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Terence Rattigan

Sir Terence Mervyn Rattigan (June 10 1911November 30 1977) was one of England's most popular 20th century dramatists. He was born in London of Irish extraction, educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Oxford, and his plays are generally situated within an upper middle class background.

Life and career

Success as a playwright came early, with the comedy French Without Tears in 1936, set in a crammer. Rattigan's determination to write a more serious play produced After the Dance (1939), a satirical social drama about the "bright young things" and their failure to politically engage. The outbreak of the Second World War scuppered any chances of a long run. After the war Rattigan alternated between comedies and dramas, establishing himself as a major playwright: the most famous of which were The Winslow Boy (1946), The Browning Version (1948), The Deep Blue Sea (1952), and Separate Tables (1954).

Rattigan believed in understated emotions, and craftsmanship, which after the overnight success of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in 1956 was deemed old fashioned. Rattigan responded to his critical disfavour with some bitterness. Some churlish interviews served only to confirm the view that he had no sympathy or understanding of the modern world. His plays Ross, Man and Boy, In Praise of Love, and Cause Célèbre, however show no sign of any decline in his talent.

He was a gay, with numerous lovers but no long-term partners. It has been claimed that his work is essentially autobiographical, containing coded references to his sexuality, which he kept secret from all but his closest friends. There is some truth in this, but it risks being crudely reductive, for example the repeated claim that Rattigan originally wrote The Deep Blue Sea as a play about male lovers, turning into a heterosexual play at the last minute, is unfounded. His female characters are written as females and are in no sense 'men in drag'.

He was diagnosed as having leukaemia in 1962 and recovered two years later, but fell ill again in 1968. He disliked the so-called Swinging London of the 1960s and moved abroad, living in Bermuda, where he lived off the proceeds from lucrative screenplays including The V.I.P.s and The Yellow Rolls-Royce. For a time he was the highest-paid screenwriter in the world. He was knighted in the early seventies and moved back to Britain, where he experienced a minor revival in his reputation before his death. He died in Hamilton, Bermuda from bone cancer in 1977 at the age of 66.

Fifteen years after his death, largely through a revival of The Deep Blue Sea, at the Almeida Theatre, London, directed by Karel Reisz, Rattigan has increasingly been seen as one of the century's finest playwrights, an expert choreographer of emotion, and an anatomist of human emotional pain. A string of successful revivals followed, including Man and Boy at the Duchess Theatre, London, in 2005, with David Suchet as Gregor Antonescu, and In Praise of Love at the Chichester Festival Theatre and Separate Tables at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, in 2006. His play on the last days of Nelson, A Bequest to the Nation was revived on Radio 4 for Trafalgar 200, starring Janet McTeer as Lady Hamilton, Kenneth Branagh as Nelson, and Amanda Root as Lady Nelson.

Stage plays

  • 1934 First Episode (written with Philip Heimann)
  • 1936 French Without Tears
  • 1939 After the Dance
  • 1940 Follow My Leader (written with Anthony Maurice [aka, Tony Goldschmidt])
  • 1940 Grey Farm (written with Hector Bolitho)
  • 1942 Flare Path
  • 1943 While the Sun Shines
  • 1944 Love in Idleness
  • 1946 The Winslow Boy
  • 1948 Playbill (comprising Harlequinade and The Browning Version)
  • 1949 Adventure Story
  • 1950 A Tale of Two Cities (from Dickens, co-adapted with John Gielgud)
  • 1950 Who is Sylvia?
  • 1952 The Deep Blue Sea
  • 1953 The Sleeping Prince
  • 1954 Separate Tables (comprising Table By the Window and Table No. 7)
  • 1958 Variation on a Theme
  • 1960 Ross
  • 1960 Joie de Vivre (written with Robert Stolz and Paul Dehn)
  • 1963 Man and Boy
  • 1970 A Bequest to the Nation
  • 1973 In Praise of Love (comprising After Lydia and Before Dawn)
  • 1976 Duologue (stage adaptation of All On Her Own, see below)
  • 1977 Cause Célèbre

Television plays

Several of his later plays were adapted for film and/or television. The best-known are:

Radio Play

Many of Rattigan's stage plays have been produced for radio by the BBC. The first play he wrote directly for radio was Cause Célèbre, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 27 October 1975, based on the 1935 murder of Francis Rattenbury.


  • Rattigan lived briefly at The Red House in the Berkshire village of Sonning during 1945–47 and there is a blue plaque recording his stay there, visible from the road.
  • He was a cousin of the Franciscan John Bradburne.

External links

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