James Doran: Scriptwriter for 'Z Cars' and 'The Ipcress File'

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The Independent Online

Among the most prolific writers of episodic television in the 1960s and '70s, James Doran turned to the small screen after valiant attempts to establish himself on stage. In his scripts for such shows as the then revolutionary Z Cars (1962-78), a recurring theme was that statements by police, criminals, or innocent bystanders are not always what they seem; that there are two sides to every story.

The writing talent was inherited: his mother, Lesley Storm, was a playwright whose successes included Black Chiffon and the long-running Roar Like A Dove. His father was a doctor, and he was born in Edinburgh before the family relocated to England. After attending St Paul's School, Doran served as a lieutenant in the Royal Marines during the Second World War.

While he was working as a journalist, his first play, A Call On The Widow, was produced at the New Boltons Theatre in October 1951. Concerning a hardened inspector and his naïve sergeant who visit a suspected murderess, only to be trapped in her house, it contained the seeds of his later work in that within the dramatic confines, the notion of a policeman's duty was questioned, in this case through the sergeant falling for the suspect. Prefiguring his later career, a television version was made, unusually pre-filmed rather than broadcast live, and shown during ITV's first month on air in 1955.

Doran then wrote The Sultan's Turret, a vaguely topical tale of a crumbling Empire. Its only production was at Wyndham's in 1954, by the Repertory Players, a society who staged new plays on Sunday evenings, with Nigel Hawthorne in a bit part.

Nobody Here But Us Chickens, centring on an adulterous Chelsea couple with differing political views, premiered at the Belgrade, Coventry in 1960. A year later, it played the arts Theatre as Breakfast For One. Contemporary reviewers felt that the writer husband (Jack Hedley) seemed a distant echo of John Osborne's Jimmy Porter; the female lead was Osborne's future wife Jill Bennett.

For the first series of Z Cars in 1962, Doran's two episodes contrasted the pressure on the street team of constables Lynch (James Ellis) and Steele (Jeremy Kemp), in the cars of the title, with that placed on Barlow (Stratford Johns) and Watt (Frank Windsor) back at Newtown station.

By the time Doran became one of the regular writers in 1968, it was not the same animal, having changed from a weekly 50-minute placing to two 25-minute episodes every Monday and Tuesday, with a subsequent profusion of two-part stories and Ellis as the only surviving member of the original cast. Doran's episodes included the innovation of a four-part story, shortly after the move into colour in late 1969.

He also worked for its spin-offs, Softly Softly: Task Force between 1970 and 1973, and Johns' solo show Barlow At Large (1973).

Elsewhere, Doran contributed to the soap Compact (1963), and Dr Finlay's Casebook (1964). Gazette (1968), was set in a newspaper, with Gerald Harper in a secondary role as the local squire Hadleigh. Doran's episode involved a corrupt councillor, a drunken vicar and religiously motivated cover-ups in the police force, but the series was eventually made over as a vehicle for Harper's character.

Doran proved well-suited to Public Eye (1971-75), which had begun in the '60s as an alternative to escapist adventure series, with the sardonic Alfred Burke as the underdog investigator Marker. Later, a bearded Burke played the German commandant in Enemy At The Door (1978-80), set on the Channel Islands during the Second World War, with the implication that the Germans were human beings as well. One of Doran's strongest episodes was his first, about a German soldier tried and executed for a rape that turns out not to have happened.

Although Doran was one of the credited screenwriters on The Ipcress File (1965), it has often been claimed that director Sidney J. Furie encouraged improvisation. Doran's later attempts at writing for Hollywood did not reach the production stage.

James Doran, writer: born Edinburgh 15 May 1923; twice married (marriages dissolved, two sons); died 14 July 2009.

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