The author became friendly with the American dancer Isadora Duncan towards the very end of her life, when she was penniless and alone, and in 1928, shortly after her death, wrote a memoir of his conversations with her entitled Isadora, an Intimate Portrait. Years later, he co-wrote the film script for the BBC TV film, Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World, with director Ken Russell. Starring Vivian Pickles and Peter Bowles, the film was first broadcast on 22 September 1966. In 1968 his memoir of Duncan, together with her autobiography, My Life, were adapted by Melvyn Bragg for the film Isadora (US title: The Loves of Isadora), directed by Karel Reisz and starring Vanessa Redgrave and James Fox. In his 1954 novel Recital in Paris the character of Sarah Menken was substantially modelled on that of Isadora Duncan.
Stokes, together with Christine Jope-Slade, wrote the play Britannia of Billingsgate, which was produced by A. R. Whatmore at the St Martin's Theatre, London, on 30 November 1931 and made into a film of the same name, directed by Sinclair Hall, in 1933. Other screenwriting successes followed in 1934 with Rolling in Money, directed by Albert Parker, and in 1941 when Stokes co-wrote, with Lydia Hayward, the script for the film You Will Remember, directed by Jack Raymond. The film was based on the life of the popular late Victorian songwriter Leslie Stuart, played here by Robert Morley, and co-starred Emlyn Williams as Stuart's best friend.
Stokes co-wrote a series of plays with his brother, Leslie, beginning with Laura Garnett, whose main character had much in common with Isadora Duncan. The play was first performed at Dobbs Ferry, New York State, in July 1934 with Ethel Barrymore and later in the Arts Theatre Club, London, in September 1936 with Mary Clare playing the title role.
The Four Partners, a play in German by Jochen Huth, was adapted by Stokes and produced by Margaret Webster at London's Q Theatre in October 1936.
Oscar Wilde was the most successful of the Stokes brothers' plays. The play was based on the life of Oscar Wilde in which Wilde's friend, the controversial author and journalist Frank Harris, appears as a character. Starring Robert Morley, John Bryning and Frith Banbury, directed by Norman Marshall, the play had its first production at London's Gate Theatre Studio in 1936. Recast, with Francis L. Sullivan in the title role, it was revived at London's Arts Theatre Club in 1938. Because of its subject matter the play was not granted a licence by the Lord Chamberlain and could, therefore, only be staged in England at a theatre club where membership was required. There were no such problems in New York where the play opened the same year, again with Morley in the title role, on Broadway at the Fulton Theatre where it ran for 247 performances.
At that time Robert Morley was known in America only through his portrayal of Louis XVI, the French King, in the film Marie Antoinette and it was his success with the role of Wilde that launched his career as a stage actor on both sides of the Atlantic. The play, which contains much of Wilde's actual writings, opens in Algiers where Wilde and his friend Lord Alfred Douglas are on holiday together. They return to London for the opening of The Importance of Being Earnest and to attend Wilde's libel suit against the Marquis of Queensbury, Lord Alfred's father. Wilde's own trial and conviction follow and the play ends in Paris with his decline into alcoholism after his release from prison.
The Stokes brothers continued there collaboration with Out of Sight, a play about prison life, first presented at the Gate Theatre Studio on 4 March 1937 where it was directed by Norman Marshall and later the same year there was another production of the play at the Tavistock Little Theatre which was directed by Vincent Pearmain. Next came Frozen Glory, a play about polar exploration, first performed at the Gate Theatre Studio on 10 February 1938 where it was directed by A.E.Filmer.
From 1941 to 1945 he served as a probation officer at Bow Street Magistrates' Court, London, and in 1950 he wrote an autobiographical account of his experiences there, entitled Court Circular published in paperback by Pan Books. In 1952 the book was made into the film I Believe in You, directed by Basil Dearden & Michael Relph and starring Celia Johnson, Cecil Parker, Harry Fowler, Joan Collins and George Relph. Stokes described a tour through British prisons of the day in his book Come to Prison, published in 1957, and in 1965 his book Our Dear Delinquents, on a similar theme, was published.
Stokes was a close friend of the actor Robert Morley and in 1953 wrote, Without Veils. The Intimate Biography of Gladys Cooper, about Morley's mother-in-law, the actress Gladys Cooper. Later, in 1966, he co-wrote a biography of Robert Morley himself entitled Robert Morley "Responsible Gentleman". The title aludes to the fact that Morley started his acting career as a "responsible gentleman", an actor who portrayed professional men such as doctors, lawyers and official receivers in bankruptcy cases.
In 1955 Stokes completed the novel, Beyond His Means, based on the life of Oscar Wilde. The film Oscar Wilde, based on the Stokes brothers' play, and directed by Gregory Ratoff, starred Robert Morley,Ralph Richardson, was released in 1960. This coincided with the release of The Trials of Oscar Wilde, a film directed by Ken Hughes, in which Peter Finch played the title role. The title of Stokes's memoir, Rarely Pure, published in 1952, was taken from the line "The truth is rarely pure and never simple" spoken by character Algernon Moncrieff in Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest. The memoir is subtitled "The Memoirs of a Young Man in Search of Sex".
Stokes worked as a screenplay advisor on Tony Richardson's films The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), starring Tom Courtney and Michael Redgrave, and on Tom Jones (1963), starring Albert Finney and Susannah York, and based on the novel of the same name by Henry Fielding.
SHERIDAN MORLEY ; Drama-Critic Son of Robert Morley, Biographer of Noel Coward and Prodigious Writer and Broadcaster
Feb 19, 2007; London theatre first nights will for the immediate future seem lacking without the familiar presence (over 30 years a critic) of...