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Wood, Charles (1932-)


Main image of Wood, Charles (1932-)

Charles Wood was born into a theatrical family in 1932. He hated acting and went to art school, but soon left to join the army. He served with the 17th/21st Lancers, leaving after his contracted five years, having failed to win an officer's commission.

He began writing plays and went on to produce a substantial body of work for stage, television and film. This was often concerned with war and, in particular, the experience of the British soldier, with whom he showed a natural empathy. "I think I know something about the people who fight in wars", he said in 1988, "and I mostly like them".

His first television play was Traitor in a Steel Helmet (BBC, tx. 18/9/1961), about a recluse who comes into contact with the army when he tries to live on a tank training ground. The Times noted that "The moral is plain - no one can contract out of society; the helmet itself is a sign that its wearer is under authority, and modern warfare respects no man's principles." These sentiments echo through much of Wood's later work. His Armchair Theatre play 'Prisoner and Escort' (ITV, tx. 5/4/1964) was a dark comedy concerning a soldier on his way to court-martial. Drill Pig (ITV, tx. 14/12/1964) was about a 'born soldier' desperate to escape civilian life.

1965 saw Wood break into films, writing the anarchic comedy The Knack and the Beatles' second film, Help!, for director Richard Lester. On more familiar territory, he wrote the screenplays for anti-war films How I Won the War (d. Lester, 1967) and The Long Day's Dying (d. Peter Collinson, 1968) from the novels by Patrick Ryan and Alan White respectively.

In 1968 Wood dramatised one of the British army's greatest blunders for Tony Richardson's The Charge of the Light Brigade. He was keen to depict the contrast between the "amateur civilian" and "trained professional" types of soldier and show how disastrous misunderstandings could occur in such a polarised army.

On the small screen, 'Drums Along the Avon', for the BBC's Wednesday Play (tx. 24/5/1967), was a playfully satirical tale of racial integration in Bristol, with Leonard Rossiter's character 'blacking-up' to live like an Indian. The three-part Death or Glory Boy (ITV, 10-24/3/1974) was a semi-autobiographical story of an enthusiastic young recruit in the writer's old regiment. Don't Forget to Write! (BBC, 1977-78) also drew on personal experience. This comedy series starring George Cole as a struggling writer was born out of several earlier television plays featuring the same character. 'Do As I Say' (tx. 25/1/1977), for the BBC's Play for Today, was an extremely black comedy about the rape of a suburban housewife. Critic Alan Coren called it "a meticulously constructed, delicately balanced, finely wrought piece of repellent ugliness".

The 1980s saw Wood complete the epic biopics Wagner and Puccini for Tony Palmer (1983 and 1984) and Red Monarch (Channel 4, tx. 16/6/1983), about the later life of Stalin, based on the short stories of Yuri Krotkov. He also dramatised Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals (BBC, tx. 17/10-19/12/1987) and contributed to Inspector Morse (ITV, 1987-2000).

Wood returned to his favourite theme with Tumbledown (BBC, tx. 31/5/1988), dramatising the experiences of severely wounded Falklands War veteran Lieutenant Robert Lawrence. Coming in the wake of the Falklands Play fiasco and depicting the allegedly poor care afforded to wounded soldiers, the play caused massive controversy. On an artistic level, it went on to win BAFTA, Royal Television Society and Prix Italia awards, among others.

Wood's military preoccupations continued into the 1990s. 'A Breed of Heroes' (Screen One, BBC, tx. 4/9/1994) adapted Alan Judd's novel about the experiences of a young British officer in Belfast. Wood contributed scripts to Napoleonic Wars army saga Sharpe (ITV, 1993-2006) and one of his episodes of Kavanagh QC, 'Mute of Malice' (ITV, 3/3/1997), concerned an army chaplain traumatised by his experiences in Bosnia. More recently, Wood co-wrote the screenplay for Iris (d. Richard Eyre, 2001), the hugely successful biopic of novelist Iris Murdoch.

Oliver Wake

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Knack ...and How to Get It, The (1965)Knack ...and How to Get It, The (1965)

Archetypal Swinging London film which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes

Thumbnail image of Inspector Morse (1987-2000)Inspector Morse (1987-2000)

Gentle Oxfordshire whodunnits faced by the melancholic detective

Thumbnail image of Kavanagh Q.C. (1995-2001)Kavanagh Q.C. (1995-2001)

Post-Morse vehicle for John Thaw as an affable barrister

Thumbnail image of Tumbledown (1988)Tumbledown (1988)

Lacerating drama about the Falklands War and its aftermath

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