Richard Harris poem for the North: ‘It’s f***ing thinking like yours that gets people shot’

In August 1972 the actor released a record of his poem, written because he thought politicans had tried and failed

This report details the press conference Richard Harris held to announce the release of his record, and was originally published in the Guardian on August 30th, 1972

Mr Richard Harris, the actor, greatly publicised until recently as a hell-raising brawler, yesterday put himself forward as a disciple of peace. He called a press conference in his office 12 floors up above the Thames to launch his new seven-inch record containing a message of peace for Northern Ireland, in the course of which he pushed his forefinger at the chest of one importunate and partial questioner (another Irishman) and said "It is thinking like yours that keeps getting people shot."

Peace with Mr Harris is an unconventional, not to say nerve-racking business. The record is called There Are Too Many Saviours on My Cross, and on it Mr Harris reads his own free verse which says at one point, through the mouth of Jesus:

I watch you share your silver;
Your purse rich in hate
Bleeds my veins of love
Shattering my bone
In the dust of the Bogside and the Shankill Road.

Mr Harris composed the poem, which he reads resonantly to heavy music, because he thinks the politicians have tried and failed and therefore ordinary people like himself should now have a go. The cost of the record and the promotion of it, he said, would be borne completely by his own organisation and all the gross proceeds would go to the families of people killed in Ireland, Catholic and Protestant.

And who, asked the importunate Irish questioner, would decide who got what? And wasn’t helping both sides really just another way of helping injustice (the Northern side) against justice (the IRA side)? Mr Harris, man of peace, replied: “Are you questioning for one second my motive in this? Are you doubting me? Are you looking for an argument? This money will go to all families of people who have been killed.”

This ended that particular line of questioning. Mr Harris is well over 6ft tall.

Mr Harris said that he had read his poem on the Johnny Carson show in the United States and there had been requests for 10,000 copies. He had read it on Thames TV and many people had asked for it, including teachers in schools. The more people took sides, the more they killed one another, the less human they became. He wanted all guns out of Ireland.

Including British Army guns? inquired the difficult Irishman. Mr Harris wondered whether the questioner had heard what he had just said, which was all about guns out of Ireland. And, said the questioner, what about Peter O'Toole, and Siobhan McKenna who had come out on the "side of justice?" Mr Harris said he was not interested in what other people had done, his own position was that talking about taking sides was wrong. It was this that was leading people to get shot and making a solution difficult.

How would the sentiments on the record reach people of influence? Mr Harris said he would be delivering copies of the record to Mr Heath at Downing Street that afternoon, Cardinal Heenan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Ian Paisley, Mr Lynch, Mr Craig, and Mr Faulkner, all within the next fortnight. It was important to influence the religious leaders because it was no use people just saying: “Pray for peace” — that was too passive.

Mr Harris's record was played over the office hi-fi for the umpteenth time, more drinks were served, more cocktail savouries were passed round, and Mr Harris himself was cornered by a posse of Irish newspapermen. They wanted him to condemn either the presence of British troops in Ulster, or the supply of gelignite to Northern Ireland from "fat Irishmen now in America who left Ireland in 1921," or both.

“I will not be led into the discussions in which you are attempting to force me to take sides,” said Mr Harris. “If you can’t understand what I have just said you should not be working for a newspaper.”

No one, not even fellow Irishmen, could take the peaceful Mr Harris an inch further than he wanted to go. Mr Harris may or may not have studied his Ireland, but he gave every appearance of having studied his Jesus Christ. — Guardian