Ian Curteis was born in London. He began his career as an actor, joining Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop. In a short time, Ian also became a stage director and producer before moving into television and finding his medium.
Ian wrote for many series and then TV plays including Philby, Burgess and Maclean, Atom Spies and Churchill and the Generals. But it was The Falklands Play for which Ian will be best remembered.
The history of The Falklands Play was a drama as riveting as the play itself. It was commissioned by the BBC in 1983 and showed Margaret Thatcher with an unshakeable determination to defend British sovereignty against the Argentinians in the Falkland Islands. In the play, Thatcher compared the Argentinian regime with “a government of terror, torture and executions not unlike the Gestapo”.
The BBC found the piece to be too sympathetic to Mrs Thatcher. They requested script changes that would cast some of the characters in a dubious light. Ian refused and blamed “a liberal conspiracy” at the BBC.
The BBC shelved the play but the drama didn’t end there. In 1986, Anglia Television were interested in producing the play. The BBC refused to release the copyright.
Ian refused to give up. The play had been written for the fifth anniversary of the Falklands War. An amended and abridged 90-minute version was finally made for its 20th, omitting all of the material involving the Junta and the Pope.
The Falklands Play was produced simultaneously for both radio and television, broadcast on BBC4 and BBC Radio 4. The telly version was preceded by a half hour documentary on the controversy surrounding the original production, followed by a studio debate on the issues raised by both the cancellation and the play itself.
Ian always fought for what he believed was right, which I was able to witness at first hand. Ian was President of the WGGB when I was Chair for the first time in 2001. We inherited a serious financial crisis which we knew we had to resolve or the union would go under. It was thanks to Ian’s constant diligence, wisdom and good humour that we got through it all in one piece. The Writers’ Guild grew, as did our friendship.
Ian was truly a gentleman and a gentle man. WGGB owes Ian a debt of gratitude. My condolences to his widow, Lady Deirdre and their family.
Photo: C Kevin Cooper