Stephen Mallatratt

Television writer who scripted a West End classic
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The Independent Online

An inspired adaptation of a ghost story brought the actor-writer Stephen Mallatratt's name to the West End with a production that outlived both him and every other show in London, apart from The Mousetrap.

Nigel Stephen Mallatratt, actor and writer: born London 15 June 1947; (one daughter with Eileen O'Brien), married 1996 Emma London; died Bristol 22 November 2004.

An inspired adaptation of a ghost story brought the actor-writer Stephen Mallatratt's name to the West End with a production that outlived both him and every other show in London, apart from The Mousetrap.

Susan Hill's 1983 novel The Woman in Black told the tale of a solicitor, Arthur Kipps, who travels north to wind up the estate of the late Mrs Drablow, who had lived reclusively in a remote house. After seeing a ghostly figure at the funeral, he is obsessed with the idea that he is cursed and employs a young actor to help him to prepare a performance of his experiences for his family and friends, in an attempt to exorcise the ghosts of the past.

Mallatratt turned this simple story into an atmospheric chiller that has gripped audiences at the Fortune Theatre in Covent Garden for the past 15 years. It originally opened in 1987 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, in Scarborough, where Mallatratt had enjoyed a long association with the writer-director Alan Ayckbourn, and transferred to the West End two years later, first at the Strand Theatre, then the Playhouse, before moving to the Fortune.

Born in Mill Hill, north London, in 1947, Mallatratt fell in love with the stage after visits as a child to the Watford Palace Theatre and he gained acting experience with local amateur dramatics companies. On leaving school, he went into the building industry.

He eventually fulfilled his stage ambitions by studying at the Central School of Speech and Drama (1968-71) and joining the company at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. As an actor there, he took leading roles in the premieres of Alan Ayckbourn productions such as Absent Friends (as John, 1974), The Breadwinners (as Patrick, 1974), Confusions (1974) and Bedroom Farce (as Nick, 1975), as well as in plays by other writers.

Ayckbourn also gave him the chance to develop his own writing talents, and directed Mallatratt's plays An Englishman's Home (1975), The Chimes (1975) and Mother Country (1976) at the Library Theatre, Scarborough.

Mallatratt was cast on television as the vet John Stokes in Emmerdale (1980) and twice in Coronation Street, as Peter Hockley (1979), who snogged Suzie Birchall after Gail Potter's joint 21st and engagement party, and as Jeff Moffatt (1982), husband of Gail's friend Jackie.

Through his assocation in Scarborough with Mervyn Watson, who became the producer of Coronation Street, Mallatratt joined the serial's scriptwriting team (1985-96, 1999) and was responsible for 115 scripts, admired for his ability to write believable stories for well-developed characters.

In 1995, he recommended his friend the actor David Nielson for the role of Roy Cropper in the Street. The result was one of the progamme's greatest finds, the oddball character who fell for a transexual.

Mallatratt found his greatest success on screen only in his final couple of years, with two scripts for Granada Television dramas. First, he wrote the remake of The Forsyte Saga (2002), a sumptuous production of John Galsworthy's novels, which had once been a worldwide best-seller for the BBC. His triumph was to make the characters flesh and blood, in a way that costume drama rarely achieves on television.

Then, Mallatratt scripted Island at War (2004), one of the few dramatisations of the Channel Islands' experience of Nazi occupation during the Second World War, and he took the small role of the vicar in the series. "I thought it was a great, unexplored area of drama," he said.

Anthony Hayward

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