Obituary: Frank Vickery – ‘the Ayckbourn of the Valleys’
In more than 30 plays for stage and television, Frank Vickery, who has died after a sudden illness at the age of 66, chronicled the life and times of his native South Wales with affection, insight and humour to find himself hailed “the Ayckbourn of the Valleys”.
A miner’s son, born in Blaencwm in the upper Rhondda Valley, he began acting with local amateur groups at 14 and writing while working as a bus conductor and subsequently in a furniture factory.
He established a lasting relationship with Treorchy’s amateur Parc and Dare company, writing many of his plays for them and, in the mid-1980s, paying five annual visits to London’s Duke of York’s Theatre for one-off performances. One O’Clock from the House (1986) won Drama magazine’s award for outstanding achievement in amateur theatre.
Speaking to The Stage in 1989, after deciding to become a full-time writer on the strength of a six-part commission from Welsh-language broadcaster S4C, Vickery described himself as “a working-class guy from a working-class environment who writes about working-class people for a working-class audience”.
His down-to-earth formula – laced with local vernacular and a native sense of humour – clearly worked, Vickery quickly becoming a much in-demand writer for companies, venues and audiences alike in his native South Wales.
He wrote 11 plays for Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre, from 1991’s women’s hospital ward-set A Kiss on the Bottom to the bittersweet wartime romance All’s Fair in 2000. Sleeping With Mickey Mouse, a two-hour monologue for Menna Trussler as an elderly woman bleakly reminiscing on New Year’s Eve – arguably Vickery’s most accomplished play – was seen there in 1992. It found its way on to television, starring Brenda Blethyn, the following year and was revived for a short run at the Arts Theatre in 1995.
In 1994, Vickery formed his own company, Grassroots Productions, with whom he often acted, appearing most recently as the titular cowboy manque in his own Tonto Evans at the New Theatre, Cardiff in 2005. He was also a popular pantomime dame for the company.
With Mal Pope, he co-wrote the musical Amazing Grace, first seen at Swansea’s Grand Theatre the same year.
Vickery’s television credits included episodes of the popular Nerys Hughes period drama The District Nurse (1984-87), the short-lived The Lifeboat, created by Lynda La Plante (1994), and two scripts for The Sherman Plays, an HTV Wales series televising work first staged in Cardiff.
Frank Vickery was born on June 26, 1951, and died on June 19, a week before his 67th birthday.