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Obituary: Terry Kelleher

Irish-born producer of 'Murder at the Farm'

Terry Kelleher was born in 1948, in Dublin. His dad was a doctor in the British Army so he was educated in schools in Egypt, Austria, Germany, and eventually Wicklow. His elder brother John, later movie producer (‘Eat the Peach’) and film censor, recalls teaching him to walk, lured by sweets, on the Empress of Australia as it cruised to Egypt. They were close and later they would bunk into movie houses or, even better, act out the parts, and, as garrulous teenagers, interview each other. Terry spent six years in Clongowes Wood College in Kildare, winning prizes for Essays and Debating. He excelled at acting, famously featuring as loathsome Sir Richard Rich in ‘A Man for all Seasons’, amusingly opposite an older John Bruton as Cromwell. He did well academically and played prop on the Senior Cup Team. He was always strong.

Perhaps under the usual parental pressure he completed a law degree in UCD though he never intended to practise it. He was a popular Director of DramSoc, working with Mary Finan and Veronica O’Mara (mother of actors Jason and Rebecca); and even acted a bit, including in ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’. The plays would go on in Newman House, in the Aula Maxima or Little Theatre (now the James Joyce centre).

He became Deputy Editor of Hibernia Magazine in 1970 when it was in its heyday under the editorship of John Mulcahy, mostly writing about politics and culture and enjoying shepherding the often anonymous contributors. Hibernia in that period has been described as “a cross between the Good Wine Guide and Republican News” by Conor Cruise O’Brien, and as “irreverent”, “eclectic”, and “crusading” by John Horgan. Terry loved it.

He moved on to the more workaday but, somewhat, better-paid Sunday Press around 1973. He wrote a guidebook to his beloved Dublin called ‘The Essential Dublin’.

During the early stages of his relationship with Sheffield-born Rita, best friend of Terry’s sister Siún, he moved to London where he became a reporter in RTÉ’s London Office, on TV and, mostly, radio. Terry was outstanding. He married Rita and was a loving step-father to Rebecca and Dan. Jenni came along in 1981 and he could not have been more proud.

In the mid-1970s he joined Thames Television, working first as a researcher, then a producer, later becoming Deputy Editor of ‘Thames News’. He was editor of Thames’ weekly magazine, London Reports and later its business affairs programme, ‘The City Programme’. He was made redundant with 2000 others when Thames lost its franchise and expired in 1991 in big-banging London.

Hibernia in that period has been described as “a cross between the Good Wine Guide and Republican News” by Conor Cruise O’Brien, and as “irreverent”, “eclectic”, and “crusading” by John Horgan. Terry loved it.

It was then that he entered his working prime – fuelled by a remarkable passion and integrity – establishing his own independent company, Platinum Productions, which made many high-quality programmes for Channel 4 and the BBC, including several editions of ‘Dispatches’ and specials for the ‘Money Programme’.

In 1987 he produced and directed one of the most important miscarriage of justice documentaries ever made, presented by the formidable Paul Foot: ‘Murder at the Farm: Who Killed Carl Bridgewater?’. In 1978 13-year-old Carl Bridgewater had been shot in the head at close range at isolated Yew Tree farmhouse in Staffordshire as he did his paper-round. The Bridgewater Four were convicted of the killing during a burglary. Foot made the case that “Carl did not just interrupt the burglars or burglar, he knew them! The position in which the body was found indicates to me that someone asked or made Carl sit down. Then, he approached the boy and shot him at close range”.

The thesis was convincing and in February 1997, after almost two decades of imprisonment, their convictions were overturned in the Court of appeal on technical grounds, and the three surviving defendants were released. The murder remains officially unsolved.

In 2003 he upped sticks for St. Remy, one of the most charming towns in sun-kissed Provence, France, where Nostradamus was born and Vincent Van Gogh had been in the asylum. He spent perhaps his happiest years there, buying a house with a swimming pool and forging solid local friendships.

Soccer-mad, he was thrilled when Jenni started working with the Football Association and later the Premiership in London. However, this was crowned when she got married to Tony Parks, one-time goalkeeper for Spurs, the hero who saved the final penalty in the shootout in the 1984 UEFA Cup final. The wedding was followed by revelries in the parkland of the gorgeous Hotel de l’Image in St. Remy. Little Lily was born three years ago. Terry was also best man at John’s wedding to Amanda last year in the town. These events were centrepieces of his last years.

Sadly he had suffered ill health for decades. Having had run-ins with glaucoma and cancer while in London, he was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis shortly after moving to St. Remy. This terrible disease sapped the energies of this, the most resilient of men, but his cheerfulness prevailed, year after year, even as he became painfully wheelchair-bound. It was too much in the end.

The hospital in Arles told him he was losing the war and that all they could do was “accompany him”. At Easter, though not a religious man, he ‘celebrated’ the elevation of brother John’s long-suffering Sheffield United back into the Premiership, though he was a Wednesday man himself. He lapsed into a coma and by Easter Tuesday he was gone. All of his kids spoke proudly of him at the funeral in Nimes. A memorial service will be held in Dublin.