Obituary: Richard Cooper
Monday 16 February 1998
Although he will be remembered chiefly as a writer of children's television drama, his range and interests were much wider. After leaving theatre school in the early 1950s, where he was much influenced by the work of Rudolf Laban, he in quick succession encountered the other enduring influences in his life - Marlene, the wife he married in 1953 and who remained at his side for the next 45 years, and the Roman Catholic Church, into which both were admitted the year after their marriage.
Until 1980 he followed a career in education. As a drama lecturer in the Sixties, at St Mary's College of Education, Newcastle upon Tyne, he began writing in earnest, initially for the theatre with the support and encouragement of his then Head of Department, Agnes Rackman. He wrote a number of theatre plays including This Was No Ordinary War, During the Interval, It's a Long Way to Jerusalem, The Mandala, Campion's Brag and Torres, most of which were performed on the fringe at the Edinburgh Festival.
In the Seventies the dramatist C.P. Taylor's wife, Elisabeth, attended St Mary's as a mature student and brought her husband to one of Cooper's plays. It was the beginning of a valuable collaboration. Cecil Taylor's active encouragement led to Over There and Lancer and Lace Have Left Love, both of which Cooper wrote for the Stagecoach Company. Shortly afterwards he and Taylor worked with Alex Glasgow on All Change! for the Newcastle Playhouse.
Cooper wrote regularly for the Northumberland Theatre Company and also for Cornerstone, his Catholic interest coming to the fore in A Life of Christ and Poor Fool, a play about St Francis of Assisi. The energy and conviction that he brought to religious themes led to his first foray into television. His theatre play Torres, dealing with the life of Camillo Torres, the revolutionary Columbian priest, was optioned for the screen by Granada. However it was thought too heady a brew for the wider television audience, and the project was shelved.
After the more courageous atmosphere of the theatre, this set Cooper against television writing for a time, until Margaret Bottomley persuaded him to write a six-part serial for Tyne-Tees Television set in the Polish community on Tyneside. This became Quest of Eagles, which won him the 1980 Pye Television Award for Children's Writing.
For Cooper it was like coming home. He forged a professional relationship with Anna Home, an Executive Producer at the BBC. Home produced his work both at the BBC and later at TVS, where she was Director of Programmes. When she returned to the BBC as Head of Children's Programmes, she commissioned the last project he was ever to work on, an adaptation of the Captain Marryat classic Children of the New Forest.
Cooper did not turn his back on adult drama and in 1989 Shadow of the Noose, an eight-part series based on the life of the Edwardian advocate Sir Edward Marshall Hall, was screened on BBC2. It received outstanding reviews and even provoked a fan letter from Lord Scarman.
My own association with Richard Cooper began when he brought me an idea for a children's thriller called Eye of the Storm. We went on to produce the programme for Meridian who at that time, in 1992, were the new kids on the ITV block. The show was a success, bringing Cooper a well-deserved Writer's Guild Award in 1993 and me a professional and personal friendship that I valued enormously during the six years that I knew him.
He and I were last together in April last year, writing the scripts for Children of the New Forest. He was an intelligent and responsive colleague, always brimming over with fresh ideas. He never wished the audience to be sold short.
Richard Fairhurst Cooper, writer: born Warrington, Cheshire 5 April 1930; married 1953 Marlene Jordan (four sons, two daughters); died Bordeaux, France 1 February 1998.
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