Obituary: Robert Barr

IN PRAISING Robert Barr's storytelling skills [5 February], Leonard Miall concentrated on his subject's fame as a television- rather than a radio-drama innovator, and creator in part of such huge popular and critical successes as Z-Cars (watched at one stage by virtually the entire television-owning population), Softly Softly, and the Spycatcher series, writes Jack Adrian.

Yet, although Barr defected to the junior medium almost as soon as it re-emerged from wartime cold storage, in 1946, he not only retained an affection for radio, but over the years enjoyed a kind of "dual nationality", writing prolifically for both. Indeed, it may be that he was even more of an innovator than is realised, since although his adaptations from Lt-Col Oreste Pinto's bestselling Spycatcher books first appeared on the small screen (1959 to 1961), he quickly rewrote the half-hour plays for the wireless (even retaining the actor Bernard Archard as Pinto), so that Spycatcher may well be the very first time a popular television drama series became a radio spin-off.

His successes as a writer for radio may not be burned into the national consciousness to the same extent as, say, Softly Softly (the odd surviving episode always good for Sixties' celebration nights on BBC2, or to be used in tandem with earnest lectures at the NFT). But to those who recall the truly great days of radio drama - forget the 1940s or 1950s: the real Golden Age ran roughly from the mid-1960s through to the mid-1980s - Barr's is a name to cherish.

He wrote at a time when commissioning editors were not hounded by pursed- lipped accountants and a good serial could run for rather more than the miserly four weeks (if you're lucky) accorded it today - his engrossing And the Walls Came Tumbling Down (1966) extended to 13. Yet he could screw up the tension in far less time when necessary: in the six-part The Dark Island (1969; murder and espionage amongst the remote islands of the Outer Hebrides) he created one of the most memorable thriller serials ever broadcast (with surely one of the most evocative openings: the cries of the gulls, the keen of a single concertina).

He wrote two sequels, then, in the mid-1970s, a couple of serials featuring his quirky investigator Galbraith (The King of Diamonds and The Midas Touch). In his seventies, when most writers would be yearning to bury the typewriter under a dust-cover, Barr launched a superb series of tough police dramas. Detective ("Stories of crime and detection in London"), starring Ray Brooks as a ducking-and- diving CID sergeant at police-work's sharp end. In the end Detective ran to three long series as well as a gripping 10-part serial.

Barr was certainly a brilliant writer for television; but his work for the far more imaginative medium should not be forgotten.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week