· Home

· Television and Film Credits

· Stage Credits

· Awards


Ken Taylor

In his autobiography Sir Peter Hall records: "I once asked the distinguished film and television writer Ken Taylor how he had developed such a strong sense of narrative in his scripts. He said he had been on the book as stage manager for many long years, so was at once aware when a play lost its audience. The narrative sense he gained from this gave us The Jewel in the Crown."

Ken Taylor has written the scripts for almost a hundred hours of television drama in a career spanning more than four decades, starting with the broadcast of his first radio play in 1941 as he was embarking on an RAF troopship for service in India. Born on 10 November 1922, the seventh child of a Lancashire cotton mill owner, he was brought up in a wealthy Bolton family, where the sight of unemployed workers sitting idle on the streets set the stamp on his political sympathies from an early age, working in recent years with the Liberal Democrats.

His first work for television in the early nineteen-fifties was for the developing "mid-Atlantic" market established by canny American producers exploiting the undeveloped wealth of talent available in Britain, before the advent of commercial television in the UK created a rich new opportunity for home based television drama. Though his public school background scarcely qualified him, he succeeded with plays in the then fashionable "kitchen sink" vogue such as One of Us, dealing with immigrant labour conflict in a cotton mill, and The Long Distance Blue, which provided James Bolam with his first starring role as a northern pigeon fancier and was directed by Christopher Morahan, who later produced and co-directed The Jewel in the Crown.

The nineteen-sixties became dominated by the availability of nuclear weapons and their threat to destroy the world, leading Ken Taylor to re-examine his view on the nature of the human animal and its propensity for violence with his plays Into the Dark and The Slaughter Men, the last starring the young Tom Bell. The Devil and John Brown, which won the 1964 Writers' Guild award as best original teleplay, was based on a real life event in 1849 and dealt with a Scottish collier trapped by a pit fall, who survived for three weeks alone in the dark, reviewing his own existence in the vicious struggle for life in all creation. This phase culminated in the commissioning by Sydney Newman of a trilogy of 90-minute plays The Seekers concerning the problem of human evil, written for the opening of BBC2 and featuring Michael Bryant in a variety of roles across three periods of history - The Heretics set in the Middle Ages, The Idealists in the French revolution and The Materialists in Auschwitz. A further historically-based trilogy The Magicians followed with Dr Dee, Kelly and the Spirits, The Incantation of Casanova and Edmund Gurney and the Brighton Mesmerist.

These preoccupations were unlikely to go down well as popular entertainment and Taylor wisely now decided to leave humanity to solve its problems without the help of television drama, but it is interesting to consider what chance any of these ideas would have of surviving the commissioning process of today, though winning for him the (pre-Bafta) Guild of TV Producers and Directors award as Writer of the Year in 1964. They were produced in the golden age of television when the writer was supreme.

Future original drama from Ken Taylor continued to be factually based with biographical plays on the life of the children's writer E Nesbit and three plays for the suffragette series Shoulder to Shoulder - The Pankhursts, Christobel and Sylvia Pankhurst. These were followed by a 3-part dramatisation of the famous Victorian political scandal surrounding Sir Charles Dilke in The Member for Chelsea and an equally famous Victorian mystery in the 3-part serial The Poisoning of Charles Bravo, later adapted for the stage.

Alongside his original work for television Ken Taylor also worked extensively on adaptations from writers including Somerset Maugham, H G Wells, Thomas Hardy, Rebecca West, Jane Austen, Muriel Spark and Mary Wesley. He contributed to the Granada series based on the stories of D H Lawrence and adapted for television Lawrence's play The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, which first drew attention to Lawrence's neglected skill as a playwright. But the adaptation which made the greatest impact both here and in America was his fifteen-hour adaptation of Paul Scott's Raj Quartet novels - The Jewel in the Crown.

As well as its vast scope, Scott's masterpiece presented a special challenge with its complex story told from a variety of perspectives, moving freely back and forward in time. The problem was not (as has been suggested) to reorganise the material into chronological order, but how to do so without destroying the impressionistic echoes and reverberations which Scott's genius had evoked. The impact of the series proved that this transition to the television screen had been successfully achieved - thanks to Christopher Morahan's masterly production and direction with his co-director Jim O'Brien.

Ken Taylor's most distinguishing feature as a wr iter has been his ability to create complex dramatic roles for women, and women also feature prominently in the list of writers he has adapted. He states: "I have always preferred the company of women to that of men. I could not write a play without a major female role and have most enjoyed my contacts with living female writers and with the actresses whose talents have brought my work to life. The human race is now in crisis and I believe the evolutionary imperative of the male drives for competitiveness and aggression must give way to the female instincts of nurturing and social bonding if we are to have the smallest hope of surviving the threat to our species posed by global warming.


© Ken Taylor 2008 | Norman North, The Agency | Site by Laika Design