Saturday 26 June 2010

Alan Plater RIP

A tribute from the usually dreadful Mark Lawson in The Guardian:

Mark Lawson on Alan Plater: 'Bright, socialist and proudly northern'
Throughout his long and varied career the TV writer helped maintain high standards across the industry

Mark Lawson
Friday 25 June 2010 17.01

Alan Plater, who has died of cancer, was a notably versatile writer. Frequently employed on police series, his career spanned pioneering episodes of Z Cars and Softly Softly to an episode of ITV's Lewis screened in the final months of his life.

This was appropriate because, as well as being one of British TV's key dramatists, he also operated for five decades as a sort of drama cop.

As president of the Writers' Guild and a willing media pundit, Plater policed the schedules and statements of broadcasting executives, as well as the opportunities and conditions for fellow scriptwriters.

He kept the tone and behaviour of the industry higher than it might otherwise have been. Plater refused to accept that multi-channel television and the popularity of Simon Cowell's dancing dogs made it necessary to abandon the values of the days in which he made his name - when television was inventing itself and strands such as The Wednesday Play were a public event.

Z Cars was credited with introducing contemporary speech and themes to TV drama, and topicality was one part of Plater's talent. But his favourite register as a writer was a tough-edged nostalgia, reflecting his lifelong obsession with traditional jazz.

Many TV dramas – including The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, starring Judi Dench – were set in the past or had protagonists who spiritually belonged there, such as the hero of The Beiderbecke Affair and The Beiderbecke Tapes, his very successful comedy crime romps for Yorkshire TV.

He wrote as he spoke: bright, funny, kind, socialist, proudly northern. Yorkshire and Durham were his home counties as a writer – he had been born in Jarrow but grew up in Hull – and he created scripts for stage and screen about many of their major industries: coal mining, Philip Larkin, Geoffrey Boycott.

In common with other northern writers of his generation – Jack Rosenthal and Alan Bennett – Plater had an ear for the musicality, spikiness and euphemism of talk in the upper regions of England.

His TV series Trinity Tales (1975) was a brilliant northern modernisation of The Canterbury Tales, which clearly influenced later present-day adaptations of Chaucer and Shakespeare on television.

Structurally, though, his writing was notable for the variety of territory it covered: from sitcoms (Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggitt!), through adaptations of novels – classic (Fortunes of War) and modern (A Very British Coup) – to stage plays. Peggy for You, a bio-drama about his eccentric agent Margaret Ramsay, gave Maureen Lipman a West End hit.

In an industry vulnerable to fashion, he remained in demand until the very end, with various outstanding commitments which, like the dedicated freelance professional he had always been, he determined to try to meet despite medical inconvenience. Joe Maddison's War, a second world war drama based on his grandfather's life, will be screened later this year.

In common with much of his work, it can be expected to look with wry and intelligent nostalgia at the past. Plater's fear would have been that we will soon stare with historical incredulity at the kind of TV drama-writing career he was able to have.

No comments:

Post a Comment