Papers of (William) Denis Johnston Public Deposited

Papers of (William) Denis Johnston

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  • Copyright The Board of Trinity College Dublin. Images are available for single-use academic application only. Publication, transmission or display is prohibited without formal written approval of the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.
  • Denis Johnston was born in Dublin in 1901, son of William Johnston, barrister and Supreme Court judge and Kathleen Kathleen Johnston née King. Johnston worked as a barrister in Dublin in the late 1920s and 1930s while taking an active part in the Dublin Drama League, where he met the Abbey actress Shelah Richards, whom he married in 1928. They had two children: the novelist Jennifer Johnston and (William) MichealJohnston.His first play, The Old Lady says 'No', was rejected by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in 1928 but was produced at the Gate Theatre, Dublin in 1929 to great acclaim. His other dramatic works for stage, radio and television include The Moon in the Yellow River (1931), A Bride for the the Unicorn (1933), Storm Song (1934), Blind Man's Buff (adaptation, 1935), The Golden Cuckoo (1939), The Dreaming Dust (1940), Lillibulero (1948), A Fourth for Bridge (1948), Strange Occurrence on Ireland's Eye (1956), The Scythe andthe Sunset (1958), Nine Rivers from Jordan (libretto, 1968), John Millington Synge: a centenary tribute(1971). He produced and directed the film Guests of the Nation (1935).Johnston joined the BBC in Belfast in 1936, finally bringing his legal career to an end, and then transferred in 1938 to the fledgling television service in BBC London. During the Second World War Johnston worked as a war correspondent, based in Northern Ireland, reporting on his experiences while accredited to the RAF and US Forces in the desert campaign in North Africa (1942), the Italian campaign (1943-44), the Partisans in Yugoslavia (1944), and Buchenwald concentration camp (1945). His War Field Books which he wrote up for the duration of the war became the basis of his war memoir Nine Rivers from Jordan (1953).Johnston's divorce from Shelah Richards was finalised in February 1945 and he married actress Betty Chancellor in March of that year. He and Betty had two childen: Jeremy and Rory. Johnston returned to peacetime television in 1946 as Director of Programmes at the BBC but departed in 1947 to work as a freelance in theatre and television in the United States. By 1950 Denis Johnston had embarked on yet another new career, this time in American academe: he taught in Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College (for ten years), Smith College and, after retirement in 1966 he took up visiting appointments at several other universities until the mid 1970s. He published two further prose works: the biography of Jonathan Swift, In Search of Swift (1959) and the philosophical treatise on the nature of time, The Brazen Horn (1976).The Johnstons retired to Alderney in 1966, returning finally to Dublin in 1970. Denis Johnston died on 8 August 1984 and was buried alongside his wife Betty in St Patrick's Cathedral Close.The Denis Johnston papers comprehensively document his Dublin childhood, schools and universities, his career as a barrister, playwright, theatre director, BBC war correspondent, pioneer of televison and university teacher.The collection includes drafts of dramatic works for stage, radio, television and screenplay treatments; draft prose works; research materials on Dean Jonathan Swift; drafts of articles, lectures, speeches and addresses; radio broadcasts other than plays; recordings of his literary works, wartime radio broadcasts, autobiographical radio talks and interviews.Johnston's complex collection of almost 200 diaries include annual diaries known as the 'Y' series (1936-83); miscellaneous diaries (1919-20: 1930-31: 1947: 1962: 1973); annual pocket diaries (1916-27: 1930-31: 1934-37: 1941-61: 1970: 1977: 1979: 1982); miscellaneous notebooks or journals called the 'Z' series, each volume is given a title (1921-49: 1955-80); 'Omnibus' notebooks, also known as 'Omnibus X-books' which provide an autobiographical narrative of Johnston's life (1901-34: 1945-74); a general index volume for the 'X', 'Y', and 'Z' series; annotated xeroxes of his War Field Books (1942-45).Johnston's collection of notebooks contain notes and drafts of his plays, research materials, legal work, biographical notes, genealogical research, BBC television work, wartime reportage and teaching notes (1918-79).The correspondence, amounting to nearly 7000 letters, includes Johnston's private and business correspondence (1902-84). The collection includes materials relating to the literary papers of novelist and poet Amanda M'Kittrick Ros (1860-1939). There are over 1660 photographs and 6 photograph albums including photographs of family, friends, stage and television productions of plays (1902-83); theatre memorabilia including programmes and posters (1929-82); schools and universities related papers and memorabilia (1908-25), correspondence and papers relating to Johnston's BBC career and wartime memorabilia (1935-47); academic career in the United States (1950-83).
Resource type
  • Irish
Digital Object Id
  • MS10066-301-119_1
  • 0145457


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