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Marks, Laurence (1948-) and Gran, Maurice (1949-)

Writer, Producer

Main image of Marks, Laurence (1948-) and Gran, Maurice (1949-)

Having vaguely known each other since childhood, Laurence Marks (born in London on 8 December 1948) and Maurice Gran (born Maurice Bernard Gran in London on 26 October 1949) began to write together following their attendance of a writers' discussion group held within the British Drama League.

While still in an amateur capacity they began to submit material to the BBC, although initially to no avail. However, in 1974, with their writing of a monologue for Frankie Howerd (at the suggestion of Barry Took, who had read some of their work) they were invited to contribute to a BBC radio show starring the comedian.

This did not immediately open many doors, but they continued to submit scripts to both the BBC and the ITV companies until London Weekend Television accepted one as showing potential. The result, Holding the Fort (ITV, 1980-82), was a domestic sitcom starring Peter Davison as a househusband with a wife working in the military, with Matthew Kelly as his best friend.

The minor success they enjoyed with Holding the Fort appeared short-lived when their next series, Roots (ITV, 1981), about a Jewish dentist (the duo's first foray into their own ethnic background), became one of the most prominent sitcom disasters of the period, notable only for meagre audience figures and a calendar of postponed episodes.

Salvation came in the form of Shine on Harvey Moon (ITV, 1982-85, 1995), a comedy-drama rather than a sitcom. Relating the travails of a London family in the immediate post-war years, it was the pair's first significant hit, enjoying a revival ten years later, which rejoined the family as it coped with the changes taking place in mid-1950s British society.

Returning to sitcoms, their subsequent series included Relative Strangers (C4, 1985-87), a spin-off from Holding the Fort, with Matthew Kelly now taking centre stage; an ill-starred American venture, Mr Sunshine (ABC, 1986), a dispiriting experience for Marks and Gran, who were but two in a large team of writers; and The New Statesman (ITV, 1987-92), with Rik Mayall as the odious Tory MP, Alan B'Stard. The duo's most popular sitcom up to that date, the series won an International Emmy Award in 1988 and a BAFTA for best comedy series in 1991.

The New Statesman's success was topped, however, by Birds of a Feather (BBC, 1989-98), starring Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson as sisters whose husbands are serving prison sentences. It was the first series to emerge from Marks' and Gran's own company, Alomo Productions, and remains their most successful creation.

With the success of the series, Marks and Gran initiated a programme of hiring other writers to contribute episodes so as to enable them to concentrate their own efforts on creating new projects. Subsequent Alomo productions on these lines include Get Back (BBC, 1992-93), featuring Ray Winstone as a victim of the economic recession, and the very popular Goodnight Sweetheart (BBC, 1993-99), a romantic comedy with a time-travelling theme starring Nicholas Lyndhurst.

However, Marks and Gran continued to serve as sole writers on a number of Alomo's sitcoms, primarily those which never developed into long-running series. These include So You Think You've Got Troubles (BBC, 1991), with Warren Mitchell playing a lapsed Jew from London finding himself among the small Jewish community of Northern Ireland, and the truly awful Believe Nothing (ITV, 2002), which reunited them with Rik Mayall.

The pair have also turned their hand to serious drama (they have always disliked being referred to as 'comedy writers'). Their work in this vein included two further Jewish-themed works: Wall of Silence (BBC, tx. 17/10/1993), a murder mystery set in London's Hasidic Jewish community, and Mosley (C4, 1998), the story of British fascist and anti-semite Oswald Mosley, which was condemned by Jewish organisations - even before it was transmitted - for serving to glorify the man (which it did not).

They also created Dirty Work (BBC, 2000), a private eye series set in Cardiff and starring Neil Pearson.

John Oliver

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Selected credits

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