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Simon James Holliday Gray, CBE (21 October 1936 – 6 August 2008), was a Britishmarker playwright and memoirist who also had a career as a university lecturer in English literature at Queen Mary, University of Londonmarker, for 20 years. While teaching at Queen Mary, Gray began his writing career as a novelist in 1963 and, during the next 45 years, in addition to 5 published novels, wrote 40 original stage plays, screenplays, and screen adaptations of his own and others' works for stage, film, and television and became well known for the self-deprecating wit characteristic of several volumes of memoirs or diaries.


Simon James Holliday Gray was born on 21 October 1936 on Hayling Islandmarker, in Hampshire, Englandmarker, where his father, James, a G.P. who became a pathologist later, worked. In 1939, during World War II, when he was three years old, he was evacuated to Montrealmarker, Canadamarker, to live in "a house where his grandfather and [his grandfather's] alcoholic wife were attended upon by a younger aunt"; in 1945, when he was nearly 10, he returned to England, where he was educated at Westminster Schoolmarker, in Londonmarker. In 1965, he was appointed a lecturer in English at Queen Mary College, Londonmarker. In 1967, he received a B.A. from Dalhousie Universitymarker, Halifax, Nova Scotiamarker; and, in 1971, another B.A. from Trinity College, Cambridgemarker.

He married his first wife, Beryl Kevern, in 1965; they had two children, a son, Benjamin, and a daughter, Lucy, and were divorced in 1997. During their marriage, he had an eight-year affair with another Queen Marymarker lecturer, Victoria Katherine Rothschild (1953– ), a daughter of Sir Nathaniel Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild; in 1997, after his divorce, they married, living together in West London, until his death on 6 August 2008.

In 2004 he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to drama and literature.

Suffering from both lung cancer and prostate cancer and related ailments at the time of his death, he died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, on 6 August 2008, at the age of 71.


When he was still in his 20s, he started his writing career as a novelist with Colmain, published by Faber and Faber in 1963. His career in drama began when he adapted one of his own short stories, The Caramel Crisis, for television. He subsequently wrote a number of plays for, amongst others, the Wednesday Play and Play for Today series for the BBC, frequently in collaboration with the producer Kenith Trodd. Gray wrote 40 plays and screenplays for the stage, television, and film and 8 volumes of memoirs based on his diaries.

Wise Child, an adaptation of a TV play deemed too shocking for the small screen, was his first stage play. It starred Simon Ward and Alec Guinness and was produced by Michael Codron at Wyndham's Theatremarker in 1967. Subsequently, he wrote original plays for both radio and television and adaptations, including: an TV adaptation of The Rector’s Daughter, by F. M. Mayor); stage adaptations of Tartuffe and The Idiot. His original television screenplays include Running Late, After Pilkington, Unnatural Pursuits, and A Month in the Country. His 1971 play Butley, produced by Michael Codron, began a long creative partnership with Harold Pinter as director (of both the play and the film versions) and continued the partnership with the actor Alan Bates begun with Gray's 1967 television play Death of a Teddy Bear; Bates starred in 11 of Gray's works, while Pinter directed 10 separate productions of Gray's works for stage, film, and television, beginning with Butley; the last one was a stage production of The Old Masters, starring Peter Bowles and Edward Fox.

As with Butley (1981) and Otherwise Engaged (1975), whose London productions and films both starred Bates, and Quartermaine's Terms (1981), starring Fox, Gray "often returned to the subject of the lives and trials of educated intellectuals."

He wrote many other successful stage plays, including The Common Pursuit, The Late Middle Classes, Hidden Laughter, Japes, Close of Play, The Rear Column, and Little Nell, several of which he directed himself.

In 1984, at the suggestion of Robert McCrum, Faber editor-in-chief at that time, he kept a diary of the London premiere of The Common Pursuit (directed by Pinter at the Lyric Hammersmithmarker), resulting in the first of his 8 volumes of theatre-related and personal memoirs, An Unnatural Pursuit (Faber 1985), and culminating in the critically-acclaimed trilogy entitled The Smoking Diaries (Granta, 2004–2008).

Gray's play about George Blake, Cell Mates (1995), starring Rik Mayall, Stephen Fry and Simon Ward, attracted media attention when Stephen Fry abruptly "fled to Brugesmarker" after the third performance, thus leaving the show without its lead actor. Gray subsequently wrote his theatrical memoir Fat Chance, providing a scathingly-hilarious account of the episode.

In August 2008, shortly before his death, he attracted further press attention with his criticism of the Royal National Theatremarker's "cowardice" in dealing with the subject of radical Islam.

Posthumous tributes and related developments

Gray's final volume of diaries, Coda, "so named because it rounds off the trilogy of 'Smoking Diaries' (The Smoking Diaries, The Year of the Jouncer and The Last Cigarette) … a meditation on death, or rather dying, an account of living on borrowed time," was published posthumously by Faber and Faber and Granta in November 2008. From 8 to 12 December 2008, in five 15-minute episodes, actor Toby Stephens read from this "candid and darkly comic account of coming to terms with terminal cancer" for BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.

Simon Gray: A Celebration, directed by Harry Burton, who directed Gray's last stage production in Spring 2008 (Quartermaine's Terms at Theatre Royal, Windsormarker), was held at the Comedy Theatremarker, in Londonmarker, on 15 March 2009.

A production entitled The Last Cigarette, based on Gray's and Hugh Whitemore's adaptation of the three volumes of his memoirs called The Smoking Diaries and directed by Richard Eyre, is being staged at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, Englandmarker, through 11 April 2009. On 28 April 2009, after previewing from 21 April, the production, in which Felicity Kendal, Nicholas Le Prevost, and Jasper Britton all continue to "portray the playwright through the course of the play," transfers to the Trafalgar Studiosmarker, in London's West Endmarker, where it runs through 1 August 2009.

There may be an official Simon Gray website being developed as a resource about his career.



Television plays

  • The Caramel Crisis (BBC, Thirty Minute Theatre, 25 April 1966)
  • Death of a Teddy Bear, based on the Francis Rattenbury 1935 murder case (BBC, Wednesday Play, 15 February 1967)
  • A Way with the Ladies (BBC, Wednesday Play, 10 May 1967)
  • Sleeping Dogs (BBC, Wednesday Play, 11 October 1967)
  • The Princess, adapted from a D. H. Lawrence short story (BBC, The Jazz Age, 1968)
  • Spoiled (BBC, Wednesday Play 28 August 1968); Methuen Plays (1971) ISBN 0416186300
  • Mother Love, adapted from W. Somerset Maugham (BBC, August 1969)
  • Pig in a Poke (ITV, Saturday Night Theatre, March 1969)
  • The Dirt on Lucy Lane (ITV, Saturday Night Theatre, April 1969)
  • The Style of the Countess, adapted from the novel by Gavin Lambert (ITV, Playhouse, August 1970)
  • Man in a Side-Car (BBC, Play for Today, May 1971)
  • Plaintiffs and Defendants (BBC, October 1975)
  • Two Sundays (BBC, October 1975)

Films for television

  • The Rear Column (BBC, 1980)
  • Quartermaine's Terms (BBC, 1987)
  • After Pilkington (BBC, January 1987)
  • Old Flames (BBC, 1990)
  • They Never Slept (BBC, March 1991)
  • The Common Pursuit (BBC, March 1992)
  • Running Late (BBC, October 1992)
  • Unnatural Pursuits (semi-autobiographical, two-part satire, BBC, December 1992)
  • Femme Fatale (BBC, February 1993)


  • Colmain, Faber (1963)
  • Simple People, Faber (1965)
  • A Comeback for Stark (writing as Hamish Reade), Putnam (1968), Faber (1969)
  • Little Portia, Faber (1986) ISBN 0571145980
  • Breaking Hearts, Faber (1997) ISBN 0571172385


  • An Unnatural Pursuit and Other Pieces, Faber (1985) ISBN 0571137199
  • How's that for Telling 'em, Fat Lady?, Faber (1988) ISBN 0571151396
  • Fat Chance, Faber (1995) ISBN 0571177921
  • Enter A Fox, Faber (2001) ISBN 0571209408
  • The Smoking Diaries, Granta Books (2004) ISBN 186207688X
  • The Year of the Jouncer, Granta Books (2006) ISBN 1862078963
  • The Last Cigarette: Smoking Diaries Volume 3, Granta Books (2008) ISBN 1847080383
  • Coda, Granta Books (2008) ISBN 1847080944

Collected plays

The Definitive Simon Gray. In 4 vols. London: Faber, 1992–1994.
Vol. 1: Butley and Other Plays (1992). ISBN 0571162231.
Vol. 2: Otherwise Engaged and Other Plays (1992). ISBN 0571162401.
Vol. 3 (1993). ISBN 0571164536.
Vol. 4 (1994). ISBN 0571166598.

Key Plays. Introd. Harold Pinter. London: Faber, 2002. ISBN 057121634X. (Includes: Butley; Otherwise Engaged; Close of Play; Quartermaine's Terms; and The Late Middle Classes.)

Honours and awards

  • 1967 Writer's Guild Award for Best Play, for Death of a Teddy Bear
  • 1971 Evening Standard Award, for Butley
  • 1975 Best Play, New York Drama Critics' Circle and Evening Standard Award, for Otherwise Engaged
  • 1977 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play (foreign), for Otherwise Engaged
  • 1982 Cheltenham Literary Prize, for Quartermaine's Terms
  • 1987 Prix Italia, for After Pilkington
  • 1993 Golden Gate Award for a Television Feature, San Francisco International Film Festival, for Running Late
  • 1999 Barclays Theatre Award for Best New Play, for The Late Middle Classes
  • 2004 Appointed CBE for services to Drama and Literature

See also


  1. (Gardner and other sources cite the date of Gray's death as 6 August 2008; some sources, including the obituary by Billington and the book rev. by Scurr, give the day of Gray's death as 7 August 2008.)
  2. (Converted to a memorial site after death of Alan Bates.)
  3. According to Young, she learned from talking with actor and director Harry Burton that Simon Gray's widow, Victoria Gray, "was thinking of creating a website for her late husband, as an online resource for anyone interested in his work," and Young, who says she creates websites for magazines, "leapt at the chance. Can't think of anything nicer than working on a literary website for a change (instead of magazine ones, which is what I am doing at the moment)." Young recounts meeting with Victoria Gray to discuss details about creating such a website.

Further reading

Articles and book reviews

Barber, Lynn. "'I wrote a lot of my plays drunk. It liberated me'." Guardian. Guardian Media Group, 4 Apr. 2004. Web. 30 Mar. 2009.

Billington, Michael. "Memo to the BBC: Bring Back Simon Gray's TV Plays". Guardian, Theatre Blog. Guardian Media Group, 16 Mar. 2009. Web. 29 Mar. 2009.

"Gray, Simon." Who's Who in the Theatre. 15th and 16th eds. London: Pitman, 1972 & 1977; 17th ed. London: Gale, 1981.

Scurr, Martin. "Ask the Doctor: By the Way". Mail on Sunday, Health. Daily Mail and General Trust, 26 Aug. 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2009. (" ... My friend and patient Simon Gray, the playwright, died on August 7. His most recent book, The Last Cigarette, is part of his memoirs, The Smoking Diaries." [Book rev.])

"Simon Gray". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2009. Web. 7 Apr. 2009.

Taylor, Alan. "Benefit of the Dowt". Sunday Herald. SMG Sunday Newspapers Ltd., 25 Apr. 2004. ProQuest. (BNET). Web. 6 Apr. 2009. (Book rev. of The Smoking Diaries.)

Fort, Viola. "Simon Gray". Untitled Books., 6 June 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2009. ("His reflective, moving and often very funny memoirs have brought Simon Gray a whole new readership outside theatre circles. The third volume, The Last Cigarette, is a triumph. He tells Viola Fort how memory is an act of imagination.")

Hattenstone, Simon. "Interview: Simon Gray: The Butt-ends of His Days". Guardian. Guardian Media Group, 28 July 2007. Web. 30 Mar. 2009. ("His memoirs made him a poster boy for smoking, but at 70 playwright Simon Gray has finished the final volume and is finally cutting down, he tells Simon Hattenstone.")

Obituaries and tributes

Alberge, Dalya. "Simon Gray, Self-Deprecating Writer and Smoker Dies". Times, Obituary. News Corporation, 8 Aug. 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2009.

Billington, Michael. "Remembering Simon Gray". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group, 8 Aug. 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2009.

Gardner, Lyn. "Simon Gray: Playwright, Diarist and Novelist Who Bridged the Gulf between Intellectual and Popular Drama. The Guardian. Guardian Media Group, 7 Aug. 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2009.

Gould, Tony. Appreciation: Simon Gray, 1936–2008: Smoker, Gambler, Teacher and Writer with an Enviable Gift for Friendship". Observer. Guardian Media Group, 10 Aug. 2008. Web. 30 Mar. 2009.

"Simon Gray: Rakish and Versatile Playwright". Times Online, Obituaries. News Corporation, 8 Aug. 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2009.

Spencer, Charles. "Simon Gray: 'I will never forget his kindness' ". Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 15 Aug. 2009. Web. 30 Mar. 2009.

Strachan, Alan. "Simon Gray, Playwright, Novelist and Author of a Series of Hilarious Irascible Memoirs". Independent. Independent News & Media, 8 Aug. 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2009.

Weber, Bruce. "Simon Gray, Playwright, Dies at 71: Aimed Wit at Intellectuals, and Himself". New York Times, Obituary. New York Times Companymarker, 8 Aug. 2008. Web. 30 Mar. 2009.

Young, Josa. "The Late Great Simon Gray". The Huffington Post, 25 Mar. 2009. Web. 29 Mar. 2009.

Performance reviews

Theatre Record and its annual Indexes.

External links

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