Larne upbringing inspires London film-maker’s coming-of-age drama

A Larne-born director and producer has made a poignant return to her hometown to film scenes for an upcoming feature film.

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 2:49 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 4:00 pm
Fay Woolf pictured at Chaine Memorial Tower.

Fay Woolf, who now lives in London, visited Northern Ireland earlier this month to shoot footage for the two-part drama, ‘Bread and Jam’.

Born in 1952, Fay spent the first few years of her life in Chelmsford Place, a residential street off Chaine Memorial Road, before moving to Portadown.

However, the family retained a strong connection to the town for many years.

Fay aged 14.

The BBC-trained film maker spent five years writing the screenplay for Bread and Jam, which she describes as a "coming of age drama" based on her own personal experiences.

“We left Larne in 1955, but always kept in touch with everyone there; the friendships were very strong,” Fay said.

“My mother, Anne, was a very keen member of Larne Drama Circle and a contemporary of Robert Beattie, who I believe was head of Art at Larne Grammar; he would have visited us in Portadown.

“My father, Bill Dickey of Portadown College, was formerly a Biology teacher and rugby enthusiast at Larne Grammar in the early fifties.”

Fay with her sister Katrine at Chelmsford Place, 1953.

Move to London and career beginnings

After leaving Portadown College in 1970, Fay did some social work training before returning to Queen’s University. There, she completed a four-year Bachelor of Divinity course with Hebrew and Greek, graduating in 1976. “The Troubles had brought personal disenchantment with my country and all things religious so I escaped to Italy to work as an English language teacher. There, I met the man I later married in London.”

In 1979, Fay was offered a contract as a researcher at the BBC which eventually led to a staff job. She worked initially on ‘The Light of Experience’, interviewing and writing scripts for the likes of Gerry Fitt, Helen Shapiro and Liv Ullmann. “I became series producer in 1984 and branched out to direct filmed interviews in a series called ‘Home on Sunday’, where celebrities including Spike Milligan talked about their lives and beliefs.

“Focusing on the inner aspect of people’s lives prepared the ground for me to write about my own life. In 1993 I was asked to submit a chapter in ‘The Relaxation Letters’, which sowed the seed for the screenplay.”

The family home, Lindisfarne, on Chelmsford Place in Larne.

In 1985, Fay moved to children’s programmes, writing and directing ‘Playschool’ and ‘Caterpillar Trail’.

“I became pregnant with my first child in 1988 and at this point went freelance,” she added. “It was after my second baby that an idea I had for a documentary about The Troubles was accepted for ‘The Lowdown Series’. Taking both children with me, I returned to Northern Ireland to film ‘Why Don’t You Stick to your Own Kind?’ It was well received so I was asked to make another film, this time on a theme I was given. ‘Happy Birthday to You’ was nominated by the BBC for a British Film Institute Award.

“In 1997, a series about a wildlife hospital for Carlton TV had me researching, directing and producing. My husband and I separated and there followed 13 years of single parenthood, during which I did whatever part time work I could find that allowed me to look after my children. I gave up the best of these jobs to write the screenplay.

“It took five years to get it out [2006 - 2011.] Having spent most of my career talking to others about their innermost thoughts and feelings, I now had to look inside myself.”

Fay with her mother, Anne Dickey at Chelmsford Place, 1953.

During her visit to Larne at the start of this month, Fay was eager to capture footage that reflected her early childhood experiences.

A return to her hometown

“I was very keen to get back to the old family house, Lindisfarne, on Chelmsford Place; it was really quite overwhelming to see it again,” she said.

“Another thing I really wanted to get was a shot of the ferry boat crossing the horizon at the end of the street, so that’s something I was delighted to capture when I was there.

“Chaine Memorial is just as I remember it; we found it very spooky as children.”

Fay also praised the warm welcome she received during her return visit. “Being back in Larne, I was reminded of how open and friendly people are.”

Anne Dickey, front row left, pictured as part of a Larne Drama Circle production.

Meanwhile, the screenplay also touches on a number of health and social issues that remain topical today.

“In writing the screenplay, I wanted to show people that they can come to terms with these issues, that they can overcome them and grow stronger because of them,” Fay said.