Rosenthal is one of British television's most successful dramatists.
He has received numerous awards, notably BAFTA awards for The
Evacuees, Bar Mitzvah Boy, P'tang, Yang, Kipperbang, Ready When
You are Mr McGill, an Emmy award for The Evacuees and
the Prix Italia for Spend, Spend, Spend and The Knowledge.
He has written successfully for the big screen with The Chain
and The Knowledge and has also written five plays for
the live stage, notably Smash!.
learned the craft of writing for the comparatively new medium of
television in the 1960s at a time when television drama in Britain
(particularly on the BBC) was still dominated by writers schooled
in theatrical conventions and over concerned with being taken seriously.
This resulted in a preoccupation with adaptations of theatrical
successes, revivals of classics (e.g. Shakespeare, Dickens) and
writing that exploited literary rather than visual resources. Independent
television in the late 1950s was looking to develop more popular
forms of drama to attract new audiences and brought in Sydney Newman
from Canada who fostered new dramatists and initiated new series.
It was against this background that Rosenthal started work in Granada
where he served his apprenticeship by writing more than 150 scripts
for the popular TV soap Coronation Street. The experience of writing
for a popular genre prepared him for his originating such comedy
serials as The Dustbinmen, The Lovers and Sadie, It's Cold Outside.
His growing reputation in the 1970s as a professional writer who
could be relied upon to turn in a successful script led to his being
entrusted with the prestige form of the single play: a form that
Rosenthal himself prefers because of the freedom it offers the artist
to explore his own vision.
was born in Manchester of Jewish parents and has drawn on his experiences
to write Bar Mitzvah Boy and The Evacuees. It would
be a mistake, however, to classify him as a "Jewish writer": his
interest is in observing the interactions of individuals in social
networks and the Jewish community merely furnishes one among many
institutions that he explores: schools (P'tang, Yang Kippperbang),
taxi drivers (The Knowledge), the army (Bootse and Snudge),
refuse collectors (The Dustbinmen), firemen (London Is
Burning), TV drama (Ready When You Are Mr McGill). He
is also interested in the common experiences that many of us face
at particular moments of our lives: moving house (The Chain),
growing up (Bar Mitzvah Boy, P'tang, Yang, Kippperbang),
falling in love (The Lovers) forgetfulness and old age (A
Day to Remember).
strength of Rosenthal's comedy lies in its closeness to tragedy:
from another perspective the petty cruelties of the stepmother in
The Evacuees could have blighted the lives of the children,
but both plot and psychological insight combine to restore harmony
and recognize the cruelty as misplaced possessiveness. So too, in
A Day to Remember, the terror and pain of short-term memory
loss attendant on a stroke in old age is contained and balanced
by the comic presentation of the gaps and imperfections that beset
the middle-aged. If the comic vision is shown as a wise perceptiveness
about the frailties of the human condition, this is not sentimentalized.
The insight that comes through comedy is one that is often painfully
achieved: the schoolboy hero of P'tang, Yang, Kipperbang is
only able to kiss his first love and enter upon adult sexuality
by recognizing the fantasy element of that anticipated delight.
To fulfil his desire means abandoning private fantasy and entering
the real world in which people are both less than we would wish
and more diverse than we could expect. Similarly, when the aspirant
cabby in The Knowledge finally achieves his ambition to be a London
taxi driver he discovers his girlfriend, the initial driving force
behind his application, frustrated with his neglect of her demanded
by the discipline of acquiring "the knowledge" (he has to learn
by heart the streets and landmarks of London by perpetually driving
around them), has fallen for somebody else. Knowledge of chaps rather
than maps turns out to be that which is most difficult to acquire.
the comedy of Jack Rosenthal is invariably rooted in a recognizable
social setting which has been carefully researched, the characters
are not deeply explored. Our interest is focused on the themes they
are the means to realizing: in Another Sunday, and Sweet
FA the frustrations of refereeing a football match is the opportunity
for a comic disquisition on the competing claims of power and justice;
in P'tang, Yang, Kipperbang imagination and the reality principle
struggle for an accommodation, in The Chain the seven deadly
sins provide the motivation for Fortuna's wheel of house-hunting.
If there is a thread which underlies most of Rosenthal's work it
is that our desire as individuals to do good in order to be liked
and admired is at variance with our role as social beings to impose
order, our order, on others. Wisdom comes when we learn to accommodate
these competing demands and accept responsibility for fulfilling
Photo courtesy of Jack Rosenthal
MORRIS RESENTHAL. Born 8 September 1931. Attended Colne Grammar
School; Sheffield University, B.A. in English Language and Literature.
Married Maureen Lipman in 1973; one son and one daughter. Early
contributions as a writer for television included 150 scripts for
Coronation Street; subsequently consolidated reputation with comedy
series and one-off dramas, several of which were pilots for series.
Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 1994. M.A.: University
of Salford, 1994. D.Litt.: University of Manchester, 1995. Recipient:
British Academy of Film and Television Arts Writer's Award, 1976;
Royal Television Society Writer's Award, 1976; British Academy of
Film and Television Arts Best Play Award, 1976, 1977. Address: William
Morris Agency, 31-32 Soho Square, London W1V 5DG, U.K.
That Was the Week That Was
1961-69 Coronation Street (150 episodes)
1965 Pardon the Expression
1969-70 The Dustbinmen
1970-71 The Lovers
1975 Sadie, It's Cold Outside
1994 Moving Story
contributed to: The Odd Man; The Villains; Mrs Thursday; Comedy
Playhouse; About Face.
1963 Pie in the Sky
1963 Green Rub
1968 There's a Hole in Your Dustbin, Delilah
1972 Another Sunday and Sweet FA
1974 Polly Put the Kettle On
1974 Mr Ellis Versus The People
1974 There'll Almost Always Be an England
1975 The Evacuees
1976 Ready When You Are, Mr McGill
1976 Bar Mitzvah Boy
1977 Spend, Spend, Spend
1979 Spaghetti Two-Step
1979 The Knowledge
1982 P'tang Yang Kipperbang
1985 Mrs Capper's Birthday
1986 Fools on the Hill
1986 London's Burning
1986 Day to Remember
1989 And a Nightingale Sang
1989 Bag Lady
1991 Sleeping Sickness
1992 'Bye, 'Bye, Baby
1993 Wide-Eyed and Legless
Star, 1980; Yentl, with Barbra Streisand, 1983; The
The Television Dramatist, with others. London: Elek, 1973.
Award Winning Television Plays: Bar Mitzvah Boy, The Evacuees, Spend,
Spend, Spend. London: Harmondsworth, 1978.
Loves: Stories (anthology). London: Hamilton, 1984.
The Chain, with The Knowledge, and Ready When You Are, Mr. McGill.
Boston: Faber and Faber, 1986.
the Week That Was