John Boyd was born in Belfast in 1912. The son of a railway engine driver, he was educated at Mountpottinger School, gaining a scholarship to permit him to attend the Royal Belfast Academical Institute (where he was taught by the novelist Forrest Reid, with whom Boyd was to share a lifelong friendship), Queen’s University, Belfast and Trinity College Dublin, he became a teacher. Always interested in literature, he co-founded and edited – along with writers Sam Hanna Bell and Bob Davidson – the seminal Lagan: A Collection of Ulster Writing.
While Lagan only ran for four issues, it brought to the public the first writings of such figures as W.R. Rogers, Denis Johnson, John Hewitt, Michael McLaverty, Joseph Tomelty, and Tyrone Guthrie.
In the late 1940s, Sam Hanna Bell offered Boyd the position of talks producer at BBC Northern Ireland. At the BBC, he often found the provincialism of local literary life suffocating and ran against the prevailing unionist and conservative ethos of the institution.
A well-known contributor to various periodicals such as The Bell and The Irish Democrat and a passionate ‘man of the left’, he was a delegate on a writers visit to the USSR. In 1971 he was appointed honorary director at the Lyric Players Theatre, Belfast, and edited the theatre’s literary journal, Threshold which gave outlet to many of the sixties generation such as Seamus Heaney, John Montague and Michael Longley.
After retirement he produced a string of plays dealing with the onset of civic strife: The Assassin (1969) and Guests (1974). He also produced a stage trilogy: The Flats (1971 - later made into an RTE film by Sheelagh Richards in 1975), The Farm (1972) and The Street (1977 - which starred a young Liam Neeson). During his association with the Lyric, he also produced adaptations of Wuthering Heights, Moliere’s The Miser and Ibsen’s Ghosts.
He also produced two highly successful volumes of autobiography: Out of My Class (1985) and The Middle of My Journey (1990).
He died in 2002. An archive of his letters and manuscripts was bequeathed to the Linen Hall Library.