Biography of Trevor Griffiths

<span>Trevor Griffiths in 1973. He insisted that his writing should not be ‘mucked about’ or ‘diluted’ for commercial reasons and refused to accept that cinema was a director’s medium.</span><span>Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images</span>“src =”–/yxbwawq9aglnagxhbmrlcjt3ptk2mdtoptu3ng–/https commissions 36dB38B18B3B7 “data-SRC = “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Trevor Griffiths in 1973. He insisted that his writing should not be ‘mucked about’ or ‘diluted’ for commercial reasons and refused to accept that the cinema was a director’s medium.Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Trevor Griffiths, who has died aged 88, was the most politically literate playwright and screenwriter of our time, a scholar of Marx, Gramsci and Trotsky, who translated his passion into a series of plays and television dramas without equal.

Although his success came early in the theater – at the Manchester Stables, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theater where, in 1973, his bracing analysis of left-wing factionalism, The Party, provided his last stage role for Laurence Olivier. , and aging Glasgow Trotskyite John Tagg – much preferred writing for television.

Despite being bracketed by younger playwrights in the early 1970s such as David Edgar, David Hare and Howard Brenton, he believed that, unlike them, you could make a bigger impact on the small screen, just because he reached you millions of viewers, rather than thousands i. the theatre. In that sense, his populist instincts were more aligned with those of, say, Ken Loach, Dennis Potter, Jim Allen and John McGrath.

However, his best theater plays were always on the way to his most popular medium. Comedians (1975) moved to BBC TV in 1979 after premiering at the Nottingham Playhouse under Richard Eyre and transferred to the National, the West End and Broadway. Jonathan Pryce – who won a Tony award for his performance in New York – made his name as the unforgettable volcanic skinhead, Gethin Price, in a night class for comedians whose very funny act was defeated in a vicious attack on a pair of theater inanimate. dummies.

Griffiths had put his cards on the table earlier with Granada’s brilliant 1972 TV series, Adam Smith, based on the distinguished career of Denis Forman, the TV executive, not the Scottish political economist; All Good Men (1974), Bill Fraser’s embattled ex-Labour minister arguing with the brilliant cast of Jack Shepherd (the most important actor in Griffiths’ career), Frances de la Tour and Ronald Pickup; and a chapter in the BBC series Fall of Eagles, Absolute Beginners (1974), which depicted the uneasy rise of the Bolshevik movement with Patrick Stewart as Lenin and Michael Kitchen as Trotsky.

His greatness was ensured by two consecutive notable successes: the BBC television drama Through the Night (1975), in which the story of Griffiths’ wife, Jan, played by Alison Steadman, was told, who enters the hospital with. a cancerous lump and it comes around after a mastectomy that no one told her was going to happen; and the hilarious 11-part Thames Television series Bill Brand (1976) in which Shepherd played a left-wing Labor MP as he slipped and slid along the corridors of Westminster power.

Griffiths was born in Ancoats, Manchester, the cradle of the industrial revolution. He was the second son of Ernest Griffiths, a non-conformist worker in Wales and his wife, Anne (née Connor), an Irish Catholic. Unlike his older brother and sister, Trevor was raised, until the age of five, by his Catholic grandmother. He was educated at St Bede’s College, Manchester, and the University of Manchester (1952-55), where he graduated in English language and literature. He served his national service (1955-57) in the Manchester Regiment.

A lifelong fan of Manchester City, and a talented footballer, he was offered terms by Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers, but chose instead to become a teacher and lecturer for eight years, working in Oldham and a technical college Stockport. He married Janice Stansfield in 1960 and joined the BBC as an education officer from 1965 to 1972.

He was an early member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, chairman of the Manchester Left club and a disillusioned member of the Labor party, from which he resigned in 1965, dissatisfied with the Harold Wilson government.

So, by the time his first play, The Wages of Thin, was produced in 1969 at the Stables in Manchester, he had enough background and “life experience” to inspire the armor of the scripts, and his dialectic aspects express any. political argument. As the television and film producer Peter Ansorge once noted: “Griffiths is a strong political writer because he is able to resist the pressures that political idealism shows.”

His breakthrough theater play was Occupations (1970), also at the Stables, starring Richard Wilson as Soviet agent Kabak and Richard Kane as Marxist theorist Gramsci (at the RSC the roles were taken by Stewart and Ben Kingsley; and on television , in 1974, with Donald Pleasence and Shepherd) locked horns during the Fiat motor factory strike of 1920. This play attracted the attention of Kenneth Tynan, Olivier’s literary manager at the National, and led to the commissioning of The Party.

​​​​The Party received even better productions than Olivier’s John Dexter – who said he was enchanted and bewitched by Griffiths as a man – when Hare revived it for a National touring production and again at Howard Davies and Edgar for the RSC in 1984.

Like David Mercer, another working-class playwright from the other side of the Pennines, Griffiths creatively elaborated on the divide between his background and the worlds of theater and television, most notably in Sam Sam (1971), in which he played two brothers with which the same actor is seen trapped in his disadvantaged background and escaping from it (Trevor’s brother was a shirt cutter and cab driver); the main point is that escape is not necessarily a better destiny.

A similar theme was covered in the brilliant seven-part BBC adaptation of DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1981), with Karl Johnson as Paul Morel, tentatively coming to sexual and intellectual awakening, and Eileen Atkins, wonderful as his mother, Gertrude.

Griffiths had a lucrative career writing scripts that were never made, as he insisted that he not be “discredited” or “diluted” for commercial reasons. He refused to accept that cinema is a director’s medium. His two most famous films are still disappointing. After a long struggle, Warren Beatty made (and co-wrote and starred in) Reds (1981), about the American communist John Reed, author of Ten Days That Shook the World. Loach’s Fatherland (1986) about a German singer and songwriter was, Loach himself said, “a mess”.

After the comedians at Nottingham Playhouse, Griffiths found resonant notes on the same scene in 1977 in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, arguably the greatest play of the early 20th century, in a version later filmed for BBC at Eyre with Judi Dench, Bill Paterson, Harriet. Walter and Timothy Spall. Also with Eyre directing for the BBC, Country, broadcast a week after Chekhov in 1981, transposed the “changing society” setting in Russia to Britain in 1945; they included Leo McKern, Wendy Hiller, Penelope Wilton and James Fox.

There were other plays in the theater that never really hit home. Another flinty meditation on Chekhov, for example, Piano (1990) at the National (the NT’s second rewrite of Platonov, after Michael Frayn’s Wild Honey in 1984) was somewhat obscured in its awkward derivation from the 1977 Soviet film, Unfinished. Piece for Mechanical Piano.

But Oi for England! (1982), a 50-minute skinhead, which debuted on TV, and Real Dreams (1984), at the RSC with Gary Oldman and Adrian Dunbar, about an American student in the 60s who failed to find revolutionary favor, or to indeed enthusiasm, with local Puerto Ricans, reinvented the temper of the comedians and the Party.

His last stage play, A New World (2009) at Shakespeare’s Globe, was the result of several draft screenplays for a Richard Attenborough film that was never made. He told the story of Thomas Paine, author of The Rights of Man and “a great forgotten Englishman” according to the play’s director, Dominic Dromgoole, with passion, energy and a wonderfully informative epic sweep.

Griffiths had never reconciled with the Labor party and was “sickened” by Tony Blair’s intervention in the Iraq war, which he called “Star Wars II”.

Home was a handsome gray brick Victorian house in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, where he and Jan raised three children, Sian, Emma and Joss. Jan died in an air crash in Cuba in 1977. Griffiths later married Gill Cliff, a former teacher, who survives, along with his children and grandchildren Lia, Jacob, Heloise and Jake.

Trevor Griffiths, playwright and screenwriter, born 4 April 1935; he died 29 March 2024

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