Simon Gray

Simon James Holliday Gray CBE FRSL (21 October 1936 – 7 August 2008)[1] was an English playwright and memoirist who also had a career as a university lecturer in English literature at Queen Mary, University of London, for 20 years.[2][3] While teaching at Queen Mary, Gray began his writing career as a novelist in 1963 and, during the next 45 years, in addition to five 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.[4][5][6][7]

Simon Gray
BornSimon James Holliday Gray
(1936-10-21)21 October 1936
Hayling Island, Hampshire, England
Died7 August 2008(2008-08-07) (aged 71)
OccupationPlaywright, screenwriter, memoirist, novelist
academic (1965–1985)
EducationWestminster School
Alma materDalhousie University (B.A., 1957) and Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1961)
GenreDrama, screenplay, memoir, novel
Notable worksButley, Quartermaine's Terms, Otherwise Engaged, The Smoking Diaries
SpouseBeryl Kevern Gray (1965–1997)
Victoria Katherine Rothschild Gray (1997–2008)

Literature portal


Simon James Holliday Gray was born on 21 October 1936 on Hayling Island, in Hampshire, England to James Gray and his wife Barbara (née Holliday). His father (who later became a pathologist) worked on the island as GP.[8] In 1939, during World War II, when he was three years old, he and his elder brother Nigel were evacuated to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 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 School, in London.[8] In 1957, he received a BA from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia; and, in 1961, another B.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge.[8][9] In 1965, he was appointed a lecturer in English at Queen Mary College, London.[6][8]

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.[5][8] During their marriage, he had an eight-year affair with another Queen Mary lecturer, Victoria Katherine Rothschild (b. 1953), a daughter of Sir Nathaniel Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild;[2][5][10][11] in 1997, after his divorce, they married, living together in west London, until his death on 6 August 2008.[12]

In 2004 he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to drama and literature.[8]

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 7 August 2008, at the age of 71.[4][6][13]


When he was still in his 20s, he began his writing career as a novelist with Colmain, published by Faber and Faber in 1963.[14] 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 BBC anthology series, frequently in collaboration with the producer Kenith Trodd.[15] Gray wrote 40 plays and screenplays for the stage, television, and film and eight volumes of memoirs based on his diaries.[14]

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 Theatre 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 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.[14][16][17]

As with Butley (1971) 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."[14]

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 Hammersmith), 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).[18]

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 Bruges" after the third performance, thus leaving the show without its lead actor.[3] Gray subsequently wrote his theatrical memoir Fat Chance, providing a scathingly hilarious account of the episode.[19]

In August 2008, shortly before his death, he attracted further press attention with his criticism of the Royal National Theatre's "cowardice" in dealing with the subject of radical Islam.[20]

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.[21][22] 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.[23]

Simon Gray: A Celebration, directed by Harry Burton, who directed Gray's last stage production in Spring 2008 (Quartermaine's Terms at Theatre Royal, Windsor),[24] was held at the Comedy Theatre, in London, on 15 March 2009.[25]

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, opened at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, England, in April 2009.[26][27] The production, with Felicity Kendal, Nicholas Le Prevost, and Jasper Britton, then transferred to the Trafalgar Studios, in London's West End,[28][29]

An official web site was launched in October 2009.[30]

The Late Middle Classes finally received its London premiere on 27 May 2010 at the Donmar Warehouse in London, directed by David Leveaux and starring Helen McCrory, Eleanor Bron, Peter Sullivan and Robert Glenister. The original production of the play, directed by Harold Pinter, was prevented from reaching its intended West End theatre by a musical about a boy band.[31] Gray's experience of this production is the subject of his diary Enter a Fox.

In May–June 2014 In the Vale of Health, consisting of three unseen plays and one revival—Japes, Michael, Japes Too and Missing Dates—was performed at the Hampstead Theatre, London, directed by Tamara Harvey and starring Gethin Anthony, Jamie Ballard, Imogen Doel, Tom Mothersdale and Laura Rees. The plays tell the story, from different perspectives, of two brothers who fall in love with the same woman.


  • Wise Child, Wyndham's Theatre (1967)
  • Dutch Uncle, Aldwych Theatre (1969)
  • The Idiot (adapted from Dostoyevsky), Old Vic (1970)
  • Spoiled, Haymarket Theatre (February 1971)
  • Butley, Criterion Theatre (1971)[32]
  • Otherwise Engaged, Queen's Theatre (1975)
  • Dog Days, Oxford 1976; Eyre Methuen (1976) ISBN 0-413-37270-7
  • Molly, stage adaptation of his television play Death of a Teddy Bear (1967), based on the Francis Rattenbury 1935 murder case, Comedy Theatre (1978)
  • The Rear Column, The Globe Theatre (1978); Eyre Methuen (1978) ISBN 0-413-39170-1
  • Close of Play, National Theatre Lyttelton (1979)
  • Stage Struck, Vaudeville Theatre (1979)
  • Quartermaine's Terms, Queen's Theatre (1981)
  • Tartuffe (adaptation), Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. (1982)
  • The Common Pursuit, Lyric Hammersmith (1984)
  • Melon (later revised as The Holy Terror), Theatre Royal Haymarket (1987)
  • Hidden Laughter, Vaudeville Theatre (1990)
  • The Holy Terror, Temple of Arts Theater, Tucson, Arizona (1991)
  • Cell Mates, Albery Theatre (1995)
  • Simply Disconnected, sequel to Otherwise Engaged, Minerva Theatre, Chichester (1996)
  • Life Support, Aldwych Theatre (1997)
  • Just the Three of Us, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (1997); Nick Hern Books (1999) ISBN 1-85459-434-6
  • The Late Middle Classes, Watford Palace (1999)
  • Japes, Peter Hall Company, Mercury Theatre, Colchester (2000) and Theatre Royal Haymarket (2001)
  • Japes Too and Michael, published in Four Plays by Faber (2004) ISBN 0-571-21988-8
  • The Pig Trade, published in Four Plays (2004)
  • The Holy Terror (revival), Duke of York's Theatre (2004)[33]
  • The Old Masters featuring art critic Berenson and art dealer Duveen, Comedy Theatre (2004)[34]
  • Little Nell, BBC Radio 4 (2006); Theatre Royal, Bath (2007)[35]
  • Missing Dates, BBC Radio 4 (1 March 2008)
  • Quartermaine's Terms (revival), Theatre Royal, Brighton, Theatre Royal. Bath and Wyndham's Theatre (2013)


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 0-416-18630-0
  • 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)
  • The Rear Column (BBC, 1980)

Films for television

  • 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 978-0-571-14598-0
  • Breaking Hearts, Faber (1997) ISBN 0-571-17238-5


  • An Unnatural Pursuit and Other Pieces, Faber (1985) ISBN 0-571-13719-9
  • How's that for Telling 'em, Fat Lady?, Faber (1988) ISBN 0-571-15139-6
  • Fat Chance, Faber (1995) ISBN 0-571-17792-1
  • Enter A Fox, Faber (2001) ISBN 0-571-20940-8
  • The Smoking Diaries, Granta Books (2004) ISBN 1-86207-688-X[37]
  • The Year of the Jouncer, Granta Books (2006) ISBN 1-86207-896-3[38]
  • The Last Cigarette: Smoking Diaries Volume 3, Granta Books (2008) ISBN 1-84708-038-3[39][40]
  • Coda, Granta Books (2008) ISBN 1-84708-094-4[21][22][41]

Collected plays

The Definitive Simon Gray. In 4 vols. London: Faber, 1992–1994.

Vol. 1: Butley and Other Plays (1992). ISBN 0-571-16223-1.
Vol. 2: Otherwise Engaged and Other Plays (1992). ISBN 0-571-16240-1.
Vol. 3 (1993). ISBN 0-571-16453-6.
Vol. 4 (1994). ISBN 0-571-16659-8.

Key Plays. Introd. Harold Pinter. London: Faber, 2002. ISBN 0-571-21634-X. (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

  • Comedy


  1. Andrew Mortimer and Anthony Wilks, comp. "The Official Simon Gray Website: About". Archived from the original (Web) on 30 May 2010. Retrieved 4 June 2010.
  2. Lynn Barber (4 April 2004). " 'I wrote a lot of my plays drunk. It liberated me' " (Web). Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 30 March 2009. Simon Gray is a prolific playwright who gets up at lunchtime; an ex alcoholic who refuses to stop smoking; a pessimist who has just published his very funny diaries. He talks about adultery, self-hate and drinking four bottles of champagne a day.
  3. Tony Gould (10 August 2008). "Appreciation: Simon Gray, 1936–2008: Smoker, Gambler, Teacher and Writer with an Enviable Gift for Friendship" (Web). Observer. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 30 March 2009. The playwright and diarist Simon Gray died on Wednesday. Here his close friend , the writer Tony Gould, remembers a man to whom literature was the stuff of life, while below other literary figures pay tribute to his memory.
  4. Michael Billington (7 August 2008). "Remembering Simon Gray" (Web). Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
  5. Bruce Weber (8 August 2008). "Simon Gray, playwright, Dies at 71: Aimed Wit at Intellectuals, and Himself" (Web). New York Times, Obituary. New York Times Company. Retrieved 30 March 2009.
  6. Lyn Gardner (7 August 2008). "Obituary: Simon Gray: Playwright, Diarist and Novelist Who Bridged the Gulf between Intellectual and Popular Drama" (Web). The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 29 March 2009. (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.)
  7. Martin Scurr (26 August 2008). "Ask the Doctor: By the Way" (Web). Mail on Sunday, Health. Daily Mail and General Trust. Retrieved 29 March 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.
  8. "Simon Gray: Rakish and Versatile Playwright" (Web). The Times Online, Obituaries. News Corporation. 8 September 2008. Retrieved 30 March 2009.
  9. "Simon Gray" (Web). Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2009. Retrieved 7 April 2009.
  10. "Victoria Katherine Gray (née Rothschild)" (Web). National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 6 April 2009. Academic and lecturer; daughter of Sir Nathaniel Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild.
  11. Darryl Lundy, comp (6 April 2009). "Person Page – 19564: Victoria Katherine Rothschild Gray" (Web). The Peerage: A Genealogical Survey of the Peerage of Britain as well as the Royal Families of Europe. Darryl Lundy. Retrieved 6 April 2009.
  12. Josa Young (25 March 2009). "The Late Great Simon Gray" (Web). The Huffington Post. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  13. Janice Turner (24 April 2008). "Simon Gray Has Lung Cancer, But Won't Stop Smoking" (Web). Times Online. News Corporation. Retrieved 29 March 2009. There is a burning inevitability, of course, that a habit begun aged 7, pursued tirelessly, heroically even, through past health horrors including aneurysms and prostate cancer, peaking at 65 fags a day, would get him in the end.
  14. "Simon Gray". Contemporary Writers. British Council. 30 August 2007. Archived from the original (Web) on 3 October 2007. Retrieved 30 March 2009.
  15. "Trodd, Kenith: British Producer" (Web). Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  16. Karen Rappaport, comp. "The Alan Bates Archive: TV". Archived from the original (Web) on 27 April 2009. Retrieved 29 March 2009. (Converted to a memorial site after death of Alan Bates.)
  17. "Stage, TV and Film Productions Directed by Harold Pinter" (Web). Harold Pinter. 2000–[2008]. Retrieved 29 March 2009. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  18. Ian Jack. "In Memory of Simon Gray". Granta 103 (Autumn 2008). Archived from the original on 3 July 2009. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  19. "Fat Chance" (Web). The Complete Review. The Complete Review, 2001–2006. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  20. Henry Deedes (30 July 2008). "Pandora: Gray Goes On the Attack over Hytner's 'easy liberalism'" (Web). Independent. Independent News & Media. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  21. Jonathan Sale (26 November 2008). "Coda, by Simon Gray: The Moving and Comic Final Memoir of a Writer at the Fag-end of His Life" (Web). The Independent. Independent News & Media. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  22. Tony Gould (5 November 2008). "Book Reviews: A Rich Harvest: CODA, Simon Gray". The Spectator Book Club. The Spectator (Press Holdings). Archived from the original (Web) on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 1 April 2009.
  23. Simon Gray (8–12 December 2008). "Coda". Book of the Week. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 3 April 2009.
  24. Harry Burton. "Quartermaine's Terms". Matahari Films (Simon Gray). Harry Burton. Archived from the original (Web) on 31 October 2009. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  25. Harry Burton and Gavin Watson (March 2009). "Simon Gray Celebration Photos: Gavin Watson's photos taken at The Comedy Theatre, 15/3/09". Matahari Films. Harry Burton. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  26. Michael Billington (18 March 2009). "The Last Cigarette" (Web). The Guardian, Stage, Theatre. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  27. Susannah Clapp (22 March 2009). "An Elegy for Gray Runs Out of Puff" (Web). The Observer. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 30 March 2009.
  28. Theo Bosanquet (27 March 2009). "Gray's Last Cigarette Transfers to Trafalgar, 28 Apr". What's on Stage. Archived from the original (Web) on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  29. BWW News Desk (31 March 2009). "THE LAST CIGARETTE Moves to the West End 4/21–8/1" (Web). Broadway World. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  30. Josa Young (25 March 2009). "The Late Great Simon Gray" (Web). The Huffington Post. Retrieved 29 March 2009. 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.
  31. Libby Purves (2 June 2010). "The Late Middle Classes" (Web). The Times Online. News Corporation. Retrieved 6 June 2010.
  32. "Simon Gray's Butley, American Express Films, 1974" (Web). (Stage, TV and Film Productions Directed by Harold Pinter). Harold Pinter. 2000–2003. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  33. John Thaxter (19 April 2004). "The Holy Terror (review)". The Stage. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  34. Philip Fisher (2004). "The Old Masters (review)". British Theatre Guide. Archived from the original (Web) on 20 February 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  35. Allison Vale (2007). "Little Nell (review)". British Theatre Guide. Archived from the original (Web) on 25 November 2009. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  36. "A Month in the Country: Screenplay". Please Save This Film. West•Bennett. 2007. Archived from the original (Web) on 25 June 2009. Retrieved 30 March 2009. We hope to locate a complete, undecayed print of A Month in the Country and to see the restored film released on high quality DVD (for both region 1 and region 2) in honor of its 20th anniversary.
  37. Jeremy Lewis (18 April 2004). "The Smoking Diaries (review)" (Web). Sunday Times. News Corporation. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  38. Phil Baker; et al. (5 November 2006). "Paperbacks: Fiction and Non-fiction: The Year of the Jouncer (review)" (Web). Sunday Times. News Corporation. Retrieved 5 February 2009. Reviewed by Phil Baker, Nick Rennison, Emma Unsworth , Elizabeth Scott-Baumann and Ian Critchley.
  39. Lynne Truss (13 April 2008). "The Last Cigarette: The Smoking Diaries Volume 3 by Simon Gray" (Web). Sunday Times. News Corporation. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  40. Charles Spencer (16 April 2008). "Wafts of Candour from Simon Gray" (Web). Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  41. Excerpted in "Coda". Granta. 103 (Autumn): 226–235. 2008.

Further reading

Articles and book reviews

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

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

"Gray, Simon." Who's Who in the Theatre. 15 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 August 2008. Web. 29 March 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 April 2009.

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


Fort, Viola. "Simon Gray". Untitled Books., 6 June 2008. Web. 29 March 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 March 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
Performance reviews

Theatre Record and its annual Indexes.

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