A blue plaque marks 79 Marine Parade, the former Brighton home of playwright Terence Rattigan, and his residency in our city is also evident by the presence of his name on the front of a Brighton and Hove bus. He once declared that the greats of theatre consisted of ‘Shakespeare, Chekhov and me’, and the vast number of successful revivals in this, his centenary year, indicate that this immodest statement may have actually been correct.
Born in 1911, he was educated at Harrow and Oxford, leaving his degree unfinished in order to stage his first play, First Episode in the West End in 1934. His first hugely successful play was French Without Tears in 1936, followed by After The Dance in 1939, a play which was revived last year at the National Theatre starring Benedict Cumberbatch and receiving 4 Olivier awards. It was in 1941 that Rattigan’s service as a tail gunner in the RAF inspired him to write Flare Path. It was described by Winston Churchill as a ‘masterpiece of understatement’, and praised by members of the forces for helping people to understand the truth behind their experiences. Perhaps in dedication to the city in which he lived, Rattigan penned the screenplay for Brighton Rock alongside Graham Greene in 1947, the same year that one of his most famous plays, The Winslow Boy, premiered.
After a series of failures, Rattigan found success with The Deep Blue Sea in 1952 and Separate Tables in 1954, but his success was to be abruptly halted with the rise of kitchen sink drama in 1956, which Rattigan himself had a personal distaste for. Plays such as John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger ensured that Rattigan was quickly deemed to be out of fashion, and never enjoyed the same kind of acclaim again. A series of flops was followed by Rattigan leaving England for Bermuda in 1966, and although he was knighted in 1971, his life took a turn for the worst when he is diagnosed with leukemia in 1975. His final triumph before his death in 1977 was to see two of his plays – Cause Celebre and Separate Tables – run consecutively in the West End, something that rightfully occurs in abundance in 2011, a year celebrating his life.