British playwright, novelist and diarist Simon Gray was the celebrated author of over 30 plays, many of them dark comedies, including Otherwise Engaged, Quartermaine’s Terms, Melon, Japes and The Old Masters. His work was regularly seen in the West End and on Broadway since his first success with Wise Child in 1967. In the noughties he attracted a new following for his series of acerbic memoirs called The Smoking Diaries, which, among other things, candidly charted his 60-a-day addiction to cigarettes and his failing health.
Born in Hampshire in 1936, Gray was Cambridge-educated and lectured for many years at Queen Mary college, University of London. His knowledge of academia was often reflected in his plays, including Butley, about an English literature professor and The Common Pursuit, about the aspirations and failures of a group of graduates working on a literary magazine.
In 1995, his play Cell Mates attracted attention for the wrong reason when actor Stephen Fry fled the two-hander after suffering stage fright. Gray later comically described the episode in his memoir, Fat Chance.
Many of his plays have been revived in the last decade. Richard E Grant and Anthony Head starred in Otherwise Engaged at the Criterion in 2005, Nathan Lane and Julian Ovenden appeared in a revival of Butley on Broadway in 2006, and The Common Pursuit was staged at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory in May 2008, with a cast including Nigel Harman, James Dreyfus and Reece Shearsmith. Reviewing that production for The Times, Benedict Nightingale said: “this is a play filled with surprise, incongruity, and dangerous wit: a testimony to its author’s abiding excellence.”
Gray was made a CBE in 2005 and died in 2008 after suffering from cancer. He was married and had two children.