Award-winning television scriptwriter Geoffrey Lancashire died at Watford General Hospital on October 3, aged 71.
He was best known in later life as the father of much acclaimed actress, Sarah Lancashire. But during the peak years of his TV career, which began almost half a century ago, it was Geoff himself who was winning the kudos.
Geoff Lancashire was a freelance newsagency reporter when Sidney Bernstein won the licence to make programmes for Granadaland and a burgeoning ITV network. Geoff quickly got himself involved wherever and whenever ‘words were required on the page’, from outside broadcast links to studio discussions and chat shows.
Eventually he found a regular niche in the promotions department, writing copy for the station’s continuity announcers. This department spawned many other talents – Jack Rosenthal, Tony Warren and Denis Woolf, to name but a few. And it was here, in 1960, that I first met Geoff, the man who, nearly a decade later, was to become my television soulmate.
In the meantime, Geoff made his programme writing breakthrough with Coronation Street (nearly 200 episodes in all), together with six-part adaptations of Howard Spring’s Shabby Tiger and Phyllis Bentley’s Inheritance; Tales from Provincial Life, another adaptation in six episodes; his own single play, Purple Twilight, all for Granada; plus contributions to two BBC productions, soap-opera United and All Creatures Great and Small.
Our association picked up again in 1970 when I returned to Granada after some years back in Scotland. Earlier we had shared a two-up, two-down terraced house in Oldham. Now Geoff had married Hilda, they had started a family and, for a month or two, took me in as a lodger. Recognise the scenario? To be fair, the real Cuckoo was Jack Rosenthal, a previous lodger chez Lancashire.
But most rewarding of all, Geoff and I worked together, though never before Geoff drank at least two full mugs of coffee, smoked countless fags and heated his backside on a radiator or by a fire.
It was then that I began to fully appreciate Geoff’s enormous talent. He had won a Writers’ Guild award, jointly with Jack Rosenthal, for The Lovers (Richard Beckinsale and Paula Wilcox), and now comedy was King.
We set to work on The Cuckoo Waltz (Diane Keen, David Roper and Lewis Collins). This venture, which became four series in all, earned Geoff more plaudits (“If Geoffrey Lancashire didn’t exist, he would have had to be invented,” wrote one pundit) and half-way through, it also led to my turning to producing.
Geoff’s brain worked faster than his fingers, so I would type while he strode around the room ‘acting out’ complete scenes, with an amazing sense of comic timing and delivery. I used to tell him he’d missed his true vocation. These inspired sessions usually followed a lengthy visit to his train set in the loft.
Geoff created ‘real’ characters and placed them in credible, recognisable situations. He wrote lines that exuded wit, warmth and charm, with a wry understatement that defied you not to laugh. And they played so beautifully, that rarely did a word have to be altered or a comma moved.
He also wrote with a great love for his characters. You’ve got to like them, he’d say, or no-one else will.
We followed the highly successful Cuckoo with 26 episodes of Foxy Lady (again, with Diane Keen). The creative system continued: storyline agreed; producer at the typewriter; writer/actor Lancashire in full cry around his study furniture. It was stimulating, it was exciting, it was fun and it worked.
Sadly, a further project for TVS, with six scripts written, bit the dust in the franchise turmoil of the early nineties.
It was the beginning of a period of misfortune for Geoff. He suffered a debilitating stroke, there were marital difficulties – happily, long since resolved – and his health deteriorated. He lived alone in Oldham, cheered by Sarah’s success, his passion for the ‘box’ – comedy, drama, current affairs – undiminished.
Following further strokes, three months ago, he moved into Denville Hall, the actors’ home in North London, and finally he was moved to Watford General where his death came peacefully last weekend.
I will remember him fondly for his friendship, his good humour, our shared interest in cricket, his loud, distinctive laugh in the studio audience. Well batted, old son.
Geoff is survived by wife Hilda, daughter Sarah, and sons John, Simon (Sarah’s twin) and James.
John G Temple
Producer, Coronation Street 1985-1987