lynch took the role of the scheming, cantankerous Dinny Byrne, forming a comedy double-act with Mick Lally as his gormless son Miley. Dinny's character was deliberately softened towards the end of the second series so that the strong partnership of Lynch and Lally could be cast in the same roles in Burrowes's sequel, Glenroe (1983-2000), in which they sold their farm in Co Wicklow and moved over the mountain to another rural area closer to Dublin.

The serial became one of Ireland's most popular programmes and Lynch was its patriarchal figure, dispensing advice to younger actors around him. He left Glenroe last year, retiring to his home in Alicante before the programme's final series, claiming that RTE had made him a poor pay offer to continue in it and would not allow him time off for other screen work.

Anthony Hayward

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