Friday, June 25, 2010

Tributes to Alan Plater

Tributes have been paid to Alan Plater, scriptwriter, playwright and former President and Chair of the Writers' Guild has died at the age of 75.

David Edgar

It's with huge regret that we heard today of the death of Alan Plater . Guild Chair from 1986-7, President from 1991-5, Alan was a union man to his very marrow. He was also one of very top ranks of television dramatists, and a more than worthy recipient of a Guild lifetime achievement award in 2007.

He wrote the novel Misterioso, and his work for the stage included the seminal Close The Coalhouse Door and plays about the agent Peggy Ramsay, Philip Larkin, and his beloved Hull City.

But his main achievement was in television: cutting his teeth in the glory days of Z-Cars, his subsequent credits include Trinity Tales, The Stars Look Down, The Biederbecke Trilogy, and magnificent adaptations of Trollope's Barchester Chronicles, Olivia Manning's The Fortunes of War and Chris Mullin's A Very British Coup. Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggat! was a foray into sitcom, and Alan continued to move between original signature drama, adaptations and long-running series, including Dalziel and Pascoe and, most recently, Lewis. The all-rounder's all-rounder, Alan was a professional to his fingertips, encouraging to younger writers, and in the great tradition of gusty, no-nonsense, good-hearted northern writing.

In and out of the Guild, he campaigned on issues as various as the cultural boycott of South Africa and proper credits for screenwriters in the Radio Times. He was notably hostile to screenwriting gurus (the imposing of an 'act structure' on television drama particularly irked him). For all his passion, there was always a strain of self-deprecating (and Guild-deprecating) wit: when a militant group accaused the Guild of being a tool of the British government for inviting the then fugitive Salman Rushdie to a Guild awards, Alan told the BBC that he wished the Guild 'was important enough to be used as a tool'. Ever practical, he was convinced that while the Guild retained a reasonable hold on soap writers, it would remain in business as a union.

His last work is still in post-production, and he was writing an essay on his beloved Hull. Including the upcoming Joe Maddison's War, he leaves a formidable canon of work behind him, which will live on. He also leaves the redoubtable and lovely Shirley, his children and grandchildren, and his many friends and admirers in television and the theatre, in the Guild and beyond.

David Edgar is President of The Writers' Guild of Great Britain

Robert Taylor

Alan was in many ways the Father of the Guild. A writer at the very top of his profession who was also a tireless Guild activist saying: 'Divided we haven’t got a chance; united we have got a bit of a chance'. Alan kept writing to the end and never ceased to be anything less than a Guild man to his core.

Television has lost one of its greatest and most original voices and the Guild has lost one of its most powerful fighters. I know I speak for the whole Guild when I extend my deepest condolences to Alan’s partner Shirley and all his family. Alan: the Guild will always remember you.

Robert Taylor is Chair of The Writers' Guild of Great Britain
More tributes

Other tributes have been paid by friends, colleagues and admirers including:


  1. Alan was my hero as a writer, good man and trade unionist, working for decades through the Guild to make life better for his colleagues. Trying to list everything he taught me would be as never-ending as trying to calculate pi. No one, short of Henry V, gave such stirring speeches or sound advice as Alan.

    Alan detested the lazy, formulaic way of writing scripts which too many writers were taught to produce; where every relationship portrayed was a sexual one. He reminded us that there are other relationships to explore; those between parent and child; friends; siblings; co-workers, et al. He knew good writing came from personal experience and real life and not from textbook templates.

    At the opening of the Writers' Guild Centre, Alan spoke about the importance of trade unionism, which came into being to help the poor, the sick and the disenfranchised, and our Guild was still doing just that. He reminded us that writers are only temporarily strong and, when they are, must use those strengths to help the rest.

    At other times, Alan also spoke of the importance of bravery for writers; that writers must never be afraid, especially of what he mockingly called, "suits."

    Alan was deservedly successful throughout his career, in every genre he wrote. He was a happy and sociable man, grateful to be married to his adored wife, Shirley. An eternal romantic and chain-smoker, Alan always lit two cigarettes for himself and Shirley, Paul Heinreid style. There was wit and style in everything he touched.

    My abiding memory of Alan was in November 2007, when the WGGB took part in an International Day of Solidarity, in support of the striking WGA. We stood on the steps of the TUC in our red strike t-shirts, carrying placards. On impulse, I thanked Alan for teaching me, by example, everything I know about protecting writers' rights and trade unionism. I told him I loved him for it. Tears came into his eyes as he hugged me.

    Ecce homo. My deepest condolences to Shirley and his family.

  2. my deepest condolences... Sir Allan was one of the few inspirations that i had in my life...

  3. The Union-Guilde des Scénaristes is saddened to learn of the death of
    former WGGB president Alan Plater whose work was known and appreciated
    in France, notably through the broadcast of A Very British Coup.

    The French guild would like to convey its condolences to everyone

    An obituary of Alan Plater appears on the French-language website

    Honorine Weis,
    Secretariat of the Council, UGS.

  4. From Sean Moffatt, founder Chair of the Irish Screenwriters and Playwright's Guild:

    How sad it is to hear of Alan Plater's death. And there he is standing on the cover of your last mag looking as relaxed and laid-back as ever. His writing apart, I know how important he has been to the British Guild for many many years and in fact to some degree it was Alan who prompted me (during a writing course he attended here) to explore setting up what has become our own guild. If memory serves me right it was at a function to launch your new premises that I last talked with Alan and Shirley and he was full of enthusiasm for the work he was doing in Scotland, getting back to story telling and the primacy of live theatre in a small community setting. And strangely enough I was just thinking of that same conversation some days ago when a community show I had written was about to open. Because I had made a similar journey from the often soul-destroying madness of writing for TV in order to try and understand, remind myself, what it was that drew me to this profession in the first place. And I remembered then how Alan had opened his talk, that first time we met him in Dublin, by reminding us how the word 'Playwright' was not spelt... 'Playwrite.' That 'wright', he pointed out, placed us in a category of crafts or trade folk. We shaped stories as a wheelwright might shape a wheel from the wondrous raw materials of the world. And of course now, as I look up the actually origins of the word, there is something very satisfying about learning that the actually root of the word 'Wright' is Scottish no less... 'a maker, a deviser' Chambers tells me. I wonder if Alan knew that?
    I know Alan will be missed, not just by his nearest and dearest, but by scriptwriters like ourselves who were inspired and encouraged by him, who, just by talking to him, by being in his company for a few minutes, went away feeling that this writing lark need not be so damn complicated or pretentious or stressful after all. May he rest in peace.


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