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Thread: NF Simpson RIP

  1. #1
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    From the Guardian

    NF Simpson obituary | Stage | The Guardian


    NF Simpson obituary

    Playwright who mixed a comic brew of weird suburban characters and absurd situations

    NF Simpson described One Way Pendulum, probably his best play, as 'an evening of high drung and slarrit'. Photograph: Ernest Allen/Associated Newspapers

    The playwright NF Simpson, who has died aged 92, was hailed by the critic Kenneth Tynan in 1958 as "the most gifted comic writer the English stage has discovered since the war". He was generally identified with the Theatre of the Absurd movement alongside Eug�ne Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. But Simpson was peculiarly and singularly English in his absurdism. He turned suburban characters into weird chatterboxes and language into highly imaginative chop logic, and mixed a comic brew that derived more recognisably from the worlds of Lewis Carroll, WS Gilbert and the Goons, without the puerile edge that came along with Monty Python.
    His first play to be produced was A Resounding Tinkle (1957), which in its original two-act form won third prize in an Observer playwriting competition organised by Tynan and was produced as a Sunday night "without decor" production at the Royal Court. A freewheeling dissertation on comedy involving critics and comedians, interspersed with "a play", it was � according to its director, William Gaskill � imaginative and witty, but difficult. Partly at Gaskill's suggestion, Simpson reduced the text to a one-acter which concentrated on the comedy of a couple who find an elephant in their garden different from the one they had ordered. Gaskill directed it with another short Simpson play, The Hole, in which a crowd of people stand around a hole in the ground and try to impose their own fantastic vision of what is going on down there on each other.
    The cast of this 1958 double-bill included Wendy Craig, Nigel Davenport, Sheila Ballantine and Robert Stephens. It was a huge hit, proving to Tynan that Simpson was no "flash in the pen, but a true lord of language, capable of using words with the sublime, outrageous authority of Humpty Dumpty".
    An extraordinary impact was rounded off in 1959 when Peter Cook � who owed much of his wild-eyed, raincoated monologist EL Wisty to Simpson � appeared at Cambridge in a student revival of the two-act A Resounding Tinkle, directed by John Bird. Also that year, Gaskill directed Simpson's next major play, probably his best, One Way Pendulum, at the Royal Court. This new work was described by the author as "an evening of high drung and slarrit" which, "with its turrets and its high-jointed gables, should have a particular appeal for anyone approaching it for the first time with a lasso". A character in the play wore pearls round her waist "for tightness".
    Although a 1964 film captured something of the play's anarchic lunacy, with Eric Sykes constructing a model of the Old Bailey in his living room while a mute Jonathan Miller taught 100 speak-your-weight machines to sing the Hallelujah Chorus, the play was too theatrical for the cinema. How to reproduce the bonding hilarity of a nightmare game of three-handed whist for two players without cards in the dark?
    Simpson had first arrived at the Royal Court with no experience of theatre but, said Gaskill, like many good writers he knew exactly how the actors should deliver the lines and where they should pause for the laughter that only arrived in the performance.
    Norman Frederick Simpson was born in London. He became known as "Wally" after the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, consort of the abdicating King Edward VIII and subsequent Duchess of Windsor. Norman's father was a strict Baptist glass-blower who did not allow his family to attend the theatre. Norman went to Emanuel school in Battersea, south-west London, studied English at the University of London, worked as a bank clerk, served in the Royal Artillery and with the intelligence corps in the second world war, and taught at the City of Westminster College and as an extra-mural lecturer between 1946 and 1962.
    Six years after One Way Pendulum came The Cresta Run (1965), a weird and sinister espionage drama: why exactly were 16.5 million people out of the country at the time of the Norman Conquest? There was no significant theatre writing after Was He Anyone? (1972), a faint echo of the earlier plays, with more than 30 characters, but Simpson wrote several more television plays including Elementary My Dear Watson, a Sherlock Holmes parody for John Cleese for the BBC Comedy Playhouse in 1973, and material for Beryl Reid, Sheila Hancock, Ned Sherrin and Dick Emery. In 1976, he returned to the Royal Court, where he spent two years as literary manager.
    The suddenness of Simpson's arrival was only matched by that of his disappearance. After writing countless radio scripts and television plays, and contributing to several West End revues working alongside Cook, Pinter, John Mortimer and Kenneth Williams, he abruptly stopped producing work in 1983 and spent the next 12 years travelling around the canals of England on a narrowboat. "It was the happiest time of my life," he told the journalist Stephen Pile, who tracked him down to a clifftop house on the edge of a Cornish village in 2007 after the Royal Court had arranged a reading � for the theatre's 50th anniversary celebrations � of the full-length A Resounding Tinkle.
    His theatrical farewell in 1983 had also been Ralph Richardson's, the great actor sleep-walking through his own nightmare and accusing a whole family of murdering a friend of his, in Simpson's neat but oddly flavourless translation of Eduardo de Filippo's Inner Voices at the National Theatre.
    In 2007 the Donmar Warehouse revived two early Simpson plays, plus a new piece by Michael Frayn, for a triple bill, Absurdia, which was directed by Douglas Hodge and reminded audiences of what they had been missing for so long. The short-form A Resounding Tinkle was this time paired with Gladly Otherwise, in which a furniture inspector asks householders about their absence of floor and is told that it's under the carpet ("Making full use of it, I hope?").
    Simpson had by then moved to Cornwall with his partner, Elizabeth Holder, and started work on a new play for the National Theatre , If So, Then Yes, set in a retirement home, where a resident dictates his memoirs despite constant interruptions. The National was perhaps cowed by its structure and large cast, which includes "5,000 Red Indians � optional", so his last work had a reading at the Royal Court and a surprise, but unpersuasive, premiere in September 2010 at the little Jermyn Street theatre off Piccadilly Circus, where Roddy Maude-Roxby, a Simpson veteran, played the philosophical writer in a meandering production.
    Simpson married Joyce Bartlett in 1944 and had one child, Judith, with her. He and Joyce later divorced. He is survived by Elizabeth, Judith and a granddaughter.
    � Norman Frederick Simpson, playwright, born 29 January 1919; died 27 August 2011

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: UK Windthrop's Avatar
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    Farewell NF - a distinctive voice in the British Theatre

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: UK Windthrop's Avatar
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    The Telegraph Obit

    NF Simpson

    NF Simpson, the dramatist who died on August 27 aged 92, was one of the four principal writers to establish the English Stage Company’s influential regime at the Royal Court Theatre in the late 1950s.

    NF Simpson Photo: LUCA SAGE

    The others in that first batch were John Osborne, John Arden and Ann Jellicoe. But in a movement whose central work was Osborne’s Look Back In Anger, Simpson was spiritually an outsider.

    His writing was entirely without wrath. Benign, whimsical, inconsequential and witty, it paid small attention to plot, characterisation or ideas but preserved a constant topsy-turvy sense of humour which owed more to Lewis Carroll and WS Gilbert than to the sort of social or political indignation motivating many of his peers. Such a focus on the surreal was influenced by The Goon Show and in turn influenced Monty Python and Peter Cook.

    Simpson’s people acted like automata. They treated objects as sympathetically as human beings. They allowed each situation, however absurd, to develop to its logical conclusion (and sometimes beyond). This no doubt made him the oddest writer at the Royal Court, but also — for those who could tune in to his humour – the funniest.

    Kenneth Tynan, for example, dubbed him “the most gifted comic writer the English stage has discovered since the war” after seeing the double bill of A Resounding Tinkle and The Hole (1958). And after One Way Pendulum (1959), he suspected Simpson of possessing “the subtlest mind ever devoted by an Englishman to the writing of farce”.

    Not everyone agreed. The American-born critic and director Charles Marowitz discerned in Simpson “the odour of civil service levity; the kind of pun-laden high jinks one associates with banter around the tea trolley and the frolics of Ministry amateur societies”. That tone made Simpson’s presence all the more incongruous amid writers who had “significant” things to say about modern life and the state of Britain. Yet for many theatregoers, his non-protesting, non-political joy in juggling words made a serenely civilised change from the tradition of discontent begun by Osborne.

    Norman Frederick Simpson was born on January 29 1919 in London and educated at Emanuel School. He was always known as Wally, a nickname referring to Wallis Simpson, and worked as a bank clerk before the Second World War, when he served in the Royal Artillery and the Intelligence Corps. After the conflict he became a schoolmaster before, in 1950, completing his education with an English degree at London University. He later returned to teaching.
    In 1956 he shared third prize in The Observer’s competition for a two-act play. This was for A Resounding Tinkle, which deals with the lives of a family called the Paradocks who long to exchange their pet elephant for a snake. Cut down to one act, and staged without decor at the Royal Court on a Sunday night, its absurdist style caused a stir. By the time it was restaged in the Royal Court’s main bill in 1957, nearly half the original text had been abandoned, underscoring how essentially verbal Simpson’s writing could be. “The retreat from reason means precious little to anyone who has never caught up with reason in the first place,” one character notes. “It takes a trained mind to relish a non-sequitur.”
    To accompany the shortened version of A Resounding Tinkle a make up a double bill (Royal Court, 1958), Simpson wrote The Hole, a conversation piece, set in a street, in which two women discuss their husbands, one of whom does all he can to differ from everyone, the other of whom strives to conform.
    One Way Pendulum took Simpson from Sloane Square into the West End limelight with its picture of a variously obsessed suburban household in which, among several family preoccupations, a son trains a collection of weighing machines to sing the Hallelujah Chorus instead of speaking people’s weight. All except one obey his bidding. It goes on irritably booming: “Fifteen stone, ten pounds”.
    Explaining his motive for all this, the character Kirby Groomkirby says he wants to take the speak-your-weight machines to the North Pole and melt the ice around it. Meanwhile his father, Arthur Groomkirby, is building a do-it-yourself Old Bailey in his living room, only for a judge and jury mysteriously to move in to try him for some unspecified offence.
    When Jonathan Miller revived One Way Pendulum at the Old Vic in 1988, opinion seemed divided. It was at all events a reminder of how important it was for such delicate, sketchy and self-conscious verbal farce to be acted without a trace of self-consciousness in the players.
    The Cresta Run (Royal Court, 1965) dealt with international espionage as a comic thriller without achieving the same sense of sublime but logical lunacy; and two later plays at the Royal Court, Playback 625 (1970), written with Leopoldo Maler, and Was He Anyone? (1972) misfired.
    From 1965 Simpson wrote sketches and playlets for television, as he had done for the stage in the days when intimate revues were in fashion. On the small screen his work included the series Three Rousing Tinkles, Four Tall Tinkles, World in Ferment and Charley’s Grant.
    Among his television plays, in addition to One Way Pendulum (filmed in 1964) and A Resounding Tinkle, were Thank You Very Much, Elementary My Dear Watson and Silver Wedding.
    After a 30-year hiatus, his writing enjoyed something of a revival in recent years. A Resounding Tinkle was given a rehearsed reading as part of the Royal Court’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2006; the following year a documentary about his life, Reality is an Illusion Caused by Lack of NF Simpson, was broadcast on Radio 4. Finally, a new play If So, Then Yes, premiered last year, when Simpson was 91. Reviewers was charmed. In the Telegraph, Charles Spencer described it as “funny, beguiling, utterly original, unexpectedly profound”.
    NF Simpson married Joyce Bartlett. They divorced and he spent the last years of his life with Elizabeth Holder, who survives him with a daughter from his marriage.

  4. #4
    Super Moderator Country: Scotland
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    He was also one the writers on Diamonds for Breakfast.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: Scotland lostintown's Avatar
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    A real shame.
    I loved "One way pendulum" and have just watched his Crown Court episodes "An upward fall".

    Truly bizarre in a great way.

    The man was a genius.

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