Trevor Griffiths obituary: Dramatist whose dramas dominated 1960s and 70s television

Trevor Griffiths, who has died at 88, was a passionate, prolific and political writer whose television dramas dominated the nation’s screens during the 1960s and 70s.

He is perhaps best known for Comedians, Occupations, and Bill Brand, his 1976 11-part Thames TV series about a left-wing Labour MP struggling to cope with life in Westminster.

Griffiths was born in Manchester of Irish and Welsh parents and after reading English literature at Manchester University was a teacher for eight years.

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He became the BBC’s further education officer from 1965 to 1972 based in Leeds at the old Broadcasting House on Woodhouse Lane, which was then a thriving hub of BBC drama with Alfred Bradley producer of radio drama and veteran of Northern Drift and the playwright Alan Ayckbourn.

English dramatist Trevor Griffiths, pictured in 1973.  (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)English dramatist Trevor Griffiths, pictured in 1973.  (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
English dramatist Trevor Griffiths, pictured in 1973. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Griffiths was inspired by the 18th century political philosopher and activist Thomas Paine, author of The Rights of Man, and for years a gathering was held in Leeds each January on the occasion of Paine’s birthday.

Trevor wanted to make an impact and preferred to write for television with its audiences of millions rather than the thousands through stage and film. His first commission was from the producer Tony Garnett for The Wednesday Play on BBC1. The result was a script called The Love Maniac, set inside a school, but it went unproduced, even after Garnett went off to London Weekend Television with more or less a blank sheet of paper.

However, Griffiths was sufficiently enthused to write Occupations, a stage play about the Fiat factory occupations in pre-war Italy. This brought him to the attention of the critic Kenneth Tynan, artistic director of the National Theatre, who commissioned him to write The Party, a critique of the British revolutionary left which starred Laurence Olivier in his last role at the National as a Glaswegian Trotskyite. Its critical failure propelled Griffiths increasingly towards TV as a medium better suited to subtle dramatic subversion.

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He produced a series of TV plays, including Absolute Beginners (1974) and when he returned to the stage two years later with Comedians, Warren Beatty asked him to write a screenplay for his long cherished project about the American poet and activist, John Reed. It eventually eventually became the Oscar-winning film, Reds.

The changing political climate of the 1980s saw Griffiths’ work less in demand but he continued to produce compelling work, not least Food for Ravens, commissioned in 1997 to mark the centenary of the birth of the Labour politician Aneurin Bevan.

He lived in Boston Spa with his family. His wife, Janice Stansfield, whom he married in 1960, was killed in an air crash in Cuba in 1977 and he later married Gill Cliff who survives him along with his three children and his grandchildren.

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