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Smith, Neville (1940-)

Actor, Writer, Director

Main image of Smith, Neville (1940-)

A regular collaborator of director Ken Loach, Neville Smith is one of a number of working-class actors and writers to have transformed the subject-matter and tone of television drama in the 1960s and 1970s. He was responsible for two of Loach's finest television films - 'The Golden Vision' (The Wednesday Play, BBC, tx. 17/4/1968) and After a Lifetime (ITV, tx. 18/7/1971) - but also developed a partnership with the director Stephen Frears, for whom he wrote the cult British detective film, Gumshoe (UK/US, 1971).

Born in Liverpool in 1940, he began his film and television acting career in series such as The Plane Makers (ITV, 1963-65), Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89) and Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78). He played his first lead role in Eric Coltart's 'Wear a Very Big Hat' (The Wednesday Play, BBC, tx. 17/2/1965), winning praise for the truthfulness of his performance as an aggrieved working-class mod. The play was directed by Ken Loach, who went on to cast Smith in three dramas for The Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-70) - 'The End of Arthur's Marriage' (tx. 17/11/1965), 'In Two Minds' (tx. 1/3/1967) and 'The Big Flame' (tx. 19/2/1969) - as well as 'The Rank and File' (Play For Today, BBC, tx. 20/5/1971).

It was also for Loach (and his regular producer Tony Garnett) that Smith wrote (with a little help from ITN newscaster Gordon Honeycombe) his first television play, 'The Golden Vision'. Partly based on Smith's experiences of growing up in an Irish-Catholic working-class community, the play is focused on a group of fanatical Everton supporters and proved to be one of Loach's most engaging and enjoyable works. Smith also wrote and appeared in a second Loach-Garnett production, After a Lifetime. Inspired by the death of his father, the production lamented the death of an earlier era of political radicalism while retaining a strong element of Smith's Liverpudlian humour.

This same humour is also to be found in his first film screenplay, Gumshoe, about a Liverpool bingo caller who dreams of becoming a private-eye in the mould of Sam Spade. Directed by Stephen Frears and featuring Albert Finney in the main role, the film remains one of Smith's best-known works (and led Frears to describe him as "the best writer I've ever come across"). Two further television plays written for Frears followed: 'Match of the Day' (Second City Firsts, BBC, tx. 18/3/1974), in which the main character (played by Smith) misses a football match for the sake of his sister's wedding, and 'Long Distance Information' (Play For Today, BBC, tx. 11/10/1979), in which Smith plays an Elvis-obsessed DJ on the night of his hero's death.

He also wrote and starred in 'Bag of Yeast' (Red Letter Day, ITV, tx. 22/2/1976), directed by Michael Grigsby, in which a young teacher decides to become a priest. Smith's interest in football resurfaced in later work such as The World Cup - A Captain's Tale (ITV, tx. 23/5/1986), a Dennis Waterman vehicle recalling the Durham miners who won the first football 'World Cup', and The Manageress (Channel 4, 1989-90), a series about a woman football manager for which Smith wrote a number of episodes. In addition to writing for radio, Smith also acted in a range of films and TV programmes, including playing the writer 'Neville', in pursuit of a director for a screenplay about the Aberdeen oil business, in Maurice Hatton's low-budget feature Long Shot (1978).

John Hill

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of After a Lifetime (1971)After a Lifetime (1971)

20th-century class politics explored through the death of a lifelong activist

Thumbnail image of Afternoon Off (1979)Afternoon Off (1979)

Tragicomedy about an Asian waiter on a blind date in Hartlepool.

Thumbnail image of Big Flame, The (1969)Big Flame, The (1969)

Incendiary drama about a dockers' strike turned workers' takeover

Thumbnail image of End Of Arthur's Marriage, The (1965)End Of Arthur's Marriage, The (1965)

A real Ken Loach curio: a musical satire on money and property

Thumbnail image of Golden Vision, The (1968)Golden Vision, The (1968)

Witty Ken Loach drama-doc about obsessive Everton fans

Thumbnail image of In Two Minds (1967)In Two Minds (1967)

David Mercer and Ken Loach's controversial study of schizophrenia

Thumbnail image of Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1978)Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1978)

Mournfully funny Alan Bennett play about a cripplingly shy English lecturer

Thumbnail image of Rank and File, The (1971)Rank and File, The (1971)

Fictionalised account of a 'wildcat' strike by Jim Allen and Ken Loach

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Thumbnail image of Ken Loach and his collaboratorsKen Loach and his collaborators

Collaboration is key for Britain's foremost political filmmaker

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Thumbnail image of Frears, Stephen (1941-)Frears, Stephen (1941-)

Director, Actor, Producer