Saturday 24 August 2019

Biddy taught me the ropes in 'scandalous' Riordans, says Hollywood star Gabriel Byrne

‘DEEPLY LOVED’: Biddy on Bake Off
‘DEEPLY LOVED’: Biddy on Bake Off
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Hollywood star Gabriel Byrne has credited Biddy White Lennon with nurturing his talents and helping him learn how to perform on camera.

He was paying tribute to Ms White Lennon yesterday after hearing that she had died following a battle with illness.

The pair worked together on RTE's hit drama The Riordans during his early forays in the industry. The drama was a household staple in living rooms nationwide between 1965 and 1979.

It focused on the lives of Tom and Mary Riordan. Their son Benjy, played by actor Tom Hickey, was married to Ms White Lennon's character Maggie. However, Maggie scandalised the nation when she had an affair with Pat Barry, played by Mr Byrne.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent yesterday Mr Byrne said she helped him during his first days on set.

"My first encounter with Biddy was when I went out to RTE one Sunday afternoon to do an audition with her. I had never been to RTE, I had never done an audition there. She came in that afternoon and she was so supportive. I never actually forgot it. She had a tremendous generosity of spirit and vivacity. It was a remarkable thing about her.

"We worked very well together. She would often crack up in the middle of a scene, and so would I, when we realised what it was we were actually doing as sometimes you can in acting when you are in sometimes bizarre scenarios."

At that stage, Ms White Lennon was able to guide an inexperienced Byrne through scenes and help him make the step from stage to screen.

"She had really mastered the art of being an absolute professional in front of the camera," he said yesterday.

"All of the actors working on that show had mastered the art of performing on camera. If you look, they were never just standing there delivering lines. They actually inhabited those characters. They cooked, they ate, they drove tractors. They were always doing something so they gave the programme a naturalness that other programmes did not have. You really believed these people existed.

"They made me understand that acting for television and theatre were two very different things."

He said he enjoyed working with Ms White Lennon and the pair often shared stories about how the public were reacting to Maggie's affair with Pat.

"Adultery was an issue that was not being spoken about publicly around that time," said Mr Byrne.

"Perhaps it was in theatre but certainly not on television. It created something of an uproar in the country and she and I used to laugh at how it provoked certain reactions from people.

"She would tell me that she would go into the shop to buy something and someone would warn her: 'Your husband is away and you should not be fooling away with that Pat Barry'. "The people believed in these characters to such an extent that they reacted to Biddy and myself in the street as if they were real. People said the same kind of things to me. 'You leave that woman alone'."

After The Riordans finished Ms White Lennon moved on to become an accomplished food writer. She wrote about Irish food and cooking for decades and contributed to several newspapers, magazines and TV programmes with her passion for all things culinary.

She was a founding member and former chairwoman of the Irish Food Writers Guild and also worked on TV3's 'Great Irish Bake-Off' where she demonstrated a passion for people cooking great food in their own homes.

"Yes, absolutely she will be missed," said Mr Byrne.

"I know people say it is the end of an era. It is the passing of somebody who was deeply loved by people who didn't just know her as an actor but also knew her as a food writer."

Sunday Independent

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