Return to The Sleeping Prince 1983

Terence Mervyn Rattigan

Terence Mervyn Rattigan

 

Terence Rattigan was born on June 10th, 1911. His father Frank was a diplomat and his grandfather a knight. He enjoyed a youth marked by travel, and yet while the family was seemingly upscale, the Rattigans were never wealthy. More significantly, his father's lowbrow background and behavior barred them from mingling with high society. Eventually, Frank would lose his diplomatic post, and the money and prestige that went with it.

Rattigan attended Harrow, but unlike most boys there, Rattigan attended on scholarship. While at school, he was open about his newly found homosexuality. At the time and in his circles, it was quite fashionable to do so. (Later on, as he became known, he would take great pains to hide his sexual preference.) Trinity College at Oxford was his next stop. There, Rattigan moved into a theater crowd to develop his growing talent. His first play was written while at Trinity and was produced in 1934. Fittingly titled "First Episode," his introduction to the theater community moved quickly from Surrey to London's fashionable West End Theater District.

Terence's father did not encourage his son's gift. Frank Rattigan constantly suggested that his son find "respectable" work, and went so far as to set Terence up with a job as a screenwriter at Warner Brothers so that he could earn a steady salary. Terence did not want such a compromise and came up with a plan the would give him the time he knew he needed to become a success. He persuaded his father to give him 200 pounds a year for two years to try his hand at writing. If he could not make a career of writing, he would enter a more secure profession. It took Rattigan only months to secure his position as a playwright.

Rattigan followed his initial success with perhaps one of his most popular works, "French Without Tears" in 1936. This show brought Rattigan rave reviews and a considerable amount of wealth. Rattigan soon began to live a life of pleasure, indulging freely in drinking and gambling. But just as Rattigan appeared to be self-destructing, he joined the Royal Air Force in 1940 after Hitler invaded Denmark and Norway.

For the first time in Rattigan's life, he found himself surrounded by men who came from all walks of life, and he was captivated by them. He wrote a play (produced in 1942) while in the service entitled "Flare Path" about his experiences. This play solidified the view that many already had of Rattigan: "his was the acceptable voice of protest that would not embarrass or annoy those who dictated what was politically or artistically acceptable." Rattigan took to this voice--the voice of the common theatergoer--and he even gave it a name; he called it Aunt Edna.

Aunt Edna became Terence Rattigan's best known character, the singular personality of "the great audience." Rattigan described her as a "nice, respectable, middle-class, middle-aged, maiden lady, with time on her hands and money to help her pass it, who resides in a West Kensington hotel." He learned to listen to her and he always respected her opinion.

Rattigan enjoyed uninterrupted success from 1936 until 1956. With a string of hits including "French Without Tears," "While the Sun Shines," "Love in Idleness," "The Browning Version," "Separate Tables," "The Winslow Boy" and others, it seemed as though Rattigan could not miss. He even began a successful film career, which would bring him further acclaim. He was nominated for Academy Awards for David Lean's "Breaking The Sound Barrier" (1953) and for "Separate Tables" (1959), which received seven nominations including Best Picture, winning a Best Actor statuette for David Niven and Best Supporting Actress award for Wendy Hiller. In 1959, he won the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival for "The Browning Version."

However, Rattigan's charmed existence was soon to change. When John Osborne revolutionized the theater world in 1956 with his play "Look Back In Anger," the attention he and other "angry young men" playwrights received caused Rattigan and his meticulous craftsmanship to be seen as hopelessly out-dated, in direct contrast with everything these young writers stood for. Rattigan was reviled in the press and turned increasingly towards movies for his livelihood.

In 1957, Rattigan wrote "Variation on a Theme," the first play in which he addressed his homosexuality openly. Sadly, this play, which held the most truth and told the most personal story Rattigan presented, was both a critical and box office flop. However, the play enabled Rattigan to become more public with his private life and learn to accept himself.

In 1962, Terence Rattigan was diagnosed with leukemia. After two years of doing little more than waiting for his eminent death, Rattigan rather unexpectedly recovered. When Rattigan began taking part in life again, his life was not as he remembered. He found himself completely out of touch with the Swinging Britain of the sixties, and he fell ill again in 1968.

Out of touch and no longer revered in his homeland, coupled with his failing health, Rattigan made the decision to leave Britain and live abroad. He chose Bermuda, which is quite far from England, yet still tied to Great Britain. He lived out the rest of his days there, rarely returning to England. However, he lived to see the successful revivals of his plays and new, deeper readings of his often subversive texts. Rattigan achieved the acceptance he long searched for when he was knighted in 1971, like his grandfather.

Terence Rattigan died on Wednesday, November 30th, 1977. In death, Rattigan became a national figure, revered as he was in his youth, at the height of his popularity, by the press and public alike.

Plays:
"First Episode" (1934), written with Philip Heimann
"A Tale of Two Cities" (1935, first performed in 1950), written with John Gielgud
"Grey Farm" (1935, first performed in 1940), written with Hector Bolitho
"French Without Tears" (1936)
"After the Dance" (1939)
"Follow My Leader" (1938, banned by Lord Chamberlain until 1940)
"Flare Path" (1942)
"While the Sun Shines" (1943)
"Love In Idleness" (aka "O Mistress Mine," 1944)
"The Winslow Boy" (1946)
"Playbill" (1948), including "The Browning Version" and "Harlequinade"
"Adventure Story" (1949)
"Who Is Sylvia?" (1950)
"The Deep Blue Sea" (1952)
"The Sleeping Prince" (1953)
"Separate Tables" (1954), including "Table by the Window" and "Table Number Seven"
"Variation on a Theme" (1958)
"Ross" (1960)
"Joie de Vivre" (1960)
"Man and a Boy" (1963)
"A Bequest to the Nation" (1970)
"In Praise of Love" (1973), including "Before Dawn," "After Lydia," and "In Praise of Love"
"Duologue" (1976), adapted from television play "All on Her Own"
"Cause Célèbre" (1977)

Screenplays:
"French Without Tears" (1939, dir. Anthony Asquith)
"Quiet Wedding" (1940, dir. Anthony Asquith) , written with Anatole de Grunwald
"The Avengers" (1942, dir. Harold French), written with Anatole de Grunwald and Patrick Kirwan
"Uncensored" (1942, dir. Anthony Asquith) written with Wolfgang Wilhelm and Rodney Ackland
"Her Man Gilbey" (1944, aka "English Without Tears," dir. Anthony Asquith), written with Anatole de Grunwald
"Journey Together" (1945, dir. John Boulting)
"Johnny in the Clouds""(1945, aka "The Way to the Stars," dir. Anthony Asquith), written with Anatole de Grunwald
"Brighton Rock" (1947, dir. John Boulting), written with Graham Greene
"While the Sun Shines" (1947, dir. Anthony Asquith), with Anatole de Grunwald
"Bond Street" (1948, dir. Gordon Parry), written with Anatole de Grunwald and Rodney Ackland
"The Winslow Boy" (1948, dir. Anthony Asquith), written with Anatole de Grunwald
"The Browning Version" (1951, dir. Anthony Asquith), 1951 Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay
"Breaking the Sound Barrier" (1952, aka "The Sound Barrier" dir. David Lean), 1953 Academy Award nomination for Best Story and Screenplay
"The Final Test" (1953, dir. Anthony Asquith)
"The Man Who Loved Redheads" (1955, dir. Harold French)
"The Deep Blue Sea" (1955, dir. Anatole Litvak)
"The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957, dir. Laurence Olivier)
"Separate Tables" (1958, dir. Delbert Mann), written with John Gay 1959 Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium
"The VIPs" (1963, dir. Anthony Asquith)
"The Yellow Rolls Royce" (1965, dir. Anthony Asquith)
"Goodbye Mr. Chips" (1969, dir. Herbert Ross)
"Bequest to the Nation" (1973, James Cellan Jones)

Original Television Scripts:
"The Final Test" (1951, dir. Royston Morley)
"Heart to Heart" (1962, dir. Alvin Rakoff)
"Ninety Years On" (1964, dir. Michael Mills)
"Nelson--A Portrait in Miniature" (1966, dir. Stuart Burge)
"All on Her Own" (1968, dir. Hal Burton)
"High Summer" (1972, dir. Peter Duguid), adapted from earlier, unperformed stage play
"Nijinsky" (unproduced)

Radio:
"Cause Célèbre" (1975, prod. Norman Wright)