Monday 14 September 2015

Living Legends: the Marks and Gran Archive at the Borthwick

Sunday 13th September saw the presentation of the British Comedy Society’s Living Legends of Comedy Award to the writing partnership Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran. Often thought of solely as comedy writers, the Marks and Gran Archive held at the Borthwick illustrates their wider work in the development of television comedy; and especially their ground-breaking work in the ‘comedy drama’ genre.

Born in north London, Maurice Gran (1949) and Laurence Marks (1948) initially met at a Jewish youth club in Finsbury Park, North London in the 1960s, though their creative partnership would not spark into like until they began attending ‘Player-Playwrights,’ a scriptwriting club that met at the British Drama League offices in Fitzroy Square.

A chance meeting between Marks and comedy writer Barry Took led to an opportunity for Marks and Gran to write for The Frankie Howerd Show. They continued to submit scripts and in 1980 their sitcom, ‘Holding the Fort,’ was commissioned by London Weekend Television and ran for two years.
Their comedy-drama ‘Shine on Harvey Moon’ was a success, running for three years in the 1980s before being revived in 1995. The duo followed up this success with popular sitcoms such as ‘The New Statesman,’ 1987–92, ‘Birds of a Feather,’ 1989–98, and ‘Goodnight Sweetheart,’ 1993–99. ‘The New Statesman’ won an International Emmy Award in 1988 and a BAFTA for best comedy series in 1991.

In 1989 Marks and Gran set up their own production company, Alomo Productions. The company’s first production was 'Birds of a Feather'. Subsequent Alomo productions include ‘Get Back,’ 1992-93, featuring Ray Winstone as a victim of the economic recession, ‘Goodnight Sweetheart,’ and comedy drama ‘Love Hurts,’ which ran from 1992-1994. In 1992 Marks and Gran were awarded the prestigious BAFTA Writers’ Award.

Marks and Gran (left) with the cast and production team of Birds of a Feather

In 1996 they were commissioned by Channel 4 to write ‘Mosley,’ a mini-series telling the story of the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. In 1993 a meeting with playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn led to Marks and Gran their first play, ‘Playing God,’ a comedy about a dying rock star that premièred at Ayckbourn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2005.

 In 2006 they followed this with ‘The B’Stard Project,’ a stage adaptation of their New Statesman sitcom which toured the UK until 2007 and enjoyed a run in the West End, and in 2010 their play ‘Von Ribbentrop’s Watch’ premiered at the Oxford Playhouse, based on their 2008 Radio 4 drama of the same name. In 2012 they co-wrote a ‘Birds of a Feather’ stage show which subsequently toured the UK before the show’s revival on television in 2014.

In 2008 Marks and Gran were invited to write the script for a new musical, ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats,’ based on a popular compilation album.

In addition to writing for stage and screen, both Marks and Gran are Visiting Lecturers at the University of York, running student workshops in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television.
Stretching over 35 boxes of diverse material, the Marks and Gran Archive (ref MGRA) presents the researcher with a unique archive of drafts. scripts, audio-visual recordings, correspondence and background research material that give a unique insight into the duo’s creative process.

Fourth draft script of Relative Strangers, 1986
The Archive includes items related to Birds of a Feather, Shine on Harvey Moon, the Frankie Howerd Show, The New Statesman (both stage and screen) and Goodnight Sweetheart (again, both stage and screen versions). The archive also contains a wealth of supporting materials (including research, drafts and correspondence) enabling the researcher to get inside the creative process – the tensions, the successes and creative precision which brings a production to life. Additionally, there are scripts for projects which, for one reason or another, never saw the light of day, including scripts and a rare recording of Still William, excerpts of will be shown on Sunday as part of the British Comedy Society presentation.

Although the collection is still in the process of being fully listed, a detailed box list is available. The Archive was deposited with us as part of the Samuel Storey Writing and Performance collection, which includes the archives of Sir Alan Ayckbourn, David Storey, Charles Wood, Julia Pascal, Peter Whelan and Barry Took.

Gary Brannan and Sally-Anne Shearn