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Peter Nichols RIP

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  • Peter Nichols RIP

    From the Guardian


  • #2
    The Guardian obituary



    • #3
      Michael Billington on Peter Nichols.



      • #4
        Peter Nichols, award-winning playwright who drew on his own experience in ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’ and ‘Privates on Parade’ – obituary

        Peter Nichols at home in London in 2003
        9 SEPTEMBER 2019 • 5:18PM

        Peter Nichols, who has died aged 92, was one of the first British television playwrights, and in the 1960s he turned to the stage, depicting with caustic humour and music-hall irony the spirit of the age.

        He liked to shock his audiences by telling them unpleasant home truths, and although he wrote with compassionate care for his characters he did not seem to like any of them very much. Most of his plays, by his own admission, were partly autobiographical.

        His black comedy A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1967), first acted at Glasgow Citizens Theatre, marked out his style with acrid, episodic, wholly British and largely sardonic merriment. It dealt in domestic detail with a family bringing up (without professional advice) what used to be called a “spastic” child, whom they regard as a “vegetable”. It won the Evening Standard prize for the best new play of the year.

        Alan Bates in a scene from the film ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’, 1972

        In fact the Nichols family had such a child, a baby daughter, and had placed her in a special home, a fact which affirmed Shaw’s dictum about everything being grist to the artistic mill. What gave the play an unusual flavour, apart from its provocative theme, was the father’s ironical and disconcerting use of music-hall humour – singing songs which drew him down to the footlights – to ease his parental misery.

        The device of interrupting a play’s action by song and even dance became a trademark in Nichols’s writing. His fondness for traditional music-hall humour and tunes derived partly from his National Service overseas and was expressed in Privates On Parade (1977).

        Denis Quilley and John Cleese in ‘Privates on Parade’, 1983

        But it was the early experience as a writer for television which governed his technique, as with so many of his contemporaries. Before Joe Egg he had already spent eight years on scripts for television, beginning in 1959. And though it was the fashion thereafter for new playwrights to write a series of brief scenes rather than acts, Nichols’s comedies about British institutions and the British way of life seemed artistically suited to this jerky style.

        After the somewhat dark subject of Joe Egg, Nichols brought forth a vibrant satire on state medicine called The National Health (1969). This took a fearlessly cynical view of life in an ordinary British hospital, alternating the rigours of terminal illness with the soap-operatic treatment of the same subject in television fiction.

        Pained irony was Nichols’s chief weapon as a writer. He never shirked unpleasant feelings – or any humour to be extracted from them. He wrote from personal experience and his plays were all the livelier for it.

        Nostalgia could play as large a role as irony. He once told an interviewer that all his plays were “written from my diary”. The spectator could believe it, while at the same time wincing at this laying of so many private cards on the public table.

        The title of Forget-Me-Not Lane (1971) speaks for itself. It recalls Nichols’s wartime childhood as a series of flashbacks after he has married. Chez Nous (1973) describes the British middle classes on holiday in the Dordogne (Nichols had just been there), while The Freeway (1974) deals with motorways and their follies in a theatrically freewheeling manner when a party of travellers breaks down.

        Narrators and chorus figures, low comedians and other dramatic agents for direct commentary populate Nichols’s plays. Unsuccessful marriage was a favourite theme. Passion Play (1981) treats it literally and uninhibitedly on several levels – emotional frankness was Nichols’s trademark. Dressing it up as comedy put him at the head of his era’s harsher attempts to treat traditionally unmentionable subjects with eloquence.

        But in addition to these unflinching views of modern middle-class discontent, Nichols must be noted (like Ayckbourn – though they shared few other qualities) for an absorption with theatrical form. Privates On Parade, recalling his concert party days during National Service, mixed the high spirits of a variety show with the threat of terrorism in the Malayan jungle in 1948, while Poppy (1980), written for the Royal Shakespeare Company, described the opium war in 19th century China in terms of traditional pantomime.

        In 1987 a typically personal-sounding play, A Piece of My Mind, had as its hero a disenchanted modern playwright. But Passion Play, which treated a husband’s shame as an adulterer with what looked like masochistic severity, is perhaps his most enduring work.

        Peter Nichols in his home city, Bristol, in 1967

        The son of a travelling salesman for the Co-Op, Peter Richard Nichols was born on July 21 1927 and educated at Bristol Grammar School. His father had been an amateur pierrot and smoking-room comedian and spoke in music-hall terms which proved invaluable to his son, calling an umbrella a “brolly” or a “gamp” and a hat a “titfer” or a “lid”.

        After touring India and Malaya in Combined Services Entertainment with Kenneth Williams and John Schlesinger, Nichols spent two years at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He tried acting in repertory (with John Osborne in See How They Run at Frinton-on-Sea and with Albert Finney at Stratford, among other bookings). He also acted for the cinema and television before becoming a teacher of general subjects in primary and secondary schools.

        With his glasses and somewhat austere features, his fellow playwright John Mortimer observed, Nichols could always pass for a schoolmaster. But he also worked as a park keeper, a clerk and a cinema commissionaire.

        Whatever subject Nichols chose, it came out on the stage with a zest (and jests) distinctively his own, sometimes indulgently, often clumsily, but always sincerely. His work was always somehow topical in feeling. It had a journalist’s quickness of observation and in its moral and social indignation there were surprising strengths.

        Nichols’s work for the cinema included Georgy Girl in 1967, as well as versions of Joe Egg, The National Health and Privates On Parade. But it was his unconventional style as a dramatist which set him in the front rank of his contemporaries.

        He knew how to express individual human suffering in terms of bitterly sardonic comedy, breaking the theatrical illusion to keep the playgoer wondering what would happen next. The main weakness in his art was that the spectator sensed the author’s own bitterness peeping desperately through it.

        In his autobiography, Feeling You’re Behind (1984), Nichols outlined his disillusionment with the theatre in typically candid terms and vowed not to write for it again. Two years later came A Piece of My Mind (1987), which had only a brief run; after a few years’ hiatus, he wrote several pieces for the Show of Strength company in Bristol, including the drama Blue Murder. In 2000 he published Diaries 1969-1977.

        He was a lifelong jazz enthusiast and played a vibraphone.

        Peter Nichols married, in 1960, Thelma Reed, with whom he had a son and three daughters. Another daughter, Abigail, on whom he based the character of Joe Egg, died in infancy.

        Peter Nichols, born July 21 1927, died September 7 2019
        Last edited by Maurice; 9th September 2019, 05:36 PM.


        • #5

          Especially for
          A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.