Sebastian Graham-Jones

Theatre, radio and television director
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The Independent Online

Sebastian Graham-Jones, the theatre, television and radio director, first came to notice in 1972 when he directed Gemma Jones and Brian Cox in a fine production of Strindberg's Creditors at the Open Space Theatre in London.



Peter Sebastian Graham-Jones, theatre, television and radio director: born Bockhampton, Dorset 1 August 1947; (one son with Gemma Jones); died London 18 July 2004.



Sebastian Graham-Jones, the theatre, television and radio director, first came to notice in 1972 when he directed Gemma Jones and Brian Cox in a fine production of Strindberg's Creditors at the Open Space Theatre in London.

However, it was at the Cottesloe Theatre in the late 1970s that he made his greatest mark as co-director with his friend Bill Bryden. With that remarkable company, Bryden and Graham-Jones directed the acclaimed "promenade" productions of Lark Rise, Candleford and The Mysteries, which remain highlights of the National Theatre's work. Graham-Jones is best remembered in television for the Granada series Travelling Man and was more recently making a mark as an inventive and sensitive radio director.

Sebastian Graham-Jones was born in Bockhampton, Dorset, in 1947. His father worked for the British Council and the family lived abroad for much of Sebastian's childhood; he was educated at Harrow School and at the University of Kent at Canterbury. After university he worked as an actor in regional theatre before appearing in Oh Calcutta! at the Roundhouse, London, in 1970.

This was followed by an appearance in Getting On at the Queen's Theatre in 1971 with Kenneth More, Gemma Jones and Brian Cox. Always self-deprecating about his talents as an actor, and convinced that he really wanted to direct, Graham-Jones persuaded Cox and Jones to take part in a production of Strindberg's Creditors, at the Open Space Theatre in Tottenham Court Road. He continued to act, appearing in a number of television plays and films before joining the National Theatre Company in 1974 in The Marriage of Figaro directed by Jonathan Miller. With other actors in the company, he set up a season of lunchtime plays in the Young Vic Studio and it was this work which led to Peter Hall's offering him a post as Staff Director.

He worked first with John Schlesinger on his production of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House in 1975. His boundless enthusiasm and willingness to learn led to the stage manager, John Rothenberg, christening him "Rover" and there were indeed times when his great energy and innate charm reminded one of a (very large) puppy. The same season he worked with Peter Hall on the premiere of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land and travelled to the United States with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson to watch over the run of the play in New York.

Back at the National Theatre, he assisted Bill Bryden on his production of The Playboy of the Western World (1975), in which he met the actress Susan Fleetwood, with whom he had a long relationship. When the National Theatre moved to its new building on the South Bank in 1976, he continued to work closely with Bill Bryden in establishing a company in the Cottesloe Theatre.

This closely knit group of directors, writers, designers, actors, musicians, stage managers and technicians produced a powerful and exciting body of work over the next few years, notably the "promenade" productions of Lark Rise (1978) and Candleford (1979), adapted by Keith Dewhurst from Flora Thompson's memoir of a rural childhood; and the highly acclaimed The Passion (1977), Tony Harrison and the company's version of the York medieval mystery plays, presented in 1985 with The Nativity and Doomsday under the title The Mysteries, and revived in 1999 for the Millennium.

In the early Eighties, Graham-Jones trained as a television director at Granada, where he worked on Coronation Street and other programmes. He set up and directed a series called Travelling Man (1984) with Leigh Lawson in the lead and with music by his great friend Duncan Browne, who also died young of liver cancer. He worked in films with John Schlesinger, George Roy Hill and Sergio Leone and as a freelance theatre director in the UK and frequently abroad.

Susan Fleetwood died in 1995. Her death had a devastating effect on Seb and the next few years were difficult ones. But he dealt bravely with his demons and gradually got his life back on track, working in drama schools and on projects with a lower profile than he had been used to. He was called in to rescue an episode of the television series Cadfael (1994) with Derek Jacobi and last year directed an episode in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries. He was also putting another arrow in his quiver as a radio director and, with Bill Bryden and Nicholas Newton, Promenade Productions made radio drama of a high quality; many old friends from theatre days were delighted to lend their talents. He was planning a radio version of The Pickwick Papers at the time of his death.

He was in Cape Cod last week directing a production of Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval when he became ill and was advised to return to London, where he was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with cancer.

Graham-Jones's personal qualities were part of his talent. His tremendous warmth, charm, energy and generosity were what endeared him to his friends and colleagues. He was articulate and funny; his stories often went on far too long, but were told with such a sense of fun and invention of language that we were happy to listen to them several times. He was a great encourager of the young, be they students or the children of friends, young actors, writers, or directors.

As well as his father, sister and brothers, he leaves a son, Luke, whom he had with Gemma Jones, and his partner, Alison Gee, and her family.

Richard Mangan

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