Simon James Holliday Gray21 October 1936Hayling Island, Hampshire, England (
Playwright, screenwriter, memoirist, novelistacademic (1965–1985)
Drama, screenplay, memoir, novel
August 7, 2008, London, United Kingdom
Katherine Rothschild (m. 1997–2008), Beryl Mary Kevern (m. 1965–1997)
The Smoking Diaries, Japes, The late middle classes, Fat Chance, Enter a Fox
Harold Pinter, Victor Rothschild - 3rd Baron, Christopher Morahan, Jeremy Nicholas, Pat O'Connor
Remembering Simon Gray
Simon James Holliday Gray, CBE (21 October 1936 – 7 August 2008) was an English playwright and memoirist who also had a career as a university lecturer in English literature at Queen Mary, University of London, for 20 years. While teaching at Queen Mary, Gray began his writing career as a novelist in 1963 and, during the next 45 years, in addition to five published novels, wrote 40 original stage plays, screenplays, and screen adaptations of his own and others' works for stage, film, and television and became well known for the self-deprecating wit characteristic of several volumes of memoirs or diaries.
- RememberingSimon Gray
- Stage Struck
- Posthumous tributes and related developments
- Television plays
- Films for television
- Honours and awards
Simon James Holliday Gray was born on 21 October 1936 on Hayling Island, in Hampshire, England to James Gray and his wife Barbara (née Holliday). His father (who later became a pathologist) worked on the island as GP. In 1939, during World War II, when he was three years old, he and his elder brother Nigel were evacuated to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to live in "a house where his grandfather and [his grandfather's] alcoholic wife were attended upon by a younger aunt"; in 1945, when he was nearly 10, he returned to England, where he was educated at Westminster School, in London. In 1957, he received a BA from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia; and, in 1961, another B.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1965, he was appointed a lecturer in English at Queen Mary College, London.
He married his first wife, Beryl Kevern, in 1965; they had two children, a son, Benjamin, and a daughter, Lucy, and were divorced in 1997. During their marriage, he had an eight-year affair with another Queen Mary lecturer, Victoria Katherine Rothschild (b. 1953), a daughter of Sir Nathaniel Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild; in 1997, after his divorce, they married, living together in west London, until his death on 6 August 2008.
In 2004 he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to drama and literature.
When he was still in his 20s, he began his writing career as a novelist with Colmain, published by Faber and Faber in 1963. His career in drama began when he adapted one of his own short stories, The Caramel Crisis, for television. He subsequently wrote a number of plays for, amongst others, The Wednesday Play and Play for Today BBC anthology series, frequently in collaboration with the producer Kenith Trodd. Gray wrote 40 plays and screenplays for the stage, television, and film and 8 volumes of memoirs based on his diaries.
Wise Child, an adaptation of a TV play deemed too shocking for the small screen, was his first stage play. It starred Simon Ward and Alec Guinness and was produced by Michael Codron at Wyndham's Theatre in 1967. Subsequently, he wrote original plays for both radio and television and adaptations, including: an TV adaptation of The Rector’s Daughter, by F. M. Mayor; stage adaptations of Tartuffe and The Idiot. His original television screenplays include Running Late, After Pilkington, Unnatural Pursuits, and A Month in the Country. His 1971 play Butley, produced by Codron, began a long creative partnership with Harold Pinter as director (of both the play and the film versions) and continued the partnership with the actor Alan Bates begun with Gray's 1967 television play Death of a Teddy Bear; Bates starred in 11 of Gray's works, while Pinter directed 10 separate productions of Gray's works for stage, film, and television, beginning with Butley; the last one was a stage production of The Old Masters, starring Peter Bowles and Edward Fox.
As with Butley (1971) and Otherwise Engaged (1975), whose London productions and films both starred Bates, and Quartermaine's Terms (1981), starring Fox, Gray "often returned to the subject of the lives and trials of educated intellectuals."
He wrote many other successful stage plays, including The Common Pursuit, The Late Middle Classes, Hidden Laughter, Japes, Close of Play, The Rear Column, and Little Nell, several of which he directed himself.
In 1984, at the suggestion of Robert McCrum, Faber editor-in-chief at that time, he kept a diary of the London premiere of The Common Pursuit (directed by Pinter at the Lyric Hammersmith), resulting in the first of his 8 volumes of theatre-related and personal memoirs, An Unnatural Pursuit (Faber 1985), and culminating in the critically acclaimed trilogy entitled The Smoking Diaries (Granta, 2004–2008).
Gray's play about George Blake, Cell Mates (1995), starring Rik Mayall, Stephen Fry and Simon Ward, attracted media attention when Stephen Fry abruptly "fled to Bruges" after the third performance, thus leaving the show without its lead actor. Gray subsequently wrote his theatrical memoir Fat Chance, providing a scathingly hilarious account of the episode.
Posthumous tributes and related developments
Gray's final volume of diaries, Coda, "so named because it rounds off the trilogy of 'Smoking Diaries' (The Smoking Diaries, The Year of the Jouncer and The Last Cigarette) … a meditation on death, or rather dying, an account of living on borrowed time," was published posthumously by Faber and Faber and Granta in November 2008. From 8 to 12 December 2008, in five 15-minute episodes, actor Toby Stephens read from this "candid and darkly comic account of coming to terms with terminal cancer" for BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.
Simon Gray: A Celebration, directed by Harry Burton, who directed Gray's last stage production in Spring 2008 (Quartermaine's Terms at Theatre Royal, Windsor), was held at the Comedy Theatre, in London, on 15 March 2009.
A production entitled The Last Cigarette, based on Gray's and Hugh Whitemore's adaptation of the three volumes of his memoirs called The Smoking Diaries and directed by Richard Eyre, opened at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, England, in April 2009. The production, with Felicity Kendal, Nicholas Le Prevost, and Jasper Britton, then transferred to the Trafalgar Studios, in London's West End,
An official web site was launched in October 2009.
The Late Middle Classes finally received its London premiere on 27 May 2010 at the Donmar Warehouse in London, directed by David Leveaux and starring Helen McCrory, Eleanor Bron, Peter Sullivan and Robert Glenister. The original production of the play, directed by Harold Pinter, was prevented from reaching its intended West End theatre by a musical about a boy band. Gray's experience of this production is the subject of his diary "Enter a Fox".
In May–June 2014 "In the Vale of Health," consisting of three unseen plays and one revival; Japes, Michael, Japes Too and Missing Dates; was performed in Hampstead Theatre, London. Directed by Tamara Harvey and starring Gethin Anthony, Jamie Ballard, Imogen Doel, Tom Mothersdale and Laura Rees. The plays tell the story of two brothers, who fall in love with the same woman, from different perspectives.