Born: 8 September, 1931, in Manchester
Died: 29 May, 2004, in London, aged 72
JACK Rosenthal was a meticulous writer - the type who takes infinite care with scripts to achieve real-life authenticity. Every word was scrutinised, and he would work long hours to build up the drama of a scene and create recognisable, credible characters.
He was one of the earliest writers for Coronation Street, he contributed to That Was The Week That Was (TW3), wrote countless award-winning TV dramas and movies, including Yentl and London’s Burning. Much of his writing echoed his strong Jewish faith but there was always a freshness and clarity about his writing that made it immediate and compelling.
Jack Morris Rosenthal, whose father worked for a raincoat manufacturer, attended Colne Grammar School and went on to read English at Sheffield University. He graduated with a BA in 1953 and during his National Service with the Royal Navy worked as a Russian translator for GCHQ.
In 1956, he joined recently-formed Granada Television in Manchester and worked for a few months in the advertising department. In 1961, Granada commissioned him to write a script for a new once-a-week soap (and originally scheduled for only a short run) called Coronation Street. It didn’t take a great stretch of his imagination - "It was identical to a street in Colne where I had been evacuated during the war," he said.
He went on to write 130 episodes and was the producer of many in the late Sixties. The Street was an important learning curve for Rosenthal: he had to produce well-crafted, tight scripts for immediate rehearsal and make characters instantly recognisable.
Ned Sherrin, the producer of TW3 at the BBC, asked him to contribute ideas and scripts to the new satirical programme, fronted by a young David Frost. This, in turn, led to Rosenthal writing his first sitcoms for the BBC. These included The Dustbinmen (1969), The Lovers (1970) Bootsie and Snudge (1972) and Sadie, It’s Cold Outside (1975).
Before writing The Dustbinmen, he spent weeks with refuse collectors on their rounds. Similarly, before The Knowledge (1979), he accompanied London cab drivers round the city. They were so impressed that they awarded him a taxi driver’s licence in his own name.
It was this desire to "get things right" that made a Rosenthal script so invigorating. When, in 1986, he came to write the film London’s Burning (on which the TV series was based) he spent weeks with fire brigades attending blazes in some hazardous conditions.
Rosenthal, by this time, was also writing award-winning TV dramas. In 1976, he scripted Bar Mitzvah Boy, which tells of a Jewish boy approaching manhood. In 1984, he wrote The Chain, a compelling account of the various links in the sale of a house, depicting the various new owners and their different attitudes to the move.
One memorable touch (typical of Rosenthal’s love of detail) was to have a toff (played by Geoffrey Palmer) returning to his old house to collect the light bulbs from their sockets.
His other dramas Eskimo Day (1966), Spend, Spend, Spend (1977) and The Bag Lady (1998) all won television awards - and all starred his wife, Maureen Lipman.
However, perhaps his most acclaimed TV play was Ptang, Yang Kipperbang, which was screened on the night that Channel 4 opened in 1982. It told the humorous (but highly poignant) story of a young Jewish child wanting to find the courage to kiss a girl in his class. Directed by Michael Apted, it provided a suitably impressive drama for the new channel and also boasted an endearing performance from Robert Urquhart as the headmaster.
The movie Yentl (1983) promised much - it was produced and directed by and starred Barbra Streisand - but it just didn’t seem to work on screen. Similarly, when he adapted his highly successful TV play Bar Mitzvah Boy for a musical in the West End (1978) it had only a barely respectable run there and on Broadway.
Many scripts were still awaiting production (one dear to his heart was The Best, a 1986 TV drama based on the life of George Best) and, despite being diagnosed with cancer a year ago, Rosenthal carried on writing and revising scripts. He was a writer of much humanity who captured working-class life with a realistic vitality. But under the surface, he had a sure sense of comedy and knew when to relieve dramatic tension with wit and humour.
He won many awards, including those for best play from the British Academy in 1975, 1976 and 1977, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from his old university, Sheffield, in 1998. He was made a CBE in 1994.
Jack Rosenthal is survived by his wife, Maureen, whom he married in 1973, and their son and daughter.