Barrie Keeffe was a prolific stage and screen writer throughout the turbulent 1970s and Thatcherite 1980s whose work cast a caustic eye on a society in accelerated change atavistically clinging to old prejudices.
He enjoyed his greatest success with the London docklands-set film The Long Good Friday (1980). It made a star of Bob Hoskins as a ruthless East End gangster whose Mafia-financed plans run into trouble with he becomes embroiled with the IRA.
London-born, Keeffe joined the National Youth Theatre – for whom he later wrote several plays – before spending 11 years as journalist on the Stratford Express.
His best work was marked by what The Stage described in its review of Sus at the Soho Poly in 1979 as a “blunt approach tinged with relentless humour”. The play’s depiction of a black man being brutally interrogated on the night of that year’s general election exposed institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police and helped repeal the infamous ‘Sus’ law disproportionately used against young British-Africans.
Keeffe was no stranger to controversy, Gotcha – the middle episode of his Gimme Shelter trilogy in which a 16 year-old school leaver holds three teachers hostage, first seen at the Soho Poly in 1976 – embroiled the BBC in a spat with self-appointed moral guardian Mary Whitehouse following its 1977 broadcast.
The same year, Keeffe’s A Mad World, My Masters, written for Joint Stock, offered a scurrilously satirical riposte to the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations.
Frozen Assets, his first play for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1979, was followed by Bastard Angel in 1980, when Black Lear, his Shakespeare reworking for Temba Theatre Company, was admired by The Stage for its “sustained power of language, observation and savage comedy.”
If Keeffe seemed ill at ease at the RSC, his long relationship with the Theatre Royal Stratford East later in the 1980s saw him in more comfortable territory. His first play for the East London venue was a 1984 rewrite of A Mad World, My Masters, his last – the thriller Wild Justice – in 1990.
The 1988’s punk era-set Barbarians for the Young Vic Studio (which forcefully revived it in 2015) was a late theatre highlight. Set in revolutionary France, Shadows on the Sun was staged by Galleon Theatre Company in 2001.
Keeffe’s notable television credits included the Richard Eyre-directed Waterloo Sunset (1979), No Excuses, a 1983 reworking of Bastard Angel with Charlotte Cornwall as an ageing rock star, and King, a second take on King Lear, with Thomas Baptiste as the hubristic patriarch in 1984.
He won a Giles Cooper award for his first radio play, the 15-minute comedy Heaven Scent, in 1980 and wrote several others for the medium.
Barrie Colin Keeffe was born on October 31, 1945, and died on December 10, aged 74.