Trevor Griffiths obituary


Trevor Griffiths, who has died aged 88, was essentially the most politically literate working-class dramatist and screenwriter of our instances, a scholar of Marx, Gramsci and Trotsky, who translated his ardour right into a collection of performs and tv dramas the ultimate.

Though his early success got here within the theatre – on the Stables in Manchester, with the Royal Shakespeare Firm and on the Nationwide Theatre the place, in 1973, his bracing evaluation of factionalism on the left, The Occasion, supplied Laurence Olivier together with his final stage function, as an ageing Glaswegian Trotskyite, John Tagg – he a lot most well-liked to write down for tv.

Regardless of being bracketed with youthful playwrights within the early Seventies equivalent to David Edgar, David Hare and Howard Brenton, he believed, not like them, that you could possibly make extra affect on the small display, merely since you reached tens of millions of viewers, somewhat than hundreds within the theatre. In that sense, his populist instincts have been extra aligned with these of, say, Ken Loach, Dennis Potter, Jim Allen and John McGrath.

Nonetheless, his finest theatre performs invariably discovered their option to the extra standard medium. Comedians (1975) moved on to BBC TV in 1979 after its premiere on the Nottingham Playhouse beneath Richard Eyre and transfers to the Nationwide, the West Finish and Broadway. Jonathan Pryce – who gained a Tony award for his efficiency in New York – made his identify as an unforgettably volcanic skinhead, Gethin Value, in a night class for comics whose significantly unfunny act climaxed in a savage assault on a pair of inanimate theatre-going dummies.

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Comedians by Trevor Griffiths on the Nationwide Theatre in 1975, with from left: Jimmy Jewel, Dave Hill and Jonathan Pryce. {Photograph}: Donald Cooper/Alamy

Griffiths had earlier laid his playing cards on the desk with a powerful 1972 Granada TV collection, Adam Smith, based mostly on the distinguished profession of Denis Forman, the TV government, not the Scottish political economist; All Good Males (1974), during which an aged, compromised former Labour minister performed by Invoice Fraser contended with a stellar solid of Jack Shepherd (essentially the most essential actor in Griffiths’ profession), Frances de la Tour and Ronald Pickup; and a chapter within the BBC collection Fall of Eagles, Absolute Freshmen (1974), which charted the uneasy emergence of the Bolshevik motion with Patrick Stewart as Lenin and Michael Kitchen as Trotsky.

His pre-eminence was assured with two successive and notable triumphs: the BBC tv play By way of the Evening (1975), during which the story of Griffiths’ spouse, Jan, was instructed within the character performed by Alison Steadman, who goes into hospital with a cancerous lump and comes spherical after a mastectomy nobody had instructed her was going to occur; and the riveting Thames Tv 11-part collection Invoice Model (1976) during which Shepherd performed a leftwing Labour MP sliding and slithering alongside the Westminster corridors of energy.

Griffiths was born in Ancoats, Manchester, the cradle of the economic revolution. He was the second son of Ernest Griffiths, a nonconformist Welsh chemical course of employee and his spouse, Anne (nee Connor), an Irish Catholic. Not like his elder brother and sister, Trevor was raised, till the age of 5, by his Catholic grandmother. He was educated at St Bede’s faculty, Manchester, and Manchester College (1952-55), the place he took a level in English language and literature. He spent his nationwide service (1955-57) within the Manchester Regiment.

A lifelong fan of Manchester Metropolis, and a gifted footballer, he was provided phrases by each Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers, however selected as a substitute to be a instructor and lecturer for eight years, working in Oldham and at Stockport technical faculty. He married Janice Stansfield in 1960 and joined the BBC as an schooling officer from 1965 to 1972.

He was an early member of the Marketing campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, chairman of the Manchester Left membership and a disillusioned member of the Labour social gathering, from which he resigned in 1965, sad with the Harold Wilson authorities.

So, by the point he had his first play, The Wages of Skinny, produced in 1969 on the Stables in Manchester, he had sufficient background and “life expertise” to gas an armoury of scripts, and a knack of articulating dialectical sides of any political argument. As the tv and movie producer Peter Ansorge as soon as noticed: “Griffiths is a robust political author as a result of he is ready to reveal the pressures towards which political idealism can crumble.”

His breakthrough theatre play was Occupations (1970), additionally on the Stables, during which Richard Wilson because the Soviet agent Kabak and Richard Kane because the Marxist theoretician Gramsci (on the RSC the roles have been taken by Stewart and Ben Kingsley; and on tv, in 1974, by Donald Pleasence and Shepherd) locked horns throughout the 1920 Fiat motor manufacturing facility strike. This play introduced him to the eye of Kenneth Tynan, Olivier’s literary supervisor on the Nationwide, and led to the fee of The Occasion.

The Occasion acquired productions even higher than John Dexter’s with Olivier – who stated he was mesmerised and enchanted by Griffiths as a person – when revived by Hare for a Nationwide touring manufacturing and once more by Howard Davies and Edgar for the RSC in 1984.

Like David Mercer, one other working-class playwright, from the opposite aspect of the Pennines, Griffiths elaborated creatively on the break up between his background and the world of theatre and tv, notably in Sam Sam (1971), during which two brothers performed by the identical actor are seen trapped in, and escaping from, their underprivileged background (Trevor’s brother was a shirt-cutter and cab driver); the important thing level is that the escape is under no circumstances essentially a greater destiny.

Comparable floor was coated in his marvellous BBC adaptation in seven episodes of DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1981), starring Karl Johnson as Paul Morel, coming tentatively into sexual and mental awakening, and Eileen Atkins, good as his mom, Gertrude.

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Geoffrey Palmer (Porfiry) and Penelope Wilton (Anna) in Piano by Trevor Griffiths on the Nationwide Theatre in 1990. {Photograph}: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Griffiths had a profitable profession writing screenplays that have been by no means made, as he insisted on not being “mucked about with” or “diluted” for industrial causes. He refused to simply accept that cinema is a director’s medium. His two finest identified movies stay disappointing. After an extended wrestle, Warren Beatty made (and co-wrote and starred in) Reds (1981), concerning the American communist John Reed, writer of Ten Days That Shook the World. Loach’s Fatherland (1986) a couple of German singer-songwriter was, Loach himself stated, “a multitude”.

After Comedians at Nottingham Playhouse, Griffiths discovered resonant notes on the identical stage in 1977 in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, arguably the best play of the early twentieth century, in a model later filmed for the BBC by Eyre with Judi Dench, Invoice Paterson, Harriet Walter and Timothy Spall. Additionally with Eyre directing for the BBC, Nation, transmitted every week after the Chekhov in 1981, transposed the “altering society” upheaval in Russia to Britain in 1945; the solid included Leo McKern, Wendy Hiller, Penelope Wilton and James Fox.

There have been different performs within the theatre that by no means actually hit residence. One other flinty, nagging meditation on Chekhov, for example, Piano (1990) on the Nationwide (the NT’s second rewrite of Platonov, following Michael Frayn’s in Wild Honey in 1984) was barely hidebound in its awkwardly executed derivation from a 1977 Soviet movie, Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano.

However Oi for England! (1982), a 50-minute skinhead rant, which began on tv, and Actual Goals (1984), on the RSC with Gary Oldman and Adrian Dunbar, a couple of 60s American pupil collective failing to seek out revolutionary favour, or certainly fervour, with native Puerto Ricans, reinvented the mood of Comedians and The Occasion.

His final stage play, A New World (2009) at Shakespeare’s Globe, was the results of a number of draft screenplays for a Richard Attenborough film that was by no means made. It instructed the story of Thomas Paine, writer of The Rights of Man and “a terrific forgotten Englishman” in line with the play’s director, Dominic Dromgoole, with ardour, vitality and a powerful, informative epic sweep.

Griffiths was by no means reconciled to the Labour social gathering and was “sickened” by Tony Blair’s intervention within the conflict in Iraq, which he described as “Star Wars II”.

Dwelling was a good-looking gray brick Victorian home in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, the place he and Jan raised three kids, Sian, Emma and Joss. Jan died in an air crash in Cuba in 1977. Griffiths later married Gill Cliff, a former instructor, who survives him, alongside together with his kids and his grandchildren, Lia, Jacob, Heloise and Jake.


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