Behan, Brian 1926-2002

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BEHAN, Brian 1926-2002


Born November 10, 1926, in Dublin, Ireland; died of a heart attack, November 2, 2002, in Brighton, England; son of Stephen (a laborer) and Kathleen (Kearney) Behan; married Celia Johnson, 1951 (divorced, 1975); married Sally Hill (an artist; deceased); children: (first marriage) three daughters, (second marriage) one daughter, one son. Education: Sussex University, B.A. Hobbies and other interests: Swimming.


Worked as a hod carrier, brick layer, and construction worker, 1950-65; union organizer; writer, 1964-2002; lecturer in media studies, London College of Printing, 1973-90. Military service: Irish Army Construction Corps.


With Breast Expanded (autobiography), MacGibbon & Kee (London, England), 1964.

Time to Go, Martin Brian & O'Keeffe (London, England), 1979.

Mother of All the Behans: The Autobiography of Kathleen Behan As Told to Brian Behan, Hutchinson (London, England), 1984.

Kathleen: A Dublin Saga, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.

(With Aubrey Dillon-Malone) The Brothers Behan, Ashfield Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1998.


Boots for the Footless, produced in London, England.

The Begrudgers, first produced in Dublin, Ireland, at the Dublin Fringe Festival.

Brother of All the Behans, first produced in Brighton, England, at the Brighton Fringe Festival.

Barking Sheep, first produced in Brighton, England.

Hallelujah, I'm a Bum, first produced in Brighton, England, at the Brighton Fringe Festival, 1995.


Mother of All the Behans was adapted for the stage by Peter Sheridan.


The late Brian Behan was a member of a talented writing family that included his brothers Brendan and Dominic. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Behan led a colorful life that included membership in Britain's Communist Party, arrest and imprisonment for union activities, nude bathing on the beaches of Brighton, England, and a collection of plays and books of his own authorship. Behan's working career was almost evenly split between blue-collar and white-collar jobs—he earned a college degree in his forties—and he found grist for his fiction and nonfiction not only in his own life but in those of his mother and brothers. A London Times obituary noted of Behan: "Though he never achieved the celebrity of his eldest brother, he had plenty of literary talent and more than a little integrity."

Brian Behan was born in Dublin in 1926 and was raised in a working-class family by a mother who had taken part in Ireland's 1916 Easter Uprising. After an arrest for petty theft, he was sent to Artane Industrial School, run by the Christian Brothers. In his later writings he said that his experiences at the school scarred him for life. In 1950 he moved to London in search of work and quickly became a union activist on behalf of safety measures for day laborers. He also joined the British Communist Party and traveled to Russia and China, where he met Stalin and Mao Zedong. His travels in the Eastern Bloc nations eventually brought disillusion with communism, especially after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

Back in England Behan joined the Socialist Labour League briefly and earned a reputation as a firebrand for his leadership in strikes and labor slowdowns. He published his first book, With Breast Expanded, in 1964, and a few years thereafter he became an adult undergraduate at Sussex University. After earning a degree he accepted a position as lecturer at the London College of Printing, where he worked from 1973 until 1990. Most of his creative writing was done during this period. In the 1990s he moved to Brighton, England, living a mildly eccentric life there until his death from a heart attack shortly before his seventy-sixth birthday.

Behan is best known for his book Mother of All the Behans: The Autobiography of Kathleen Behan As Told to Brian Behan, first published in 1984. The book is a stylish transcription of his mother's reminiscences about her own troubled childhood, her part in the Irish "Troubles," and her parenting of sons who became celebrated authors. New Statesman correspondent Nigella Lawson called the work "a compendium of pithy Irish wit, a highly coloured recollection of family life and Ireland's history over the best part of the century." Behan also fictionalized his mother's life for the novel Kathleen: A Dublin Saga. Margaret Flanagan in Booklist found the novel "a compassionate personal history," and Publishers Weekly reviewer Sybil Steinberg deemed it a "rambling, largely engaging tale." The author's other books include Time to Go, an experimental novel, and a coauthored memoir of himself and his brothers titled The Brothers Behan.

Behan contributed a number of plays to regional theater in England and Ireland, some of which did little to curb his flamboyant reputation. A New York Times reviewer reported that his first play, Boots for the Footless, drew pickets at its London premiere because certain Irish groups felt that Behan had unfairly stereotyped both Irish men and women. His play The Begrudgers explored the relationship between Brendan Behan and two other noted Irish authors, Flann O'Brien and Patrick Kavanagh. Most controversially, the comedy Hallelujah, I'm a Bum depicted a British prime minister as a homosexual having an affair with one of his cabinet ministers.

A London Telegraph obituary noted: "The older Brian Behan became, the more he delighted in being outrageous, especially about his own family." The Los Angeles Times quoted Behan as saying: "I poke fun at us all, because if you take yourself too seriously, it kills you. That's what Brendan died of—an overdose of self." The Telegraph obituary stated that although Brian Behan never achieved the celebrity of his brother Brendan, he nevertheless "possessed a fair measure of the family's literary talent, and a full share of its irreverence and conviviality." Martin Green, in hisGuardian obituary, maintained that Brian Behan lived a life that was "courageous, contentious, and exhilarating."



Booklist, February 15, 1989, Margaret Flanagan, review of Kathleen: A Dublin Saga, p. 974.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1988, review of Kathleen, p. 1756.

New Statesman, January 25, 1985, Nigella Lawson, review of Mother of All the Behans: The Autobiography of Kathleen Behan As Told to Brian Behan, p. 34.

Publishers Weekly, December 16, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Kathleen, p. 70.

Times Literary Supplement, February 8, 1980, Pat Raine,"Muckspreading," p. 146.



Guardian, November 5, 2002, Martin Green, "Brian Behan: Writer and Self-Publicist Who Revelled in His Family's Rebellious Reputation."

Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2002, "Brian Behan, 75: Irish Writer Thrived on Controversy," p. B9.

New York Times, November 9, 2002, "Brian Behan, 75, Irish Playwright and Member of a Literary Family," p. A30.

Playbill, November 11, 2002, Kenneth Jones, "Brian Behan, the Irish Writer and Brother of Brendan, Dead at 75."

Telegraph, November 4, 2002, "Brian Behan."

Times (London, England), November 6, 2002, "Brian Behan: Scion of a Famous Literary Family Who Fought Stalwart Labour Battles and Always Had Plenty to Say for Himself."*