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The distinctively white-haired, bushy-browed Northern Irish novelist, playwright and character actor, Joseph Tomelty was born the eldest of seven children in the small fishing village of Portaferry, County Down. He initially followed in his father's footsteps as a house painter. Early on, life on the stage might have seemed inconceivable because of a noticeable stutter. He thus began his working career employed as a painter at Belfast's Harland and Wolff Shipyards, also attending Belfast Technical College. After being inspired by a performance of "Juno and the Paycock" by the Abbey Theatre Company, he became involved with the St. Peter's Players in 1937, making his first mark on the stage. The following year, he wrote a comedic radio play ("Barnum is Right") and in 1940 became a founding member of the Belfast Group Theatre. While acting as the company's General Manager from 1942 to 1951, he later reflected that his tasks also routinely included those of "booking clerk, ticket collector, cloak room attendant, sweeper up, scene painter, programme seller, chucker out and actor" (Drama, March 1953).In addition to eight plays (of which his "All Souls' Night", a play about greed, ambition and the effects of poverty, is regarded as a classic of Irish literature) and two novels, the versatile Tomelty wrote and acted in "The McCooey's", a weekly radio serial about working class life, broadcast by BBC Northern Ireland between 1948 and 1954. He also sidelined as a busy character actor in British and American films, including such prestige productions as Huit heures de sursis (1947), Chaussure à son pied (1954), Moby Dick (1956) and Atlantique, latitude 41° (1958). Tomelty's writing career came to an end after he sustained injuries in a car crash in England while filming La Croisée des destins (1956), though he continued to appear in occasional films until 1964 and remained a fixture in Northern Irish theatre.

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