Alan Plater, one of the UK’s greatest television dramatists and a leading light of the Writers’ Guild throughout most of its existence, died today of cancer, aged 75.
Alan’s formidable credits span the history of British TV from Z-Cars to Lewis. He was equally the master of original ideas and adaptation and his many benchmark plays and series include Fortunes of War, The Beiderbecke Tapes, A Very British Coup and Last of the Blonde Bombshells. He also wrote several novels, film scripts, and plays for radio and the theatre.
He was President of the Writers’ Guild from 1991 to 1995 and remained a Trustee of the Guild until his death. He was presented with the Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007, having picked up numerous awards throughout his career including the Dennis Potter Award at the BAFTAs in 2005. (See http://writersguild.blogspot.com/2007/11/guild-awards-photos.html.) He became a CBE in the same year.
If there were any themes that were constant through Alan’s life they were his roots in the North-east and Hull, and his love of jazz (he accepted his Guild lifetime award to the strains of a combo).
Alan Plater is one of the most frequently mentioned individuals in Nick Yapp’s history of the Writers’ Guild, The Write Stuff. The book records Alan’s instinctive support for the cultural blockade against apartheid South Africa in the 1960s and solidarity with Czechoslovakian writers at the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. He was just as energetic in more home-grown campaigns, such as the battle to keep writers’ credits in the Radio Times.
Alan’s sly wit informed his writing and his Guild work. When Salman Rushdie made a surprise appearance at the Guild awards at the height of the fatwa, the Guild was accused of acting as “a tool of the British government”. Alan, as President, commented on BBC Radio: 'I wish the British government thought the Guild was important enough to be used as a tool.'
Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: 'Alan was a writer of excellence and a trade unionist to his fingertips. I knew I could always depend on him for the perfect quote or a rousing speech – anything for the writers’ own union or the wider labour movement.'
Ted Willis, the founding father of the Writers’ Guild, once told Alan: 'A TV writer has a working life of 21 years – seven on the way up, seven when you’re the cream of the profession, and seven on the way down.' Whether or not it was true for Willis, it was certainly not the case for Alan, who was never on the way down and was working to the last – his final production, Joe Maddison’s War, is in the can and will be seen on ITV later this year.