Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce

Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce
Unveiling the plaque to James Viscount Bryce at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast on Friday 10 May 2013

Sunday, 12 June 2011

James Hawthorne CBE (1930-2006)

In September next it will be five years since Jimmy Hawthorne, our founder and long term Secretary/Treasurer, passed away after a mercifully short illness. In the week that the Circle publishes its first Guide to Blue Plaques in Ulster, listing the 115 plaques erected to the end of 2009, I want to pay tribute to his vision and drive in keeping the Circle going through some very lean times, and to remember him for fun and laughter he brought to the lives of those fortunate enough to have known him.  It is fair to say that, until he died, Jimmy was the main ‘mover an shaker’ of the Circle. I can recall one of his financial reports announcing, to general hilarity, that there was 79p in the bank account. It was in no small part due to his drive that the Heritage Lottery Fund agreed to fund our 5-year ‘Celebrating Achievers’ project. Sadly, he was not to see the project launched but I know he would have been delighted with its achievements to date. 

Sean Nolan, Jimmy and Chris Ryder at a planning meeting
Jimmy was a man of many parts, teacher, mathematician, specialist schools producer for the BBC in NI – and ultimately its NI Controller (10 years to 1987); Controller of Television and Director of Broadcasting for the Hong Kong Government (7 years to 1977); Chairman, Cultural Traditions Group, the Community Relations Council, the Health Promotion Agency, the Prison Arts Foundation; and Commissioner for Racial Equality.  His early work in developing BBC NI’s education service for school broke new ground and his record of this time is well worth reading. This is still available on his blog at 'Beyond Suspicion or Controversy' on Favourites aside.

Doreen Corcoran, Methody Headmaster
Wilfred Mulryne, Marion Walton and
Jimmy - 6 October 2003 
Jimmy’s sojourn as Controller BBCNI coincided with the most intense period of the civil unrest and in trying to maintain the balance and integrity of the NI output he found himself under siege from all sides, not least from the establishment. His record of some of these battles is on his blog  -

The battle with Government and the BBC Governors during the 'Real Lives' controversy of 1985 when the BBC Board of Governors, under pressure from the Home Secretary, banned a television programme dealing with aspects of politics and terrorism in Ireland, is fully documented in another of his blogs -

Jimmy with Alex Maskey, Lord
Mayor of Belfast at the unveiling
of the William Drennan plaque
Jimmy for many years contributed a weekly column to the Down Democrat, a local paper published in Downpatrick. These are gems of topical and comical interest, commenting on personal, local, national and international issues, often tongue-in-cheek, always readable. I asked him how he managed to turn out new material every week and his reply was that he could find a topic from anything, a newspaper article, a news story, a personal happening, an overheard remark, a chance sighting of a person or event, the weather. He never repeated himself. The complete archive of these gems are on his other Blog -

He was a kindly man, compassionate, empathetic and caring. In 2005 when I was seriously ill, he visited me in hospital several times, and later arranged to pick me up for our meetings and return me home afterwards. He was an excellent raconteur with a store of interesting and comical anecdotes drawn from his life and experience. Our journeys to and from the meetings, and the meetings themselves, were filled with craic and laughter. 

His Guardian Obituary is at

Thank you Jimmy, for the gift of your friendship.

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