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Cooper, Giles (1918-1966)


Main image of Cooper, Giles (1918-1966)

Giles Cooper is best remembered as a writer of wit and originality who crafted some of the most accomplished radio plays of the 1950s, in recognition of which he was awarded the OBE. However, he also had a highly successful career in television, in which he was particularly prolific during the 1960s, until his untimely death in 1966.

Cooper became a BBC script editor in 1952, later performing the same role for Associated-Rediffusion. In 1953 he dramatised Eric Ambler's Epitaph for a Spy (BBC), starting a string of literary adaptations. The most successful of these came in the 1960s, with serial versions of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms (BBC, 1965 and 1966) and Evelyn Waugh's 'Sword of Honour' trilogy (Theatre 625, BBC, 1967), among many others. In 1961 he won the Television Producers and Directors' Guild Best Writer award in recognition of his work on the BBC's Maigret (1960-63) series of George Simenon detective stories. In a similar vein, he provided a number of popular dramatisations for Sherlock Holmes (BBC, 1965).

Arguably Cooper's most interesting work is his body of original plays, many of which mine the rich seam of the macabre that was characteristic of his radio work. Typically, a veneer of normality masks the sinister, such as in 'Seek Her Out' (Theatre 625, BBC, tx. 4/7/1965), in which a London underground station becomes the setting for an assassination and a witness is pursued across the city. In his science-fiction play 'Loop' (Drama 63, ITV, tx. 20/10/1963), television itself becomes a weapon.

One of Cooper's favourite themes was the way apparently civilised society can fall rapidly into barbarism, and nowhere is this more obvious than in 'Unman, Wittering and Zigo' (Theatre 625, BBC, tx. 27/6/1965), a play about a schoolmaster who learns that his pupils murdered his predecessor. The play was later filmed by John Mackenzie (1971). Similarly disturbing was The Other Man (ITV, tx. 7/9/1964), which depicted the British Army embracing Nazism. Although less characteristic of his oeuvre, Cooper's substantial body of television work also included historical drama, comedy and more conventional suspense plays.

Cooper died in December 1966, at the age of 48, after falling from a train. His output immediately prior to his death had been so prolific that at least seven of his productions ultimately had their television premieres posthumously.

Oliver Wake

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Thumbnail image of Other Man, The (1964)Other Man, The (1964)

Epic drama starring Michael Caine, imagining a Britain under Nazi rule

Thumbnail image of Sword of Honour (1967)Sword of Honour (1967)

Adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh trilogy about WWII

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