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Obituary: Jack Gerson; talented writer behind TV classics such as This Man Craig and High Living

Jack Gerson

Jack Gerson

Born: 31 July, 1928, in Glasgow. Died: 29 April, 2012, in Glasgow, aged 83.

JACK Gerson was one of Scotland’s finest and most prolific television script writers, gripping viewers with his work on such series as Z Cars, Sutherland’s Law, The Regiment, This Man Craig and Scotland’s first TV soap, High Living, which he created.

Another breakthrough TV series he created for BBC Scotland in 1979, The Omega Factor, became a major influence

on later sci-fi writers, including those behind the popular US series The X Files.

Gerson’s daughter, the ballet dancer and actress Natasha Gerson, played the mysterious character Morag in the series,

which starred James Hazeldine and was shot on location among Edinburgh landmarks such as the Royal Mile.

The series gained publicity in The Scotsman and elsewhere after the crew reported strange paranormal events on the set – such as a Ouija board moving on its own and all the clocks on the set stopping at the same time. The fact that The Omega Factor was dropped after only ten episodes was perhaps due to the objections of public moralist Mary Whitehouse, who described it as “thoroughly evil” because it depicted the supernatural andaman burning to death. With his typical good humour, Gerson took her criticism as a compliment of his writing skills.

In addition to his TV work, he was also a best-selling author of thrillers, spy novels and tales of the supernatural

and paranormal, including a book version of The Omega Factor.

While the stars get most of the credit, it’s the writers who draw us in and keep us there, and Gerson, whose grandparents emigrated to Glasgow from Ukraine, had that gift.

Although, surprisingly, This Man Craig, starring John Cairney as teacher Ian Craig, ran for only two years (1966-67), it was one of Scotland’s bestloved series, filmed in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Academy.

High Living, which ran on STV from 1969 through the early 70s, kept us up to date with the comings and goings of the families in a tower block in Glasgow’s Maryhill.

Gerson’s skilful writing carried on in a follow-up soap, Garnock Way, which gave way to Take the High Road in a more rural setting (the fictional Glendarroch, aka Luss).

Jack Gerson was born on York Drive (now Novar Drive) in Glasgow’s Hyndland district in 1928 to Sam Gerson, who was involved in the fledgling movie industry as a film distributor, and his wife Jean, née Barton. Sam’s parents

had come from Kiev, capital of Ukraine, which at the time was part of the Russian empire, in the late 19th century.

Jack went to the nearby Hillhead Primary and High school, where his best pal – and life-long friend – was the future legendary comedian Stanley Baxter. No sooner had he left school than he was called up for his national service in the RAF just after the war, two years he described as the worst in his life.

After the RAF, he went into his dad’s film distribution business but found that films gave him the urge to write,

both prose and poetry, seeing his early work published in the Glasgow University Magazine. He was already in

his early 30s when he submitted a play to the BBC as part of a competition for new writers in 1960. Titled Three Ring

Circus, about a man who loses his memory – again a precursor of many future dramas or movies – BBC editors were

stunned by its innovative, kaleidoscopic fantasy world and it was broadcast in 1961, starring John Breslin in the

lead role, supported by the great Andrew Cruickshank (soon to become Dr Cameron in Dr Finlay’s Casebook).

Many years later, one critic described Three Ring Circus as “precocious, the Ur-drama of experimental BBC drama in

the early 1960s – the founding text of modernist TV drama.”

The play’s success made Gerson realise he could make a living, though far from a fortune, from writing. The fortunes, if any, went to the celebs who played the parts.

He married artist Margot McGregor and they had one child, the above-mentioned Natasha, who, after his divorce, remained the love of his life. Having hired an agent, words, and ideas, would become his bread and butter, starting with episodes of the police drama ZCars.

Among his greatest TV successes was The Regiment on BBC1 in 1972-73, starring Christopher Cazenove and following the soldiers and families of the Cotswold Regiment during the Boer War and the Raj in India. He also wrote scripts for Sutherland’s Law, filmed in Oban and starring Iain Cuthbertson.

Gerson’s novels included The Fetch and The Evil Thereof – both dealing with supernatural themes – and thrillers

including The Back of the Tiger, Death Squad and The Whitehall Sanction. His last work before illness set in was

Bodie’s Occupations, a radio play about a private detective, starring his friend, Ullapool-born Robert Urquhart, who

died in 1995. In defence of his often under-rated profession, Gerson was active in the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.

After being ill for the best part of a decade, he died in Blawarthill Hospital, Yoker, Glasgow, where he had spent

the last year, “wonderfully looked-after, with love”, according to his daughter, who noted sadly that the hospital

is now faced with closure. His funeral will be on Wednesday at 11.45 at Linn Crematorium on Lainshaw Drive, Glasgow.

Although divorced, Jack and Margot were close. He is survived by her, daughter Natasha and, as Natasha points out, his beloved cat Timmy.

PHIL DAVISON

 

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