Gray, Simon 1936-2008 (Simon James Holliday Gray, Hamish Reade)

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Gray, Simon 1936-2008 (Simon James Holliday Gray, Hamish Reade)


See index for CA sketch: Born October 21, 1936, in Hayling Island, Hampshire, England; died of lung cancer, August 6, 2008, in London, England. Educator, playwright, novelist, memoirist, and author. Gray's award-winning plays are forceful, sometimes brutal explorations of the human condition and, some would say, of the playwright's own soul. Gray often wrote about men on the brink of self-annihilation: bitterly, viciously witty men who, in the course of a single day of escalating tension, can destroy everyone around them until, in the end, they are faced with the revelation that they have also destroyed themselves. Best known in the United States is probably the play Butley (1971), the story of a university lecturer whose invective ruins one after another of the people in his life, yet somehow retains the underlying sympathetic qualities that make him human. Gray often set his plays in an academic environment. He was himself a twenty-year veteran of the literature and drama department of the University of London college known as Queen Mary. His characters display the superlative erudition that can spawn the most lethal and enduring forms of wit, and Gray used it in several dramas that featured characters whose words rendered them larger than life. Gray's own persona was also larger than life. He drank and smoked to excess, drove himself stubbornly into his writing until the agony stopped and he realized that the work was done. He took chances and punished himself later with bottomless guilt over his mistakes. Gray documented his triumphs and disasters in several memoirs, turning his uncompromising wit upon himself. In a prolific career, Gray wrote several novels, many television scripts, and occasional nonfiction, but it is his plays that stand out. These include Otherwise Engaged (1995), in which a simple man sets out to spend a quiet day listening to a new musical recording and is besieged by one trivial interruption after another until, faced with a most serious plea for his attention, he reaches a breaking point. Other plays include The Common Pursuit: Scenes from the Literary Life (1984) and Cell Mates (1995). Another play, Wise Child (1967), was originally intended for television until the story of a transvestite crook hiding out at a shabby hotel with a young (possibly gay) accomplice was deemed too unconventional for the small screen and was transferred instead to the West End stage. His dark character studies may have pushed the boundaries of taste and the comfort zones of viewers, but the playwright's talents were not disputed. Gray was decorated a commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005.



Gray, Simon, The Smoking Diaries, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2005.

Gray, Simon, The Year of the Jouncer, Granta Books (London, England), 2006.

Gray, Simon, The Last Cigarette, Granta Books (London, England), 2008.


Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2008, p. B9.

New York Times, August 8, 2008, p. C14; August 9, 2008, p. A4.

Washington Post, August 9, 2008, p. B4.

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Gray, Simon 1936-2008 (Simon James Holliday Gray, Hamish Reade)

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