Giles Cooper

Giles Stannus Cooper, OBE (9 August 1918 – 2 December 1966) was an Anglo-Irish playwright and prolific radio dramatist, writing over sixty scripts for BBC Radio and television. He was awarded the OBE in 1960 for "Services to Broadcasting". A dozen years after his death at only 48 the Giles Cooper Awards for Radio Drama were instituted in his honour, jointly by the BBC and the publishers Eyre Methuen.

Early life

Giles Stannus Cooper was born into a landed Anglo-Irish family at Carrickmines[1] near Dublin on 9 August 1918, the son of Guy Edward Cooper, a Royal Navy Commander, and nephew of politician and writer Bryan Ricco Cooper.[1]

Cooper was educated at the prep school Arnold House, St John's Wood, London, at Lancing College on the South Downs, and later studied languages in Grenoble in the French Alps and at a language school at San Sebastian in Northern Spain. It was here, with the Spanish Civil War raging around him, that he was shot through the arm one evening by a sniper's bullet, while on a mission to purchase cigarettes before dinner. The Royal Navy subsequently came to his rescue, gave him medical attention and dropped him off across the French border at St Jean de Luz.

His father had planned the life of a diplomat for him, in which a Cambridge degree in Law and a Call to the Bar were prerequisites. Cooper, however, confounded these plans by enrolling as an actor at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London. A contemporary, joining on the same morning was the actor Michael Denison who recalls their first meeting in his autobiography Overture & Beginners. Cooper's studies were interrupted by the Second World War. Initially conscripted into the ranks, he was selected for training at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, gained a commission and was subsequently despatched to the Far East in 1942. He served as an infantry officer in the West Yorkshire Regiment, spending three grueling years in the jungles of Burma fighting the Japanese, on occasion hand-to-hand.

After the war he worked as an actor, first at the Arts Theatre under Alec Clunes, where he met his future wife, the actress Gwyneth Lewis. Seasons in repertory theatre at Newquay (with Kenneth Williams) at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing (with Harold Pinter) and at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre continued until 1952 when he turned to script editing and then full-time writing.[2]


Cooper was a pioneer in writing for the broadcast media, becoming prolific in both radio and television drama. His early successes included radio dramatisations of Dickens' Oliver Twist, William Golding's Lord of the Flies and John Wyndham's science fiction novel Day of the Triffids. Wyndham wrote to Cooper congratulating him after the first broadcast. On television he adapted Simenon's Maigret detective novels from the French, which became the major hit of the day (1960–61) starring Rupert Davies as the pipe-smoking sleuth in over 24 episodes, for which he won the Script Award in 1961 of the Guild of Television Producers, which subsequently became BAFTA. He also adapted four Sherlock Holmes stories, Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1965), Les Misérables, Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Evelyn Waugh's trilogy of novels Sword of Honour (1967) for Theatre 625.[2] He was more successful in the theatre with his original works as opposed to adaptations. His first full-length play Never Get Out was staged at the Edinburgh Festival in 1950 and transferred to the Gate Theatre in London.

The first of his radio plays to make his reputation was Mathry Beacon (1956) about a small detachment of men and women still guarding a Top Secret "missile deflector" somewhere in Wales, some years after the war has ended;[3] the first and only American production, starring Martyn Green, was syndicated to public stations in 1981 by the National Radio Theater of Chicago. Also of note are Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1958) in which a young teacher finds his predecessor has been murdered by the boys in his class[4] and The Long House (1965). "Out of the Crocodile" ran at the Phoenix Theatre in 1963-64 starring Kenneth More, Celia Johnson and Cyril Raymond. "The Spies are Singing" was presented at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1966, starring the theatre's Artistic Director John Neville.[1]

Many of his plays were later adapted for both stage and television. Unman, Wittering and Zigo, Seek Her Out, in which a woman (played by Toby Robins) witnesses an assassination on the London Underground and becomes the next would-be victim of the perpetrators; and The Long House were parts of an unrelated trilogy of plays by Cooper broadcast on BBC2's Theatre 625 during the summer of 1965. He also wrote The Other Man a television drama starring Michael Caine, Siân Phillips and John Thaw and first broadcast on ITV in 1964. Everything In The Garden was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1962 at the Arts Theatre, London; in 1967, an American adaptation by Edward Albee, was first performed in 1967 at the Plymouth Theatre, New York City, and dedicated to Cooper's memory.

His last play was Happy Family was first presented at the Hampstead Theatre in 1966 starring Wendy Craig; it then transferred to the West End with Michael Denison, Dulcie Gray and Robert Flemyng. A revival in 1984 directed by Maria Aitken opened in Windsor and transferred to the Duke of York's Theatre in the West End, starring Ian Ogilvy, Angela Thorne, James Laurenson and Stephanie Beacham.


Cooper died at the age of 48 after falling from a train as it passed through Surbiton, Surrey, returning from a Guild of Dramatists' Christmas dinner at the Garrick on 2 December 1966.[5] A post-mortem showed he had consumed the equivalent of half a bottle of whisky and the coroner at Kingston in January 1967 returned a verdict of misadventure. There have been several attempts to attribute his death to suicide, in particularly by The Stage newspaper. When interviewed by Humphrey Carpenter in 1995, BBC radio producer Douglas Cleverdon's widow, Nest, told him that she believed it was suicide.[6] Cooper's family have always strongly disputed this, not only because it bears no relationship to the playwright's apparent frame of mind during the period leading up to his death, but also because it unfairly colours appraisal of his work from an academic standpoint.[7]


In 1978 the Giles Cooper Awards for radio drama were established by the BBC in conjunction with the publishers Eyre Methuen, and until their discontinuation in the early 1990s, were awarded to a plethora of writing talent, including Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, Anthony Minghella, Fay Weldon, Joanna Trollope and William Trevor.


  1. ^ a b c Giles Stannus Cooper profile,; accessed 3 December 2015.
  2. ^ a b Giles Cooper profile; accessed 3 December 2015.
  3. ^ Giles Cooper radio drama,; accessed 3 December 2015.
  4. ^ Giles Cooper - complete guide to the Playwright and Plays,; accessed 3 December 2015.
  5. ^ Liquid Soap: October 2004 Archives
  6. ^ Interview conducted 26 October 1995, cited in Humphrey Carpenter, The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3, 1946–1996, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996; Phoenix, 1997 p, 213, 380
  7. ^ International Radio Drama – Social, Economic and Literary Contexts, Tim Crook

External links

Carver (play)

Carver is a radio drama by the Scottish composer and writer John Purser about the 16th century Scottish composer Robert Carver. It premiered on BBC Radio 3 on 31 March 1991, in a production recorded on 2 December 1990, produced by Stewart Conn and with music by the Taverner Consort conducted by Andrew Parrott. It won a Giles Cooper Award.

Craig Warner

Craig Warner (born 25 April 1964) is a multiple award-winning playwright and screenwriter who lives and works in Suffolk, England. His play Strangers on a Train, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, ran in London's West End in 2013–14, and starred Jack Huston, Laurence Fox, Miranda Raison, Imogen Stubbs, Christian McKay, and MyAnna Buring. It was directed by Robert Allan Ackerman and produced by Barbara Broccoli. He wrote The Queen's Sister for Channel 4, which was nominated for several BAFTA awards (including Best Single Drama), Maxwell for BBC2, which garnered a Broadcasting Press Guild Award nomination for Best Single Drama and won David Suchet an International Emmy for Best Actor, and The Last Days of Lehman Brothers , for which Warner was longlisted for a BAFTA Craft Award for Best Writer, and which won him the award for Best Writer at the Seoul International Drama Awards in 2010. He wrote the mini-series Julius Caesar for Warner Bros., which gained Warner a Writers Guild Award nomination for Best Original Long-Form Drama, and he performed an extensive uncredited rewrite on The Mists of Avalon, also for Warner Bros., which was nominated for a Writers Guild Award and nine Emmys, including Best Mini-series. Warner wrote the screenplay for Codebreaker, a film about Alan Turing.

Craig Warner started out writing for the theatre and for radio. His first radio play for BBC Radio 4, Great Men of Music, was performed by Philip Davis and was included in Radio 4's first Young Playwrights Festival. His second play By Where the Old Shed Used to Be, with Miranda Richardson, won the Giles Cooper Award for Best Radio Plays of the Year, and it was included in the volume of winners for 1989, published by Methuen. His play Figure With Meat also won a Giles Cooper Award and was published in the Methuen volume of 1991. Craig Warner is the award's youngest ever winner, having received it for the first time when he was 24. He is also a composer and has written music and songs for a number of his works, including a full-length musical for BBC Radio 3 about the legend of Cassandra, called Agonies Awakening.

Warner received a BA in Philosophy from King's College London and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He was born in Los Angeles.

Dave Sheasby

David Sheasby (20 September 1940 – 26 February 2010) was a playwright, director, dramatist and radio producer who was based in Sheffield, England.The son of a building engineer, Sheasby was born in Fulwood, Sheffield. He was educated at King Edward VII School, where he was a county-standard cross-country runner. The only time he lived outside Sheffield was when he went to the London School of Economics to read history. Sheasby also trained as a teacher. Dave Sheasby's first wife, Helen Grainger, died from a brain tumour and in 2004 he married Eve Shrewsbury, who survives him along with three children from each marriage. They lived in the heart of Nether Edge.

He started his radio career in 1967 at Radio Sheffield as education producer and from 1988 onwards, worked for BBC Radio 4. In addition to his work for the BBC, from 2002 to 2004 he taught Media Studies and Creative Writing at University of Leeds as Royal Literary Fund fellow and taught Media Studies and Creative Writing at University of Warwick as Royal Literary Fund fellow between 2004 until his death in 2010.His work includes a number of original plays and comedies including Apple Blossom Afternoon, which in 1988 won a Giles Cooper Award, The Blackburn Files and Street and Lane. His dramatisations of Erich Maria Remarque's novel All Quiet on the Western Front, the 2009 dramatisation of Kurt Vonnegut's science fiction novel Slaughterhouse-Five were also critically acclaimed.

At the time of his death, he had just completed an adaptation of J.L. Carr's novel A Month in the Country. He completed the dramatisation in a hospice bed with a borrowed laptop. It was broadcast as the Saturday Play in November 2010.

Everything in the Garden

Everything in the Garden is a play by Giles Cooper, first produced by The Royal Shakespeare Company in 1962 in London.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (TV series)

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a British television series first aired by BBC in 1965, based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. It stars John Ronane, Ann Bell, Julian Curry, Glynn Edwards and Joan Miller. The film was adapted for television by Giles Cooper and was directed by Rex Tucker. It consisted of four 45-minute episodes, the first of which aired on 2 October 1965. According to the BBC archives none of the episodes of the film still exist.

Giles Cooper (producer)

Giles Cooper is a British entertainment producer, concert promoter and marketer. He is managing director of Soho Media Group, a production and marketing company. He is chairman of the Royal Variety Charity, and since 2010 has been one of the producers of its annual fund-raising event, the Royal Variety Performance.Cooper was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006, and received the Freedom of the City of London in 2014.

Giles Cooper Awards

The Giles Cooper Awards were honours given to plays written for BBC Radio. Sponsored by the BBC and Methuen Drama, the awards were specifically focused on the script of the best radio drama produced in the past year. Five or six winners were chosen from the entire year's production of BBC drama, and published in a series of books. They were named after Giles Cooper (1918–1966), the distinguished radio dramatist who wrote over 60 scripts for BBC radio and television between 1949 and 1966.These awards ran annually between 1978 and 1992, instigated by Richard Imison at the BBC and Geoffrey Strachan at Eyre Methuen. There was no prize money, but publication was a notable mark of permanence in the ephemeral world of broadcasting.

Among the winners listed below are such luminaries as John Arden, William Trevor, Harold Pinter, Fay Weldon, Anthony Minghella, Tom Stoppard and Rose Tremain.

John Purser

John Purser (born 1942 in Glasgow) is a Scottish composer, musicologist, and music historian. He is also a playwright.He initiated the reconstruction that commenced in 1991 of the Iron Age Deskford Carnyx, producing a replica that was first played in 1993 by trombonist John Kenny.Purser's book Scotland's Music, published in March 1992 (new edition October 2007), was a major reference work on musical history from the Bronze Age to the present. It was followed by a thirty-programme radio series of the same title, written and presented by him, which was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland and totalled 45 hours, with recordings commissioned for the series including reconstructions of early music and works by many little-known composers. A double CD was subsequently produced with a small selection of the music. Purser's work has contributed to a revival of interest in such composers as John Clerk of Penicuik and John Thomson.

Purser's plays include the radio play Carver about Robert Carver, the 16th-century Scottish composer of church music, which won a Giles Cooper Award. He also wrote Parrots and Owls about John Ruskin and the O'Shea brothers.

Kisses on a Postcard

Kisses on a Postcard is a stage musical written by Terence Frisby with music by Gordon Clyde, John Altman, and Tom Recknell based on Frisby's experiences as an evacuee, or 'vacky', during World War II. When he was just 7 and his brother Jack was 11, they were sent from their family in South East London to a small village in Cornwall to escape German bombing during the Battle of Britain. They were two of over three and a half million children evacuated from cities in Britain, the largest migration of people in UK history.

The musical began as the radio play Just Remember Two Things: It's Not Fair And Don't Be Late, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and on BBC World Service. It won Frisby the Giles Cooper Award for Best Radio Play in 1988.

The musical was premiered at the Queens Theatre in Barnstaple in 2004 under the title Just Remember Two Things.

It is also a book Kisses on a Postcard: A Tale of Wartime Childhood (2009), published by Bloomsbury .

Michael Wall (playwright)

Michael Wall (22 November 1946 – 11 June 1991) was a British playwright. He wrote over forty plays, the most well-known of which are Amongst Barbarians and Women Laughing.

Born in Hereford, England, he read English at the University of York, graduating in 1976. He wrote several stage plays, but the majority of his work was done for radio. Several of his works were produced by the BBC.

Amongst Barbarians, for which he won the 1989 Mobil Competition's prize for playwriting, was first produced at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England. It then moved to the Hampstead Theatre in London, and was later made into a British made-for-television movie.

He won the Sony and Giles Cooper Awards in 1985 for Hiroshima – The Movie, which he wrote for BBC radio.

Women Laughing, written in 1989, was produced on stage at the Royal Court Theatre in 1992, just after the author's death.

Headcrash was produced for the BBC in 1986. However, due to concerns about its violent content, it was not broadcast until 1993, two years after the author's death.

Richard Imison

Richard Imison (31 October 1936 – 9 February 1993) was Script Editor for BBC Radio Drama from 1963 to 1991. In the thirty years that Imison worked for BBC Radio Drama it was the largest patron of original creative dramatic writing in Britain. In his role as Script Editor no other single individual therefore had as much influence in either the discovery of new talent or the encouragement of established writers such as Edward Albee, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Alexander Gelman, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett in the production of drama for this genre.

Richard Imison was key in setting up The Giles Cooper Awards in 1977, together with Geoffrey Strachan of the publishers Methuen. These lasted until the year after his death and were the premier celebration of dramatic writing for radio. They were named after the radio dramatist Giles Cooper whose work first appeared on BBC radio in 1949.

After his death in 1993 the Society of Authors established the Richard Imison Award in recognition of Imison's enduring influence on the development of high quality dramatic writing.

Richard Nelson (playwright)

Richard John Nelson (born October 17, 1950) is an American playwright and librettist. He wrote the books for the Tony Award-winning musicals James Joyce's The Dead, the Broadway version of Chess, as well as the critically acclaimed play cycle The Apple Family Plays.

Robert Carver (composer)

Robert Carver CRSA (also Carvor, Arnot; c. 1485 – c. 1570) was a Scottish Canon regular and composer of Christian sacred music during the Renaissance.

Carver is regarded as Scotland's greatest composer of the 16th century. He is best known for his polyphonic choral music, of which there are five surviving masses and two surviving motets. The works that can definitely be attributed to him can be found in the Carver Choirbook held in the National Library of Scotland.

Carver's work, noted for the gradual build-up of ideas towards a resolution in the final passages, is still performed and recorded today. Carver was influenced by composers in continental Europe, and his surviving music differs greatly from that produced by many of his contemporaries in Scotland or England at the time. Highly ornate in style, it resembles most closely the richly decorated music of the Eton Choirbook.

Carver was the subject of the 1991 BBC radio play Carver by John Purser, which won one of the Giles Cooper Awards for that year.

Rose Tremain

Rose Tremain CBE FRSL (born 2 August 1943) is an English novelist, short story writer, and former Chancellor of the University of East Anglia.

Shirley Gee

Shirley Gee (Born 25 April 1932, London; died 22 November 2016, London) was a British playwright.

The Other Man (1964 TV programme)

The Other Man is a British television drama written by Giles Cooper and directed by Gordon Flemyng, starring Michael Caine, Siân Phillips and John Thaw. It was made by Granada for the ITV network, and broadcast on 7 September 1964.

Theatre 625

Theatre 625 is a British television drama anthology series, produced by the BBC and transmitted on BBC2 from 1964 to 1968. It was one of the first regular programmes in the line-up of the channel, and the title referred to its production and transmission being in the higher-definition 625-line format, which only BBC2 used at the time.

Unman, Wittering and Zigo

Unman, Wittering and Zigo is a 1958 radio play by the Anglo-Irish playwright Giles Cooper.

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