Paul Marcus: TV producer and director who was a driving force behind Prime Suspect

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It seems apt that Paul Marcus should have gained some of his first experiences as a television producer on Prime Suspect. The Lynda La Plante-created crime drama starred Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, a woman facing sexism from her male colleagues after being put in charge of murder cases. Marcus's own father, the playwright Frank Marcus, was a German-born Jew who fled to Britain in 1939 and was admired for writing strong female roles, notably that of Beryl Reid's lesbian and washed-up soap-opera character in The Killing of Sister George. He did not seek to promote feminism, but most of his plays featured dominant women.

When Paul Marcus arrived at Granada Television, the first Prime Suspect mini-series had already made waves, but he steered it through two more (1992, 1993) and a three-part series of self-contained stories (1995) that brought him his first experience as a director on screen. He went on to direct other British television programmes and feature films starring Kiefer Sutherland, Max von Sydow and Geraldine Chaplin.

Marcus was born in London in 1954 and, with a playwright father and actor mother – Jacqueline Sylvester – it did not take long for him to catch the theatrical bug. He began directing plays while attending Latymer Upper School, before graduating in English from Lincoln College, Oxford (1973-76), where he directed Oxford University Dramatic Society productions.

Marcus was soon doing the same at London theatres – the Mermaid, Roundhouse and Young Vic – and the Oxford Playhouse, with the works of Shakespeare, Brecht, Beckett and Pinter. Then came three seasons (1984-86) as an assistant director at the Royal Shakespeare Company. During his time there, he co-directed, with Clifford Williams, Il Candelaio at The Pit, London (1986).

In 1986, Marcus joined the BBC as a script editor, working with the producer Louis Marks on dramas such as Quartermaine's Terms (1987), and Precious Bane (1989), based on Mary Webb's novel. He also attended the BBC directors' course and took time out to return to the theatre, most notably directing the Harold Pinter play Family Voices at both the Barbican, London, and Lyric Studio, Hammersmith (1987).

Marcus was given his first chance to produce for television when he worked on a BBC version of David Hare's stage play Knuckle (1989), co-produced with his former schoolfriend Colin Ludlow. Then came Hancock (1991), starring Alfred Molina as the tortured comedy actor Tony Hancock, before his move to Granada.

Prime Suspect 2 (1992) and Prime Suspect 3 (1993) both won Marcus an Emmy Award for outstanding mini-series. His other ITV series included the second run of Maigret (1993), starring Michael Gambon, Wokenwell (1997), about three police officers and their wives in a north of England town, and the medical drama Plastic Man (1999), with John Thaw as an NHS plastic surgeon.

Marcus's switch to directing was given a boost by making the American film Break Up (1998), a thriller about a woman accused of murdering her abusive husband, with Bridget Fonda and Kiefer Sutherland. When Sutherland subsequently starred in the crime drama After Alice (2000), he recommended Marcus to take over after the original director pulled out. Heidi (2005), featuring Max von Sydow, Geraldine Chaplin and Diana Rigg, was Marcus's film version of the Swiss author Johanna Spyri's novel.

His other television work as a director included the crime drama In Deep (2001-03); Murder Rooms: the Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes (2000-01), with Ian Richardson playing the doctor on whom Arthur Conan Doyle based his Victorian detective; The Bill (2002); Dalziel and Pascoe (2000-06); the children's series The Roman Mysteries (2007) and a 2009 episode of Lark Rise to Candleford.

Anthony Hayward

Paul Coryn Valentine Marcus, producer and director: born London 30 May 1954; married 1987 Viviana Maranzano (two daughters); died London 13 February 2011.