Graham Theakston: Award-winning director who launched ‘New Tricks’ and worked on ‘Grange Hill’ and ‘The Politician’s Wife

He gained a degree in architecture, but work experience suggested that it was not for him

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The Independent Online

As a television director, Graham Theakston was a guiding hand behind a string of powerful dramas.

In one of his finest, The Politician’s Wife (1995), written by Paula Milne, he steered Juliet Stevenson to sweet revenge as the wronged woman after a Conservative government’s families minister (Trevor Eve) has an affair with a prostitute-turned-parliamentary researcher (Minnie Driver). The director built up the tension as the MP’s wife destroys his career with a campaign of leaks and misinformation in the three-part series, which won both Bafta and International Emmy Awards as best drama.

Theakston also laid the groundwork for New Tricks, one of British television’s longest-running dramas. He directed the pilot in 2003, attracted by the character-driven story. Amanda Redman was cast as the long-suffering Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman, the police officer heading a new Metropolitan Police unit, the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS), with Alun Armstrong, James Bolam and Dennis Waterman as the retired officers recruited to reinvestigate crimes.

“New Tricks looks at non-politically correct attitudes through the eyes of amusing characters from an age when being PC wasn’t entirely necessary,” said Theakston. “What I liked about these guys is that they don’t have a career to look forward to, so they live for the day. They don’t owe anybody anything and don’t go around trying to empire-build. Their attitude is an eye-opener for their boss.” He returned for two episodes of the second series (2005).

Theakston was born in Bradford, the son of Leonard, an administrator in the wool industry, and Doreen. He gained a degree in architecture from Manchester Polytechnic (1971-75) but work experience convinced him that his future was not as an architect and he took the polytechnic’s film and TV production course.

He became a production assistant at BBC Manchester (1977-78), where he was given directing experience. He then joined BBC South (1978-79), where he directed the children’s series Hey Look... That’s Me! After moving to the BBC in London in 1979, he was production manager and a director on Grange Hill over the next two years. At the time, the Phil Redmond serial about a London comprehensive, aimed at a teenage audience, featured future EastEnders Todd Carty as “Tucker” Jenkins and Susan Tully as Suzanne Ross.

Theakston directed the BBC play Chains and a Crown Court story, followed by eight episodes in the first run (1984) of the sci-fi thriller The Tripods, an adaptation of John Christopher’s novels about towering three-legged walking machines piloted by unseen aliens.

He directed Emily Watson as Maggie Tulliver in an adaptation of The Mill on the Floss (1997), David Jason as a retired MI6 agent returning to action in March in Windy City (1998), Peter Falk as a bookie-cum-bar owner threatened by the Mob in Vig (1998), Sarah Lancashire as Coral Atkins, the actress who opened a home for disturbed children, in Seeing Red (2000) and Anna Massey and Juliet Aubrey as the mother and daughter whose lives are turned upside down in A Good Murder (2006).

He also worked on episodes of many popular series, from Casualty (1988) and Perfect Scoundrels (1992) to the police dramas Dempsey and Makepeace (1985), The Bill (1987-93), Taggart (1992), A Touch of Frost (1997) and Blue Murder (2007). At the time of his death from cancer, he was trying to find a Hollywood producer for the thriller Eden Heights.

Graham Theakston, director: born Bradford, West Yorkshire 29 February 1952; partner to Jill Taylor 1984-2005 (one son); died London 2 September 2014.

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