Oscar-winner Bolt dies, aged 70

Marianne Macdonald reviews the life and times of a playwright for all seasons
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The Independent Online
The playwright Robert Bolt, who won Oscars for his screenplays for Dr Zhivago and A Man For All Seasons, has died at his home in Hampshire.

"It was extremely peaceful, there was no pain. He died watching TV at about 10pm on Monday," his assistant, Julie Nightingale, said yesterday. His wife, the actress Sarah Miles, was by his side. Mr Bolt, 70, had a history of heart trouble and was disabled by a massive stroke in 1979, after which he was partially paralysed and had to learn to speak again.

The former schoolmaster lived near Petersfield with Ms Miles, who starred in Hope and Glory and White Mischief and two films written by him, Ryan's Daughter and Lady Caroline Lamb. Mr Bolt was born and educated in Manchester, where he began his career in insurance before being drafted into the RAF and the Army at the end of the Second World War.

He taught English at Millfield School, Somerset, between 1952 and 1958 during which he had his first West End success with Flowering Cherry, a drama about an insurance salesman.

In 1960, Mr Bolt won acclaim with A Man For All Seasons, his play based on the life of the Tudor statesman and martyr St Thomas More. Later filmed starring Paul Scofield, it firmly established him as a leading contemporary writer, although he resisted attempts to classify him as one of the Angry Young Men, describing himself as "anxious rather than angry". He also wrote the screenplay for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.

His private life was not simple. He married Celia Roberts in 1949; the couple had three children before they divorced in 1967. The same year he married Sarah Miles. They divorced in 1976 after having a son. Four years later he married Ann Zane, ex-wife of the Marquess of Queensberry. The marriage fell apart after five years, and the playwright then remarried Ms Miles. Despite his stroke Mr Bolt continued to work, writing The Mission in 1986 as a novel and screenplay. The film produced by Sir David Puttnam won him a Golden Globe award.

"His screenplays are the jewels of British cinema," Lady Puttnam said yesterday. "When he had his stroke it was difficult for him because he not only lost mobility, he lost his vocabulary. But he had more tenacity to overcome that disability than anybody I have ever met."

Adrian Wootton, head of the British Film Institute, said he was "one of the finest screenwriters this country has ever produced." Before his death Mr Bolt was adapting Jung Chang's prize-winning novel Wild Swans for BBC television.

Obituary, page 16

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