Charles Wood: 1932-2020

By WGGB Chair Lisa Holdsworth

It is with great sadness that we hear about the death of Charles Wood, a prolific and important voice in theatre, film and television writing.

Charles was born into show business and spent his early years travelling with his parents, who were actors in repertory and touring theatre. In 1939, the family settled in Derbyshire and Charles went into full-time education. After the war, the Woods relocated to Worcestershire where Charles worked in his father’s theatre as a stagehand,  scenery painter and, occasionally, an actor. He went on to study theatre design at art school. After a stint in the army, he worked as a stage manager in both England and Canada.

He wrote his first play, Prisoner and Escort, in 1959. It was first performed on radio before being adapted for the stage and television. In 1963, his play Cockade won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Most promising New Writer. Charles often wrote about British military life and his dialogue was peppered with authentic military argot. Drill Pig (1964) was his black comedy about a young man who joins up to escape his wife and her parents. Don’t Make Me Laugh (1965) exposed military and civilian attitudes. His 1974 ITV series Death or Glory Boy was a semi-autobiographical story of a grammar schoolboy joining the army.

Richard Eyresaid of him: “There is no contemporary writer who has chronicled the experience of modern war with so much authority, knowledge, compassion, wit and despair, and there is no contemporary writer who has received so little of his deserved public acclaim.”

Charles also wrote about the struggle to be a writer. Former WGGB Chair Gail Renard paid tribute to him: “Charles’ autobiographical series Don’t Forget to Write was about a writer who found it hard to write and had to lock himself in his study to get the work out and bills paid – whereas his best friend was highly successful, feted and found writing a breeze. Charles Wood mischievously claimed that the Matthews character was based on Peter Nichols who fervently denied it. Even for the best of writers, the grass is always greener.”

Charles also worked numerous times with Richard Lester, including on the 1965 classic The Knack …and How to Get It. He went on to work with Lester onh some of the most iconic 1960s movies including Help! (1965), How I Won the War (1967) and The Bed Sitting Room (1969).

In 1988, he wrote the award-winning Tumbledown for the BBC. Its exploration of the indifference shown towards injured servicemen returning from the Falklands conflict by government and the public alike caused controversy, while its unflinching portrayal of a brutal and jingoistic military mindset also caused disquiet. Lead actor Colin Firth reportedly said that the political left and right hated the film because it did not conform to any fixed ideology.

Charles continued writing well into his 70s. His extensive list of credits included episodes of SharpeKavanagh QC and Inspector Morse. He wrote a trio of films about composers for Channel Four: Wagner (1983), Puccini (1984) and England, My England (1995) for which he completed John Osborne’s screenplay about Purcell after it had been abandoned due to Osborne’s failing health. With Richard Eyre, he co-wrote the films Iris (2001) and The Other Man (2008).

Charles Wood’s career and list of credits is extraordinary and should serve as an inspiration to all writers.