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Wednesday, 26th January 2011
"Shirley Rubenstein"

Graeme Thompson (left) introduces the panel

Laughter, poignancy, affection and intense admiration: a packed North East audience shared many emotions at an event to celebrate the life and work of the writer Alan Plater who died this summer aged 75.

The tribute, on September 14th 2010 at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema, reflected on a lifetime of creative success, culminating in a special preview screening of Alan’s last screenplay Joe Maddison’s War for ITV1.

The dramatist’s widow, Shirley Rubinstein, told the audience of actors, technicians and TV and film professionals how pleased Alan was with this final commission. “He was bowled over being asked to write an original. The read-through was the best of his life.” His illness kept him from the shoot so rushes were sent every night and viewed each morning.

Alan's widow, Shirley Rubenstein, shares personal memories of him, enjoyed by Patrick Collerton and Michele Buck

The film’s executive producer Michele Buck of Mammoth Screen and the award-winning director Patrick Collerton spoke of their admiration at the way Alan continued to re-write and suggest new ideas despite his failing health. Said Michele: “The last rewrite was on 17th June – he died on the 25th”.

She had been determined to secure a commission for a one-off after working with Plater on Lewis. “He was the genius of character dialogue. When a Plater script came in, it was heavenly. They were always the easiest to cast; actors always said yes.”

And Patrick commented: “This is a film which celebrates his life and his values. It wasn’t just a love letter to the North East, it was about the way people relate to each other. It’s set in World War Two but is very relevant now. This is universal.”

Introducing the event, RTS Chair Graeme Thompson said Alan had a special place in the hearts of northerners. In a prolific career of more than 300 screenplays, novels, adaptations and stage plays, he established himself as “an insightful and romantic chronicler of this distinctive corner of England.”

 John Glennister and Michael Chaplin

John Glennister (left) and Michael Chaplin

The distinguished television director John Glenister, who worked extensively with Plater during the 80s and early 90s on productions such as Misterioso and Orwell on Jura described their collaboration as great fun. “Jazz and Jewishness – they were his two passions.”

Northern Film and Media chief executive, Tom Harvey – who co-produced the event with the RTS – said the screen agency had been proud of its role in supporting the production of Joe Maddison’s War which showcased the North East and was a fitting memorial to the writer.

Michael Chaplin, creator of Monarch of the Glen, said the writer’s voice was so distinctive that a Plater could be spotted even if you joined a work after the start. “Flavour, world view, sly humour – it was instantly recognisable.” Michael himself was one of many deeply influenced by Plater’s approach, where scripts ignored predictable approaches and instead followed characters. “Alan’s most memorable episode of Z Cars was simply two people talking on a night shift with no action.”

Chaplin described how he had first met the writer as a teenager and that over the years he had been both a friend and mentor: “He had the great gift of switching from comic mode to hit you with a punch in the belly. His heritage and his legacy is not just in archives, it’s inside one’s head.”

The last word came from the man himself. Clips were shown of TV interviews with Mike Neville when he described happy boyhood memories of spending time with his grandfather in Jarrow. But he also spoke of his approach to writing: “Who are we? How did we get here? What shall we do next?”

Alan Frederick Plater CBE: born 15 April 1935; died 25 June 2010


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