Chris Thompson: 1949-2020

Chris ThompsonBy WGGB member Peter Kerry

It is with great sadness that I have learned of the passing of my dear friend and colleague Chris Thompson (pictured left).

Chris had a career of over 30 years as a professional writer, mainly working on returning television serials and soaps as well as radio drama.

Born in Leeds to a working-class family, Chris was grammar school, then Cambridge-educated. This was followed by a successful career in teaching. His love of writing school plays and musicals for his pupils awakened a new ambition and this dream, to become a professional writer, was realised when he was commissioned by producer Tony Cliff to pen An Act For Every Occasion, his first radio play for the BBC in Manchester. Many radio plays and serials were to follow, including Boomerang, Legal Affairs and Skeggy. His first break in television was on the Granada soap opera Families. This was followed by a six-year stint on The Archers and from then on, series television beckoned. Chris worked on shows including Children’s Ward, Revelations, Heartbeat, the courtroom drama, Verdict and Russell T Davies’ period piece The Grand, but the bulk of his career was spent on ITV’s Emmerdale.

To watch Chris pitch a story at a conference table was, in many ways, to get a true sense of who he was – a born raconteur, he was always entertaining and, above all, passionate about the world he was creating. He loved writing, he loved storytelling and what’s more, he was good at both. Not that he knew it. Chris suffered the anxiety that many writers do about their work, often wondering if he quite made the grade, confessing regularly that he was sure one day he’d be ‘found out’.

“I’m just a hack really, Pete,” he once said to me, only half-jokingly.

It wasn’t true of course, although perhaps these insecurities were part of his drive to always be better. Chris’ episodes were well crafted, funny, sad, moving and always beautifully written. He was a great reader and student of literature and he was very happy to draw on his knowledge of it in his work. I can remember a week of Archers episodes structured along the lines of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an hour-long Emmerdale, based on the Cinderella story where he’d used the tropes of pantomime, and others where he unashamedly called on the likes of Thomas Hardy or Charles Dickens. There was even a taste for magic realism – many of his Emmerdale colleagues will remember him pitching a story about a talking parrot that showed one character the path to true love. His passion for his craft led to a book, Writing Soap, a manual for the would-be continuing drama writer and it’s one I would highly recommend to any young person considering this kind of work.

This enthusiasm wasn’t just limited to the job. He was a self-confessed news junkie, a keen cricketer (captaining his local team at one point), a golfer and a fan of Leeds United.

As a friend, he was kind, loyal, supportive, funny, great company and generous. In many ways, Chris was the antithesis of the way writers are supposed to be. Not for him, the isolation of his office, he was too avuncular for that, such good company and just as importantly, empathetic, a great listener – he was best friend to many of us. Many is the night I have poured out my problems to him…and I know I’m not the only one.

He was of course also a beloved family man – husband to Ann, father to Peter and Sarah and, more recently, a grandfather. And, rightly, it was this, his family, that was the most important thing in the world to him.