Obituary: Jeremy Brooks
Saturday 02 July 1994
JEREMY BROOKS was a writer of total integrity. Honesty was his lodestar through all his work, whether in his novels, his adaptations for the stage or his literary criticism (he reviewed fiction regularly for the Independent). On one memorable occasion he fired off a letter to the Independent complaining of a change made to a book review. Not only, he wrote, had the editor altered a word in a well-considered piece of prose, but the word substituted was one the author would never have used. This was not a writer's ego. It was simply that he believed writing was an art to be respected.
Brooks was born in Southampton but for much of his life North Wales was his place of inspiration. It is here that he died, in a remote cottage he shared with his wife, Eleanor, and where, in the earlier part of their life together, they had brought up four children.
After the Second World War, during which he had served in the Navy, and some time scene painting in south London, he settled to writing, supported by the usual part-time jobs, including serving as a waiter. In the early Sixties he produced two best sellers, Jampot Smith and Smith as Hero, but in those innocent days, money did not follow even best-selling success. In 1962 Peter Hall had just launched a rejuvenated Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and Brooks was a natural for the post of literary manager.
Turning his energy to the theatre, he was responsible for a memorable series of adaptations of Russian plays, then largely unknown in Britain. In particular, he was drawn to the work of Maxim Gorky. Plays that are now well known - The Lower Depths, Summerfolk, Enemies - we owe to Brooks's perfectionism.
While Brooks may have devoted time to dead writers, he embraced the living and there are many playwrights working today who owe him a particular debt. He always fought their corner against a management at the RSC frequently unappreciative of the new and the difficult. And though he may not always have won the argument, he never ceased to encourage.
Perhaps it was this sense of never having achieved quite enough for new writers that led Brooks towards a group of radical playwrights in the mid-Seventies and the formation of the Theatre Writers Union, whose members included David Edgar, Edward Bond, John Arden and Margaretta D'Arcy. His presence in the midst of such an argumentative, often exasperating bunch of Britain's best-known dramatists was a blessing. For, while he was a radical, he was also pragmatic and knew the ways of theatre management. He would listen for just so long to the fundamentalist demands of 'no passaran', before erupting into a magnificent display of reasonableness, born of a knowledge of just how far it was possible to go.
Brooks lived as he wrote: lyrically, generously, with enormous passion, occasionally reckless. A welcoming friend, he would always look at a manuscript or sit up for hours to listen politely to a barmy argument. His comments were often so acute you wondered at his patience. It may well be that he devoted too much time to other writers and too little to his own work. Still, there are four novels, a volume of short stories (Doing the Voices, 1985), a clutch of classic adaptations, three original stage plays, three films and countless poems, short stories, television and radio plays. It was a life spent in pursuit of the best.
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