Roy Roberts

Fastidious producer at Granada TV
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The Independent Online

Roy Roberts became head of Granada's casting department during the great golden decade of the 1970s when the company's drama productions matched and often surpassed, in quality and originality, those of the BBC.

Roy Edward Roberts, television producer and casting director: born Plymouth 14 May 1935; died Bath 27 April 2004.

Roy Roberts became head of Granada's casting department during the great golden decade of the 1970s when the company's drama productions matched and often surpassed, in quality and originality, those of the BBC.

Roberts had joined Granada as a casting director in 1963, a year in which their drama output included a version of Tolstoy's War and Peace, a trio of plays by J.B. Priestley and the beginning of a splendid series of plays by Tennessee Williams featuring The Rose Tattoo, The Glass Menagerie and the rarely revived Camino Real. Roberts left his casting post with an equal flourish, his last assignment being to work alongside Laurence Olivier on the casting of Olivier's own personally chosen sequence of six plays which the great man produced and in which he took several roles.

For these productions Roberts helped to enlist a constellation of international stars including Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner and Maureen Stapleton in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Joanne Woodward and Carrie Fisher in Come Back Little Sheba; and Alan Bates, Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren in Harold Pinter's The Collection.

The integrity of these productions stemmed as much from casting as from writing and direction and Roberts's characteristic sensibility and his fastidious recognition of the truthfulness of a performance made him the ideal practitioner of his craft. The fact that he had been briefly an actor himself and could therefore share the uneven splendours and miseries of an actor's life made him an unusually sympathetic judge of talent.

After 15 years in Granada's casting department Roberts applied to become a producer. Granada actively encouraged him and between 1978 and 1989 he was responsible for some outstanding drama productions to which he brought the same discriminatory qualities of taste and sensibility that informed everything he did. Between 1982 and 1984 he produced a series of 13 television films under the title "All for Love". These plays, taken from the short stories of such luminaries as William Trevor, Rumer Godden and Elizabeth Taylor and which starred such actors as Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Jean Simmons, exemplified Roberts's affection for work of outward quietness and delicacy but which could still strike the deepest and most reverberating chords.

Roberts was the youngest of three children - he had an older brother and a sister - but an element of mystery attended the circumstances of his birth. He admitted, rather like a Dickensian foundling, to having been fostered by a benevolent aunt and growing up happily in the Devon village of Bigbury-on-Sea. Educated locally at Kingsbridge Grammar School, to which he won a scholarship, he left school to work briefly as a cub reporter on the Kingsbury Gazette. By 1958, after two years National Service in the RAF, he had decided to become an actor and enrolled at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

He left after two years to join the Ipswich Repertory Theatre, playing a succession of dim-witted juveniles, elderly bank managers and village policemen. Doubts had already begun to assail him about his choice of career but it was a tiny part in a spy film, Operation Amsterdam (1959), which confirmed him in his fears. Such was his self-effacing demeanour that during a tense scene requiring him to quell a clanging alarm bell, his intended close-up merely revealed that he had completely concealed his face for the entire length of the shot.

Having decided that an actor's life was not for him but feeling the need to stay close to the acting profession he took a job, in 1962, with the Spotlight casting directory and it was from there that he was poached to join Granada's casting department.

A notably handsome man with an abundance of gentle charm (occasionally spiked, to his friends' delight, with some unexpectedly acerbic asides), Roberts brought to his work as producer the same unshowy, laid-back approach which informed his aptitude for choosing actors and which enabled him easily to create exactly the right atmosphere in which other creative talents could flourish.

His début as a producer was with a 13-part television adaptation of Catherine Cookson's best-seller novel The Mallens (1978), with Juliet Stevenson and Caroline Blakiston. In 1981 he brought to the television screen the National Theatre's production of Congreve's The Double Dealer with Dorothy Tutin and Robert Stephens. In 1985, and with Stephen Frears as director, he produced December Flower with Jean Simmons and Mona Washbourne and in 1986, again with Olivier in the lead role, he produced a film of John Mortimer's version of John Fowles's The Ebony Tower, with Greta Scacchi and Toyah Willcox.

A Wreath of Roses, another story by one of his favourite writers, Elizabeth Taylor, was undertaken in 1987 with John Madden as director, and in 1988 he produced Tom Stoppard's The Dog It Was That Died, directed by Peter Wood and starring Alan Bates and Alan Howard. One of his last enterprises was an immensely elaborate co-production of Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, starring Jean-Pierre Aumont and John Mills.

Roberts was a highly popular figure with the actors he employed (one of his greatest friends was the musical comedy star Evelyn Laye). A photograph taken for a magazine article celebrating his time at Granada shows him surrounded by an attractive and talented seraglio of leading ladies - Isabel Jeans, Ann Firbank, Patricia Heywood, Jean Simmons, Dinah Sheridan, Geraldine McEwan.

Nine years ago he finally packed up his house in Brook Green in west London and with his collection of paintings, his beloved cats and his companion of 45 years, the actor Peter MacKriel, he returned to his roots in the West Country. There, in a fine Georgian house on Lincombe Hill in Bath, he relished the pleasures of retirement and claimed never to have felt a single pang for the lost world of entertainment.

Derek Granger