Career Details

Terence Mervyn Rattigan (Born 10th June, 1911, London.  Died: 30th November, 1977, Bermuda)


Enters Harrow School where he is able to nurture his strong interest in drama, one he acquired aged seven upon seeing ‘Cinderella’.  As well as regular outings to the theatre, he begins to write his own plays, short stories and articles.

1930 – 33

Begins a history degree at Trinity College, Oxford.  Maintains his writing output and joins the university’s dramatic society.  Completes his first play, First Episode, which is co-written by fellow undergraduate Philip Heimann and staged in a small London theatre.


Leaves Oxford without completing his degree following the transfer of First Episode  to the West End in an updated version.  His father agrees to support him through a two-year grace period in which to establish himself as a professional playwright.


Despite completing six plays, none is produced, so Rattigan takes a job writing dialogue for film studios in Teddington.  Towards the end of the year, the young playwright’s luck changes and a West End theatre, in need of a production to fill a scheduling gap, selectsFrench Without Tears.  The play opens in November to surprisingly positive reviews and runs for over 1,000 performances in London, more than 100 in New York, and is later adapted into a film.


After the Dance, Rattigan’s next solo effort after co-writing the farce, Follow My Leaderin 1938, opens in the West End.  More serious than the comic French Without Tears, it nonetheless is enthusiastically received but events leading up to the second World War result in its early closing.


Serving as an air gunner at Officer rank with the RAF during the war, Rattigan begins to write Flare Path.  The wartime play premieres in 1942.


While the Sun Shines opens at the Globe Theatre next door to the Apollo where Flare Path is still playing.  The latter enjoys a 679 performance run but While the Sun Shinesbecomes a smash, running for over 1,000 performances before transferring to New York.


Love In Idleness, a reworked version of Rattigan’s Less than Kind, is staged in the West End, starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

1946 – 47

Based on real events surrounding the 1910 theft case of cadet George Archer-Shee, The Winslow Boy premieres in the West End to critical acclaim and picks up accolades including a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for its Broadway run.  Also in 1947,Brighton Rock, with a screenplay co-written by Graham Greene and Rattigan, is released in cinemas.


The one-act play, The Browning Version, opens at the Phoenix Theatre under the titlePlaybill in combination with a short one-act farce Harlequinade.  Although the plays are praised in London, they fail on Broadway.  Made into a successful film three years later,The Browning Version garners Rattigan an award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival.

1949 – 50

Adventure Story and Who is Sylvia? – one anepic drama, the other a comedy – are both deemed failures;  ‘This Will Not Do, Mr Rattigan,’ retorts the Evening Standard.


Rattigan revives his fortunes with The Deep Blue Sea starring Peggy Ashcroft and Kenneth More.  ‘The most absorbing English play for many seasons’, says Kenneth Tynan in praise.  Later made into a film with Vivien Leigh.


The Sleeping Prince opens with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh who carry the play despite poor reviews.  It is later renamed The Prince and the Showgirl for a film version featuring original star Olivier, opposite Marilyn Monroe.  In the same year the first two volumes of Rattigan’s Collected Plays are published.


Proving a commercial and critical hit in the West End and Broadway, the playwright’s next work, Separate Tables, comprises two one-act plays dealing with sexual and emotional repression.  A film version is released four years later, with Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, David Niven and Burt Lancaster, for which Rattigan receives a New York Film Critics’ Circle Award for Best Screenplay.  Separate Tables is nominated in seven categories at the Oscars.


Rattigan distances himself from a new wave of British playwrights at the Royal Court Theatre, after dismissing John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger.

1958 – 60

The disappointing Variation on a Theme is followed two years later by the popular West End success of Ross, a play about author TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) featuring Alec Guinness.  Joie de Vivre, a musical version of French Without Tears, is booed and jeered by the first night audience and closes after just four days.  Reeling from the bad press, Rattigan lashes out at his critics including the once complimentary Kenneth Tynan.

1960 – 62

Rattigan now increases the time he spends working on films and completes a successful original television script, Heart to Heart, which is broadcast on the BBC.


Man and Boy, based on a 1930’s fraud case, opens to a mixed reaction for short seasons in London and New York.  Critics also shun a film scripted by Rattigan, calledThe VIPs.  The playwright receives further bad news when he is diagnosed with leukaemia.  He sets to work completing existing projects such as the script for The Yellow Rolls-Royce, but a second diagnosis confirms he does not have the disease after all.  He then travels to New York where he completes a 90th birthday television tribute for Winston Churchill, in partnership with Noël Coward.


Leaves England to live abroad permanently.  Writes various television scripts and film screenplays including Goodbye, Mr Chips, with Peter O’Toole.  A stage version of an earlier television play about Horatio Nelson, renamed A Bequest to the Nation, opens in the West End, but flops.


Rattigan is knighted ahead of his 60th birthday,  which is celebrated through revivals of his plays and a season of films shown at the National Film Theatre.


A new double bill of one-act plays, In Praise of Love and Before the Dawn, premieres in London before moving to Broadway where the latter is dropped for a full-length version of In Praise of Love starring Rex Harrison.  However, it is not the unanimous success that Rattigan hopes for before he dies.

1974 – 75

Commissioned by the BBC to write a new radio play, Rattigan chooses to base the work on the 1935 murder trial of Alma Rattenbury, calling it Cause Celebre.  Approached with the idea of adapting the subject for the stage, he writes to Michael Billington seeking his advice. In a later letter addressed to the play’s stage director, Robin Midgley, he considers the alternative title – A Woman of Principle – but rejects it as “too Edwardian and pompous”.  He is diagnosed with leukaemia once again.


With cancer spreading through his bones, Rattigan rushes to finish other outstanding projects.  Meanwhile, continuing revivals of his work are met positively and a BBC Radio broadcast called Rattigan’s Theatre, highlights his wualities as a dramatist.  Duologue, a stage adaptation of his short 1968 television play, is shown at the King’s Head Theatre.


Attends the West End premiere of Cause Celebre in poor health.  For the first time in over 30 years, Rattigan has two plays running consecutively in the West End; the other is a revival of Separate Tables.

30th November, 1977

Sir Terence dies at home in Bermuda.

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