Thursday 9 August 2018

Giles Cooper

Today is the centenary of the birth of Giles Cooper – a name that might still mean something to lovers of radio drama (if they're of a certain age). Cooper was a prolific dramatist who wrote for both radio and TV – among much else, he adapted Simenon's Maigret novels for the hugely successful TV series starring pipe-smoking Rupert Davies. Perhaps his best known radio play was Unman, Wittering and Zigo, which also became a TV drama and a feature film (screenplay by Simon Raven).
  Cooper, who was born into a landed Anglo-Irish family, confounded family expectations by enrolling in drama school, but before much longer he was conscripted into the Army and sent to Burma, where he fought for three years in the jungle in that most gruelling of campaigns (see George MacDonald Fraser's Quartered Safe Out Here). After the war Cooper worked as an actor (encountering Kenneth Williams and Harold Pinter in rep), then moved into script editing and playwriting. He died at the age of 48 after, bizarrely, falling from a train as it passed through Surbiton. He had been attending the Guild of Dramatists' Christmas dinner at the Garrick and was perhaps excessively refreshed. The coroner's verdict was misadventure.
  Happily his name lived on for some years after his death, in the shape of the Giles Cooper Awards for radio drama, jointly sponsored by the BBC and the publishers Methuen. These awards ran from 1978 to 1992, and winners included Tom Stoppard, William Trevor, Fay Weldon, Anthony Minghella, Rose Tremain and bloody Harold Pinter. I remember being at several of the (pretty minimal) awards ceremonies back in the days when I was writing about radio for the late lamented Listener. A pity there isn't a prestigious award for radio drama these days – it might raise the standard.

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