Jack Rosenthal, writer of TV's greatest drama hits, dies aged 72

Click to follow

Jack Rosenthal, one of Britain's greatest TV dramatists and the husband of actress Maureen Lipman, died yesterday after a long battle with cancer.

The 72-year-old leaves a legacy of a vast catalogue of plays, films and television series, that include some of the finest dramas ever broadcast on television. He was at the peak of his profession for some 40 years.

His credits included Spend Spend Spend, the classic Play for Today about football pools winner Viv Nicholson, Bar Mitzvah Boy, about a Jewish boy coming of age among childish adults, Yentl which he co-wrote with the film's star Barbra Streisand, and the comedy series The Lovers, starring Richard Beckinsale.

Other notable works included P'Tang Yang Kipperbang, The Knowledge and, last year, his television adaptation of Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim. He also wrote 129 episodes of Coronation Street.

Dramatist Alan Bleasdale was among those who paid tribute to his abilities, saying: "He had a remarkable gift for characterisation and dialogue. I've always been a huge fan. He had a remarkable career and I don't think he was given the credit more fêted writers have been given."

Sir David Frost, who first worked with Mr Rosenthal in the 1960s on That Was The Week That Was, said: "He was a wonderful writer and companion. He gave us some of the best sketches on That Was The Week That Was."

The BBC director of drama, Alan Yentob, said: "As one of the great original writers for television he is up there with Dennis Potter and Alan Bleasdale. His writing was funny and humane and touched a chord with millions of people."

Mr Rosenthal was born in Manchester, the son of a raincoat manufacturer. He spent his National Service in the Royal Navy after reading English at Sheffield University, then moved into advertising as a copywriter. In 1956, he started work as a researcher for Granada in Manchester before moving to scriptwriting, working on early episodes of Coronation Street.

He said of his time on the show: "I'll always be proud of much of the work I did there. It's too easy to dismiss Coronation Street. As a training ground for writers and directors its importance can't be overstated."

He was working on the series when he met Maureen Lipman in a Manchester pub. She was an unknown actress appearing at one of the city's theatres. They married four years later in 1973 and had two children, Adam and Amy. Mr Rosenthal once recalled: "People do sometimes ring up and ask if I'm Mr Lipman, but I'm totally at ease with that."

Lad who turned life into a script

By Sheridan Morley

The great thing about Jack Rosenthal's writing, whether for stage, screen or TV, was that so much of it came out of himself, from Bar Mitzvah Boy (1976) onwards. He looked back not in anger but in bemused amazement at his past, and then turned that into drama after drama.

He was also very good on his beloved north London: remember The Knowledge(1979). I think it is at least arguable that when our grandchildren want to know what London and being Jewish generally were like in the latter half of the 20th century, they will turn to Jack for that history.

Jack did it all: scores of episodes of Coronation Street and That Was The Week That Was, the best one-shot dramas ever written for television, and some plays and movies that were always above the average.

He was blessed by a loyal and funny wife in Maureen Lipman, a scientist son in Adam, a playwright daughter in Amy, and a career that seldom, if ever, flagged. His wife has chosen to publish her memoirs as a series of magazine columns, loving and touching and funny about him. When Lipman last wrote about him coming back yet again from hospital after his seemingly endless cancer treatments, it was simply to say "Jack the Lad is home", and in another, awful, way of course now he is.

But there is a consolation: he was a pioneer, and one of the greatest writers, of the one-shot television drama, which is now all but extinct on any channel.

Sheridan Morley is drama critic of the 'Daily Express'