Love letters brought to life in radio series

Roisin Gallagher with Lisburn actor Ruairi Tohill and producer Ian Dougan, who is also from Lisburn (inset) Eric Appleby and Phyllis Kelly, Erics sister Kathleen, and Mrs Appleby, taken in August 1915.
Roisin Gallagher with Lisburn actor Ruairi Tohill and producer Ian Dougan, who is also from Lisburn (inset) Eric Appleby and Phyllis Kelly, Erics sister Kathleen, and Mrs Appleby, taken in August 1915.

Lisburn actor Ruairi Tohill will be starring in a major series for Radio Ulster, which begins on April 21.

Ruairi will take on the role of Eric Appleby in Love Letters From The Front, the landmark 137-part series, which tells the compelling real-life story of Eric, an English soldier, and his Irish sweetheart, Phyllis Kelly – in his and, ultimately, her own words.

The letters have been dramatised for radio and online by two young actors playing the roles of Eric and Phyllis, weaving together the voices of both the writer and the reader into self-contained short episodes which will be broadcast from Thursday 21 April at 11.55am and again at 11.50pm up until the end of October.

Eric was from Liverpool. An engineering student at the start of the war, he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery in 1914 and was sent to Athlone for training.

At a dance there he met Phyllis Kelly, who was brought up in the town, where her father was a solicitor.

The series covers some 200 hundred letters, field service postcards and telegrams – Eric’s experiences from the time he left Athlone in March 1915 until October 1916 and what was to be the tail end of the Somme offensive.

For Ruairi it was a challenge to record the entire series without ever meeting Roisin and not being aware of her interpretation of Eric’s letters to Phyllis.

“If you try and draw a parallel to today’s world when you get a text message or an email, you can never really pick up on a tone, from what somebody says – so I can imagine how difficult and misleading a letter back in 1915 could be,” he said.

“It could have left you completely at a loss as to where you stand [with one another].”