William Corlett

Author of the 'Magician's House' novels

A leading children's writer, in his novels for older readers William Corlett constantly pushed at the boundaries still existing between teenage and adult fiction. Original but always readable, many of his stories often reached a wider audience after he had adapted them for television. Unafraid to write about male attraction to other males before this became a more acceptable theme in teenage fiction, in his later life he came out as an openly gay writer with a devoted following in America as well as in Britain.

Growing up in Yorkshire, Corlett was educated at Fettes College, Edinburgh before enrolling at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1956. He was soon writing for the stage as well as appearing on it, with his first play, Another Round, published in 1963. Others were to follow, notably The Gentle Avalanche (1964) and his comedy Return Ticket (1966), both performed in London. This theatrical experience was to come in useful later when it came to adapting stories, his own or those by others, for the stage or screen, winning him numbers of prestigious awards over the years.

Yet it was as a novelist that Corlett was to make his mark with The Gate of Eden (1974). This touching story describes the bitter-sweet relationship between 15-year-old Peter and Mr Faulkner, an initially grumpy bachelor schoolteacher. Gradually learning to enjoy each other's company through a shared fascination with literature, the two talk and then correspond. But the friendship is threatened when Peter's girlfriend Sue disapproves of him spending so much time with an old man. There is also gossip about why Mr Faulkner retired so suddenly following allegations about him from a pupil. Peter finally confronts his mentor about this, only to be met by silence. They never communicate again. When Corlett adapted this novel for television in 1979, the old English teacher was unforgettably played by Maurice Denham.

This fine book was followed by The Land Beyond (1974), where Peter is now having his own relationship problems. Told in a mixture of styles involving notebook entries, diary jottings, extracts from a television screen play and even at one stage a time-slip, this was a demanding novel from a writer never afraid to make things hard both for himself and sometimes his readers too. The last title in the trilogy, Return to the Gate (1975) finds Peter as an old man living at some future time of general economic collapse. Now it is his turn to make friends across the age divide, in this case with a young woman. The political emphasis in the novel is accompanied by a growing interest in its religious dimension.

This new preoccupation was followed up in a series of non-fiction titles, from The Hindu Sound (1978) to The Christ Story (1978) and The Islamic Space (1979). Approachable without ever risking trivialising their contents, these texts were a tribute to Corlett's skill as a writer. The same questioning spirit can also be found in his novel Bloxworth Blue (1984), named after a rare species of butterfly and involving meditations on guilt, love, death, betrayal and the nature of God.

But Corlett's greatest commercial success was still to come. Now living in the Hertfordshire countryside, he and his black Labrador puppy Charlie would go for long walks twice a day in the nearby woods. After discovering secret paths and unexpected places and sometimes meeting badgers and foxes, Corlett was inspired to write a sequence of novels under the overall title The Magician's House. This featured talking animals plus a magician, Stephen Tyler, loosely based on the Elizabethan alchemist John Dee. Composed in a space of only two years, this quartet starts with The Steps up the Chimney (1990) and ends with The Bridge in the Clouds (1992).

Able to travel through time, Tyler enlists the help of three modern children in his efforts to save the rare Golden Badger, whose home in the Golden Valley is now threatened by property developers. The first two books were televised on BBC1 in 1999, starring Ian Richardson as the magician and a supporting cast including Neil Pearson and Siân Phillips. This was followed in 2000 by The Magician's House II, based on book three; during its final stages of post-production, Charlie died in her sleep.

Corlett's then wrote two stories with overtly gay themes. Now and Then (1995) describes 50-year-old Christopher Metcalfe returning to his childhood home after his father's death. While there he remembers the passion he once had at school for another boy, concluding that this great love and the difficulties it led to had a crippling effect upon him during his adult life. Two Gentlemen Sharing (1997) is more in the nature of gay slapstick, when male lovers Rick and Bless move into the big house of a small English village, provoking a predictably suspicious reaction before peace prevails.

Kitty (2004) was an affectionate story about two anthropomorphic dogs making their way across southern Spain in their search for a final, beautiful resting place. But by now Corlett was seriously ill. Supported by his beloved partner Bryn Ellis, he put up a brave fight against the cancer that was slowly consuming him, finally leaving behind many close friends as well as innumerable fans of his work on both page and screen.

Nicholas Tucker

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary in Downton Abbey
peopleBut who comes top of the wish list?
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, right, with Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds in Newtown, Powys, as part of her tour in support of the party’s female candidates
general electionNick Clegg's wife has impressed during the campaign
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living