TV playwright and Hall owner dies aged 86

Playwright and dramatist Ian Curteis died in Harrogate Hospital on Wednesday November 24 after a long illness aged 86.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 3:43 pm

Mr Curteis, who had lived at Markenfield Hall, near Ripon with his wife Lady Deidre, was instrumental in recent restorations at the Hall and the wider estate.

“Together he and Lady Deirdre opened their home to the public and shared with visitors their love of this unique building,” said a spokesman for the Hall.

“For all he has done, the Hall gives its thanks.”

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Born on May 1, 1935, in London, his childhood ambition to become a playwright for theatre, found fame in broadcasting where his plays attracted the best of British actors.

Mr Curteis was among the best writers of the 1970s and 80s with series such as Crown Court, Z-Cars and the immensely popular Onedin Line to his name.

It was a far cry from his first job which was sweeping the stage at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in the East End.

“There he slept on dressing room floors, while dissecting and studying the plays being rehearsed – convinced that if he could master the mechanics of a great play he could eventually write one of his own,” added the spokesman.

From there he graduated to weekly rep, across the country, as actor and later as director.

It was from here that he was approached by the BBC to become a director for the newly-launched BBC-2 where, among others works, he directed John Betjeman’s Pity About the Abbey.

At the age of 30 he turned his back on this fascinating and frenetic career to follow his dream of becoming a playwright once more.

Forty highly successful years followed, largely for television, some for radio, and less for his first-love – theatre.

Despite his great success with critically-acclaimed dramas such as Churchill and the Generals and Philby, Burgess and Maclean, it was perhaps for his controversy that he will be best remembered.

In 1983 the BBC commissioned him to write a play depicting the drama and infighting in Downing Street that led up to the British military intervention in the Falkland Islands.

Once delivered, it became apparent that the script clashed with the ethos of time, in casting Margaret Thatcher in a favourable light.

The result was a creative stand-off. The BBC demanded that the play be should rewritten, and that the script be made to reflect its own thinking.

Mr Curteis stood his ground, unable to insert historical inaccuracies into this factual representation of a nationally significant event that would be created in his name.

The production was cancelled and questions were asked in the House of Commons.

“At a hastily arranged press conference, the newly appointed BBC Director of Programmes pointed the blame at Curteis and overnight he became persona non grata at the BBC for a number of years,” added the Markenfield Hall spokesman. “And this is why he listed dissidence as his recreational pastime.”

Mr Curteis is survived by his wife, two sons, two stepsons, two step-daughters.