is considered by many as the best Black playwright to emerge from
his generation. He has been presented with many awards for his life-time
achievements in the area of television drama writing, and in 1979,
received an award for an "Outstanding Contribution To Literature"
by a Black writer resident in England. His work emerged alongside
and as part of the larger development of black British television
born in Guyana in 1938. He began his writing career with short stories,
but decided to turn to playwriting after seeing a performance of
John Osborne's Look Back In Anger. He was further inspired
when he came to England and visited the Royal Court Theatre, Britain's
premier theatre of new writing, where he was soon to become resident
dramatist. Sweet Talk, Abbensett's first play, was performed
there in 1973.
In the same
year, The Museum Attendant, his first television play was
broadcast on BBC2. Directed by Stephen Frears, the drama was, Abbensetts
says, based on his own early experiences as a security guard at
the Tower of London. After these two early successes Abbensetts,
unlike most Black writers in Britain at the time, was being offered
more and more work. He wrote Black Christmas which was broadcast
on the BBC in 1977 and featured Carmen Munroe and Norman Beaton.
Like The Museum Attendant, Black Christmas was based
on actual experience and was shot on location for television.
During the 1970s
and 1980s, a number of Abbensetts' plays were produced for the London
theater. Alterations appeared in 1978, followed by Samba
(1980), In The Mood (1981), Outlaw (1983) and Eldorado
(1983). Inner City Blues, Crime and Passion, Roadrunner
and Fallen Angel were produced on television.
success led to participation in British television's first Black
soap opera Empire Road (1978-79) for which he wrote two series.
Horace Ove was brought in to direct the second series, establishing
a production unit with a Black director, Black writer and Black
actors. The television series was unique in that it was the first
soap opera to be conceived and written by a Black writer for a Black
cast, but also because it was specifically about the British-Caribbean
experience. Set in Handsworth, Birmingham, it featured Norman Beaton
as Everton Bennett and Corinne Skinner-Carter as his long-suffering
screen wife. Although Empire Road was a landmark programme
on British television, it managed to survive only two series before
it was axed. The late Norman Beaton said of the programme, "It is
perhaps the best TV series I have been in."
continued to star in many of Abbensett's television productions
including Easy Money (1981) and Big George Is Dead
and Little Napoleons (1994/Channel 4). Little Napoleons is
a four-part comic-drama depicting the rivalry between two solicitors,
played by Saeed Jaffrey and Norman Beaton, who become Labour councillors.
The work focuses on a number of themes including the price of power,
the relationship between West Indian and Asian communities in Britain
and the internal workings of political institutions.
of Abbensetts drama has focused on issues of race and power, but
he has always been reluctant to be seen as restricted to issue-based
drama. Certainly his dialogue is concerned with the development
and growth of character and he is fundamentally aware of the methods
and contexts for his actors. Abbensetts has always actively involved
himself in the production process and his dramatic works have provided
outstanding roles for established Black actors in Britain--Carmen
Munroe, Rudolph Walker and of course Norman Beaton--giving them
the chance to play interesting and realistic roles as well as creating
stories about the everyday experiences of Black people. Abbensetts'
work thrived at a time when there was very little drama on television
which represented the lives of Black British people and his television
plays have created new perspectives for all his viewers.
ABBENSETTS. Born in British Guiana (now Guyana), 8 June 1938;
took British citizenship, 1974. Attended Queen's College, Guyana,
1952-56; Stanstead College, Quebec; Sir George Williams University,
Montreal, 1960-61. Security attendant, Tower of London, 1963-67;
staff member, Sir John Soane Museum, London, 1968-71; resident playwright,
Royal Court Theatre, London, 1974; visiting professor of drama,
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, 1981. Recipient: George
Devine Award, 1973; Arts Council bursary, 1977; Afro-Caribbean Award,
1979. Address: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, Halley Court, Jordan
Hill, Oxford OX2 8EJ, U.K.
1994 Little Napoleons Television Plays
1973 The Museum Attendant
1975 Inner City Blues
1976 Crime and Passion
1977 Black Christmas
1982 Easy Money
1987 Big George Is Dead
Again, 1975; The Sunny Side of the Street, 1977; Brothers
of the Sword, 1978; The Fast Lane, 1980; The Dark
Horse, 1981; Summer Passions, 1985.
Talk, 1973; Alterations, 1978; Samba, 1980; In
the Mood, 1981; The Dark Horse, 1981; Outlaw,
1983; El Dorado, 1984; Living Together, 1988.
Talk (play). London: Eyre Methuen, 1976. Samba (play).
London: Eyre Methuen, 1980.
Empire Road (novel). London: Panther, 1979.
Living Together (play). Oxford: Heinemann, 1988.
Suzan. "Abbensetts an Example." Television Today (London),
19 May 1994.
Margaret. "Taking Race for Granted." New Society (London),
16 November 1978.