Obituary: Michael Green – ‘one of the great English humorists’
Michael Green was one of the great, if now largely overlooked, English humorists whose The Art of Coarse Acting proved a wickedly irreverent highlight of a dozen books skewering the pretensions of aspirant middle-class Britain in the second half of the last century.
Published in 1964 with the revealing subtitle Or How to Wreck an Amateur Dramatic Society, The Art of Coarse Acting created the template for Mischief Theatre’s recent Olivier award-winning West End hit The Play That Goes Wrong. Both affectionately revelled in the over-confident, under-resourced ambition of amateur drama at its most solipsistic.
In due course, Green’s delightfully subversive book was followed by similar treatments of sport, drinking, golf, sex, cricket and life in the modern office. Together, they sold in their millions and Green would no doubt have relished online sellers offering a 1994 reprint of The Art of Coarse Acting for the decidedly coarse sum of £899.99 (plus £2.80 for postage) following his death.
A journalist by trade – he began his career with the Leicester Mercury in his hometown before positions in Northampton and Birmingham, latterly becoming a sports writer for the Observer and columnist with the Daily Telegraph – Green was himself an enthusiastic amateur actor. His early experiences with Northampton Drama Club and the Questors Theatre, Ealing had prompted a more serious-minded “practical stage handbook” on Stage Noises and Effects in 1958.
The success of his lampooning dissection of coarse acting led, inevitability, to a spate of plays illustrating its perils and pitfalls, two of which were well received at the Edinburgh Festival in 1977 and 1979, transferring to the Shaftesbury Theatre.
By then, Green had ventured into television with episodes of Horne A’Plenty (1968-69), Kenneth Horne’s uneasy transition from radio to the small screen. More successful was the Brian Rix vehicle A Roof Over My Head, an adaptation with Barry Took of Green’s own The Art of Coarse Moving for the BBC in 1977, and the Georgian-era Haggard (based on his novel) starring Keith Barron as the eponymous destitute womaniser, for ITV (1990-92).
He also published two volumes of memoirs: The Boy Who Shot Down an Airship and Nobody Hurt in Small Earthquake.
Michael Frederick Green was born on January 2, 1927 and died on February 25, aged 91.