Simon (James Holliday) Gray



  • (1936 - 2008) Prolific British playwright, known for his witty but often painful comedies. The son of a doctor, Gray was born in Hampshire but spent the war years with relatives in Canada. After graduating from Cambridge University, he pursued an academic career, chiefly at the University of London, where he taught for over 20 years.

    Having published several novels as a young man, Gray drifted into the theater almost by accident; in 1967 a planned television play, Wild Child, was rejected by the BBC and ended up on stage in the West End with Alec Guinness as the central character, a transvestite. He established himself in the theater with Butley (1971), an acerbic comedy of academic life that introduced the archetypal Gray protagonist - a clever, articulate, but emotionally arrested male whose failings bring pain to those around him. Both the play's star, Alan Bates, and its director, Harold Pinter became close friends of Gray and would collaborate with him on many future projects. Bates starred again in Otherwise Engaged (1975) - this time as Simon, a suave, music-loving publisher whose attempts to avoid emotional engagement and find solace in his beloved Wagner lead only to disaster. The play proved particularly successful on Broadway, where it ran for five years and was garlanded with awards. Other notable plays of the 1970s and 1980s included Stage Struck (1979), Quartermaine's Terms (1981), The Common Pursuit (1984), and Melon (1987; later rewritten as The Holy Terror)

    In 1995 the London production of Gray's Cell Mates foundered when its star, Stephen Fry, went AWOL and fled abroad, apparently suffering from some kind of breakdown. Gray published a vituperative diary of this fraught time in Fat Chance (1995). Aspects of Gray's own life are reflected in The Late Middle Classes (1999), which draws on his parents' marriage, and Japes (2001), which was suggested by the death of his brother from alcoholism. A long-term alcoholic himself, Gray claimed to have drunk three or four bottles of champagne every day for most of his adult life and to have written many of his best plays while drunk. Although near-fatal illness forced him to dry out in 1997, his 60-a-day smoking habit continued unabated, as detailed in his scathingly funny memoir The Smoking Diaries (2004). Gray's last works included The Old Masters (2004), a play about the art expert Bernard Berenson,and The Last Cigarette (2008), another volume of diaries.