TV Plays & Films

THE TORMENTORS Starred James Mason & Stanley Baker. Produced by Lou Grade.

A prison psychiatrist takes on a new patient who has been transferred from another prison. The prisoner has been badly beaten and sexually assaulted which is the reason for his transfer. He will not admit to the sexual assault and has created a fantasy that he was tortured because he was part of an attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister. No such attempt has taken place.

As the play progresses the psychiatrist begins to doubt the official version and investigate the fantasy. He goes to London and uncovers hints and rumours that there might have been an assassination attempt and one member of the gang was shot, or captured.  The prisoner claims that he was tortured because he would not reveal his accomplices. The psychiatrist realises the only way the prisoner can prove his sanity is to do just that and that, he the psychiatrist, is the instrument the security services are using to achieve that end.  He is frightened and outraged but must prove the theory one way or the other. He works on the prisoner to bring him to the point of confession having discovered his office is bugged.

Before the last session he pulls the bug and the prisoner gives him the names as the security people rush towards his office.  At the end of the play the psychiatrist is in the same position as the prisoner was at the beginning.  The play was based on the attempt to kill De Gaulle which was kept secret by the French.

  • THE TIMES – “It is not often that a film actor of James Mason’s stature is seen in a television play. He was fortunate in having a part to match his talent for characterization in the Tormentors, an exceptionally well contrived script by Brian Phelan. No bald account does justice to this suggestive play.”
  • NANCY BANKS-SMITH THE GUARDIAN – “In the first 15 minutes it looked like just another psychological drama of derangement and then it did a slow cart-wheel, and everything turned upside down.  Perhaps the madman wasn’t mad. Perhaps there were microphones in his cell. And, if he was telling the truth, why then, the official files – albeit in triplicate weren’t necessarily true. And who was the real liar, the real murderer, the real madman? All credit to playwright Brian Phelan.”
  • THE STAGE & TELEVISION TO-DAY – “There is so much good drama on BBC, and so little on independent television, that one tends to lull oneself into the belief that the BBC has a monopoly of the country’s worthwhile drama output. Then occasionally along comes something which shatters that illusion completely. The Tormentors was just such a play. The Tormentors was, quite simply a superb piece of television drama-the very stuff of first class television.”

WHO WERE YOU WITH LAST NIGHT – BBC.  Comedy about a man providing grounds for divorce for his best friend.

THE DISAPPEARING MAN – London Weekend. Producer Paul Knight.  A man begins to believe that because he is so insignificant he is disappearing. He commits murder and the reaction to it proves he does exist.

disappearing man
Ray Smith & Victor Maddern in The Disappearing Man

HOLDING ON – London Weekend Television produced by Paul Knight.  The history of the London Docks as seen through the life of a docker from his birth in 1900 to death in 1970.  An adaptation, in six hours, of a book by Mervyn Jones starring Michael Elphick.

YOU’VE MADE YOUR BED NOW LIE IN IT Dir. Christopher Morahan.  Starred Freddie Jones, John Nettles.

Wilfred, a man in his late fifties, has spent his entire working life in the top floor stock-room of the Michelin tyre building in the Fulham road. A studio is built across the street and Wilfred becomes fascinated by the life of the artist who moves in.  When Wilfred was a boy he wanted to be a painter but such an option was not open to a boy of his background. All the frustrations of his life surface as he watches the artist working. (From his sixth floor window he has a clear view into the studio)

He makes friends with the painter by following him to his pub and gradually insinuating himself. He quits his job, gets a room off the Fulham Road and tries to fulfill his boyhood ambition.  He does not tell his wife but continues the routine as though he is still at work. He takes the same early morning train from Ewell and returns at the same time in the evening as he always did. Gradually the Fulham Road takes over his life and the fiction is no longer possible. What he thinks of as the artistic world is only the world of the hanger’s on. He also has no talent which he has to face in the end. It is a journey of discovery and the laying of ghosts.

Also translated and produced by WDR in Germany.


A trilogy of plays about the changing balance in marriage. A working class couple, a middle class couple and a liberal, “intellectual couple” try to come to terms with the new definition of partnership brought about by women’s liberation.  All three plays also produced by WDR in Germany.


  • THE TIMES – Graphic acting in the group with admirably paced directing by Gerry Mill contributed to the success of this drama. But it was dominated by the scenes between husband and wife. Brian Phelan is especially good at creating a relationship, whether the macabre comedy of The Signalman’s Apprentice, or, as here, in the mundane, domestic sort. Those jaded, explosive moments when the partners to a marriage will take it out each other were seldom better conceived.”
  • DAILY MAIL – “Phelan’s fairness, and attention to likelihood (rare among TV writers, who tend to think that sociology excused melodrama) led to a certain so-whatness over the outcome.  Yet he did, as the anthology theme promised, examine facets of modern womanhood. The lessons he taught were incidental, and all the more striking for being taken for granted.”

THE COMPLEMENT Sheila Gish, John Standing.

  • DAILY MIRROR – “The Complement, last night’s play about a personality conflict in just such a situation brought the hard glitter of truth to a beautifully paced, superb story acted with the divine assurance which comes when talented players collide with a script of some value.”
  • THE STAGE & TV TO-DAY – “It has been left to a man, Brian Phelan, to set the record straight in his hard hitting, amusing and often subtle play. If many thousands of women were not blessing the name of Phelan over the bank Holiday weekend, they should be ashamed of themselves.”


An, inexperienced P.A. is taken to South Africa as part of a film crew. She suffers a nervous breakdown as a result of what she sees and lives through. Back in England she recovers and is then asked to work on the editing.  The process makes her re live the experience and come to terms with it and the reality of Apartheid. Also she has to face the cynicism inherent in journalism but also the good it can do. The conflict nearly destroys her marriage and estranges her from her parents and their cosy, safe, English Christian community.  The play begins on the day she is asked to work on the editing.

Also produced in Germany by WDR.


A liberal couple in London give their house to the National Union of Miners during the 84 strike. They put up, feed and become involved with a succession of flying pickets who are laying siege to the London power stations.
BEING NORMAL BBC Play for To-Day. Pro Alan Shallcross. Dir Peter Smith. Starred Anna Carteret & David Suchet.  The story of one of the first growth deficient children to be given the Growth Hormone.

  • DAILY EXPRESS – “Be sure to see one of the outstanding plays of the year, Being Normal on BBC1 at 10.10 Next Wednesday.  “The advance publicity for Brian Phelan’s play Being Normal was unlikely to persuade a vast audience to see it last night.  More’s the pity. This story of a well off, middle class English household coping with a handicapped child was mounted and performed with an uncommon skill that transcended mere earnestness and good intentions. The play was as entertaining in its way as a good family soap opera and those discouraged by it’s theme of affliction deprived themselves of a rewarding 80 minutes.  But it did not forget that it was also a human drama about real people facing agonizing realities with hope and not a little humor. Therein lay its strength.

IN THE SECRET STATE – BBC Dir Chris Morahan. Starred Frank Finlay. Natasha Richardson. Adaptation of a Robert McCrum novel about abuses of computer information by the security services.

KNOCKBACK – BBC 2 x 90 minute films starring Pauline Collins & Derrick O’Connor. Director Piers Haggard.

Derrick O’Connor & Pauline Collins in The Knockback

Phelan won the American Cable Academy Award for the Writer of a Dramatic Special.

The story of Peter Adams the first man sentenced for murder after the abolition of the death penalty. He spent 18 years in prison, many in voluntary solitary confinement. The authorities did not how to deal with him, most especially the guards who had to control him. Before the problem was solved within three weeks by topping him. Now he could kill again and be no worse off. Out of fear they brutalised him.  It is also the story of an extraordinary love story. After ten years he fell in love with a voluntary prison visitor. They could only communicate in visiting rooms watched by guards and by letter but their affair lasted until he was released ten years later. They were married on the day he got out.

  • DAILY TELEGRAPH – “Surely this year will need to be a lot luckier in it’s single television plays and films than last if we are to be treated to anything that can exceed or even match the intensity, the emotion, the narrative, and filmic skills of Brian Phelan’s `Knockback’.  The drama event of the year.”
  • DAILY EXPRESS – “Brian Phelan’s searching and unsettling drama… merited every tight packed minute.”
  • THE TIMES – “It was accurate about the insidiousness (rather than the brutality) of prison life, and was as a result more chilling than the usual sensationalist presentations.”
  • DAILY MAIL – “The writing is convincing in both sweep and detail. This year is likely to yield few TV dramas as original and well directed. There couldn’t have been a dry eye in the land.
  • THE LISTENER – “A well-nigh perfect blending of reality and drama.”

THE RUSSIAN SOLDIER – BBC. Produced by Alan Shallcross. Director Gavin Millar. Starred Patrick Malahide, Warren Clarke, Jerome Flynn & Jane Wood.

Winner of the Sapporo Prize at the Tokyo International Festival.

  • THE TIMES – “A brooding and deeply disturbing film directed by Gavin Millar and written by Brian Phelan. The Russian Soldier milks the growing suspicion about the power and ethics of the state’s deeply flawed human custodians.”
  • TELEGRAPH – “An absorbing, atmospheric and ultimately quite chilling drama by Brian Phelan.”

MURPHY’S STROKE – ITV. Director Frank Cvitanovitch. Starred Pierce Brosnan, Niall Toibin, Tony Doyle.

Won the Jacob’s Award in Dublin.

Based on the celebrated “Gay Future” betting coup in which a gang of Irish punters called the Cork Mafia manipulated British betting regulations and came within a whisper of getting away with a quarter of a million pounds.

  • EVENING STANDARD – ” I thought it a very gentle, beautifully photographed film, which showed a delight in character, in scenery, and in animals, equine and otherwise.”
  • DAILY MAIL – “The film was as much about the traditional Irish taste for danger, showing off, having fun and putting one across the Brits.
  • OBSERVER – “Without touching on any subject more violent than the anger of a hoodwinked bookie, Murphy’s Stroke succeeded in being one of the more penetrating television accounts of the permanent role Ireland seems destined to play in the affairs of Britain.”
  • THE TIMES – “The cool direction and spare script were a delight.”


A 90 minute film about a family’s decision to emigrate to Australia. Starred Michael Craig.

FIREFLY SUMMER Working Title. An adaptation of the Maeve Binchy novel into six parts.

CODED HOSTILE (U.K.) TAIL SPIN (USA) A Darlow/Smithson Production in association with Granada and Home Box Office New York. Directed by David Darlow.  Starred Michael Moriarty, Michael Murphy, Chris Sarandon, Harris Yulin.

Nominated for the American Cable Academy drama award.

The story of the shoot down of the Korean Air Lines flight 007 centered on the American governments reaction to it and the in-fighting which took place in Washington.

SEVEN DAYS IN STUDIO FOUR Granada-Home Box Office.

The story of the Romanian Revolution and the overthrow of Caesescu as seen from inside the television station which became the nerve centre of the revolution.  Written for BBC TV & Home Box Office in New York.

THE TREATY Thames – RTE. Dir Jonathon Lewis. Starred Ian Bannen, Brendan Gleeson, Tony Doyle, Barry McGovern, Julian Fellowes.

The story of the negotiations and the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 which resulted in the Irish Free State.  Phelan was given the London Irish Post Award for fostering understanding between Britain and Ireland.

Brian receiving the award
  • SUNDAY TELEGRAPH – “The Treaty’s historical truth is meticulous. The end, where British and Irish sign with heavy hearts, is very moving.”
  • SUNDAY TIMES – “A powerful, dramatised account of the attempt, seventy years ago, to reach a peaceful solution to the Irish problem…the drama vividly captures the personality clashes, betrayals and intrigues. It is impeccably even-handed.”
  • DAILY MAIL – “The great value of The Treaty lay in the insight it offered into why the Irish have never stopped shooting. The story was absorbing enough to keep me glued to the screen for its full duration.”
  • IRISH TIMES – “Director Jonathan Lewis and writer Brian Phelan put together a film, the major achievement of which was the clear delineation of character against a complicated political background. It held fast to it’s dramatic centre: the struggle, at times agonising, for an acceptable Treaty formula. It successfully achieved what it set out to do. It was entertaining and insightful.”
  • EVENING STANDARD – “Considering that the whole business hinged on such constitutional fine print as what form of words the Irish oath should take, it says a lot for Brian Phelan’s script and Jonathon Lewis’s production that the two hours should have been so dramatically compelling.”
  • SUNDAY BUSINESS POST – “The Treaty is remarkable, near perfect. It was not only clear and intelligible but also gripping. I loved it.”


He has written a major mini-series THE PROMISED LAND on the Irish famine and the subsequent mass emigration to Canada, which is an Irish/Canadian co-production for the producer Arthur Lappin & RTE.

THE IVORY TRADE Home Box Office.

The story of how the international ivory ban was achieved focusing on the under cover work by the Environmental Protection Agency.


A young naval officer volunteers for the course which is designed to train selected personnel how to resist interrogation should they fall into enemy hands. (This course exists.) He is tough and believes they will not break him. He almost succeeds but they use his wife against him and he breaks because he has prepared himself for mental and physical pressure but not that. He starts as a patriotic young man prepared to die to defend his country and its values and ends, destroyed by the methods needed to do so.


He completed a two hour pilot for a major drama series on Fleet Street entitled INK for Golden Square Pictures.


His four part drama series NO TEARS, (the story of Ireland’s Hepatitis C Scandal) has been screened by RTE. (Produced by Little Bird in association with Comet Films, with the support of the Irish Film Board for RTE.). No Tears won the `Golden Nymph’ award for “Best Mini Series” at the 42nd Monte Carlo Television Festival.

His new TV play is a two hour drama entitled “KINGS RANSOM”.