Jack McQuoid (1910-1985): Fun & Festivities [Part 1] – Writing Lives

Jack McQuoid (1910-1985): Fun & Festivities [Part 1]

‘If anyone like a fortune teller, had told me that someday I would walk onto the stage in that theatre, and for years it would be for me a world of its own and a world of my own, I would have told them to really get their head examined. Never, never, could I have imagined making a living actually as an actor.’

Disbelief. Jack reflects upon his career as an actor with disbelief. The early 20th century was especially tough on those who wished to pursue the arts as a full time career. Jack’s own father wished to be an actor but he thought it would be too foolish to follow his dream.

‘They no doubt considered going on the stage to be more perilous than going to sea.'(26)

It is ironic that Jack views this as his father’s opinion. Especially considering that Jack’s grandfather was lost at sea. This emphasis conveys to Jack’s readers the fear many people had of considering acting/the arts as a steady career.

The only family member that Jack shared his passion for writing with was his uncle. ‘We had one peculiar thing in common – atleast it was looked on as very peculiar by the rest of the family in those days – that was writing.'(99) Jack addresses that his interests were seen as ‘peculiar’ by family and friends. Jack’s uncle was his only encouragement to pursue this career. ‘In fact he was the first to get my work into print – an article I wrote on American police radio cars in California. He considered it a good scoop for a new Ulster Police Magazine.'(100) This support system allowed Jack to ignore his anxieties with the fear of obsolescene(the fear of being no longer used) in terms of acting. Despite living in a time of economic depression Jack thrives in the world of entertainment through various roles in his life.

From starting off as an amateur actor Jack is able to work as a journalist due to his other passions in life – rural living. ‘I held down this freelance reporter’s job on the Lurgan Mail for many years and, if not remunerative, it was in other ways most rewarding and stimulating.'(237) Jack seizes every opportunity that is available to him and does not retreat at opportunities for change.

Originally Jack did not intend in becoming an actor. His motivation to attend the theatre was to enhance his writing skills. ‘I joined as an audience member for I was convinced that I would have a wonderful opportunity not only to watch the plays but to study the dialogue as written by the master dramatists. I was sure it would help me in writing short stories.'(157) After being approached by the stage director he took on his first small role in a play.

‘But from that notice merged the “bug that bit me” and changed my whole way of life.'(162)

This form of public praise in the notice encouraged Jack to consider acting as a real career. Below is one of his later reviews on a play he performed in. ‘…his uncomplicated father so well portrayed by Mr Jack McQuoid.’

The Times, ‘Early Play by Brian Friel – From a correspondent’, Wednesday 7th October 1964, Issue 56136, p.8

Jack admits the toxicity of receiving so much praise publicly. ‘To a young actor like myself these words must have had the effect of heady wine.'(163)

After returning from California, Jack got an American twang in his accent. This allowed Jack to stand out of the crowd in terms of being scouted for acting roles. ‘I got a telegram from the BBC Mr Wilkinson, an Englishman who then produced short plays and talks for the Belfast branch of the BBC was looking for someone to play the part of the American in Galsworthy’s play.'(170)

He was even lucky enough to have written his own scripts and perform them on live radio! ‘On the following Sunday I finished the Charles Thompson script at Islandmagee.'(179) Below is a broadcasting list stating Jack’s talk at 4:15.

Broadcasting list, The Times, Monday July 6th 1942, issue 49280, p.8 (4:15 Charles Thomson: talk by Jack McQuoid)

Jack reflects on the technological advancements of radio. ‘In those days radio programmes went out “live!” There was no stopping to re-record “fluffs” or any mistakes the actor might make.'(170) Acting was even more difficult in the early 20th century compared to today. Jack felt the real strains of having to be perfect in his performances. If he had messed up a performance it may have led to him in losing other acting opportunities. It was not as easy to pass around your acting portfolio like it is today online at a click of a button.

Approximately in today’s value Jack earned between £120-£180. ‘With luck one earned two or three pounds a performance, and for a big production one might reach the dizzy heights of walking away from the reception desk after the transmission with a cheque in one’s fist for a fiver.'(172) Jack states getting paid £300 as making him ‘dizzy’. If this was what someone got paid for performing on the radio now it would be seen as abysmal. Jack was grateful that he was getting paid to do what he loved. He even got paid to write poetry! Many of his poems were performed on television. The following poem called ‘January Sale’ was aired on BBC 1 ‘Rhymes and Rhythms’ December 1982.

Jack’s poem ‘January Sale’, it was included in an airing of BBC 1 ‘Rhymes and Rhythms’ December 1982.

Jack ‘unashamedly'(246) includes a notice in his memoir about his performance in a comedy. The notice ‘appeared on the 26th of January in the Irish Press.'(246)

‘The notice continued: “Included in the cast is Jack McQuoid making his first appearance with the Arts. He is nonetheless well known as an actor, having been with the old ‘Group’ (formerly The Playhouse), and in more recent years with Lyric Players. He is also known as a writer, a poet as well as a playwright and radio documentary author.'(247) This is the first time that Jack is commended for his contributions to various roles in the arts community. Jack receives the praise that he was fighting hard to earn in a world where it was not considered as a stable career.


McQuoid, Jack, ‘One Man in his Time’ pp.328, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4.

NB: all pictures and images have links of their source.

Proof read by Beti and Zoe – click to read their blog posts.

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