Snapshot of Tyneside born Film Director John Irvin

Recently watched TV mini-series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and was gripped by its suspense, sharp script and deadly silences. The show had a gritty, claustrophobic look and used shadows to ramp up the pressure.

Shot on old (1979) TV sized 4:3 format, the tight camera angles had no flabby interior widescreen shots. Rather than just watching a scene happen you were brought into the film, making a closer connection to the characters who weaved in and out of the programme.

Office meetings were held where another piece of the jigsaw was revealed, and this old boys network was tearing itself apart looking for the mole. As the credits rolled I noticed the director was John Irvin.

Around 2000 I went to the basement theatre in Central Library, South Shields, for a talk by film director John Irvin, who was born in 1940. A search on Ancestry doesn’t reveal the exact town, but in interview on You Tube, Irvin refers to himself as a Geordie.

South Shields residents may recognise the name as his brother had an estate agents shop near the Town Hall – Finn & Irvin. That’s where I bought my ticket for only a couple of quid – we all like a bargain. And it was.

Before he went on stage John was greeting people in the foyer, a striking six foot figure in a smart black overcoat, pink shirt and grey wavy slicked back hair. In front of the audience John talked about his career starting in TV in ‘60s London, then Hollywood came calling where he directed over 30 films.

He finished off by telling a story about a film he directed with actor Harvey Keitel. They were about to film a difficult scene so to relax the actors John told Harvey to do something he doesn’t usually do. ‘Yes, but only if you do something’, replied Harvey as he danced awkwardly in front of all the film crew. Next was John’s turn and he started to sing. The song ? Blaydon Races.

I’ve pulled some information and highlights from various on-line sources about his career with some big names starring in his movies.      


Scene from The Dogs of War (1980) with Christopher Walken.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 1979 TV 7 episodes with Alec Guinness, Hywell Bennett, Beryl Reid.

The Dogs of War 1980 film with Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger.

Ghost Story 1981 film with Fed Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr.

Champions 1984 film with John Hurt.

Hamburger Hill 1987 film with Don Cheadle, Michael Boatman.

Next of Kin 1989 film with Liam Neeson, Patrick Swayze.

A Month by the Lake 1994 film with Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Fox, Uma Thurman.

City of Industry 1997 film with Harvey Keitel, Stephen Dorff.

Shiner 2000 film with Michael Caine.

The Garden of Eden film 2008 with Mena Suvari, Richard E. Grant.

Gary Alikivi   June 2021