Terson, Peter 1932-
TERSON, Peter 1932-
PERSONAL: Birth name Peter Patterson; known professionally as Peter Terson; born February 24, 1932, in Tyne, England; son of Peter (a joiner) and Jane (a playwright) Patterson; married Sheila Bailey, May 25, 1955; children: Bruce, Neil, Janie. Education: Attended Newcastle-upon-Tyne Technical College and Redland Training College, 1952-54.
ADDRESSES: Home—87 Middlebridge St., Romsey, Hampshire, England. Agent—Lemon, Unna & Durbridge, 24 Pottery Lane, Holland Park, London W11 4LZ, England.
CAREER: Worked as a drafter; teacher of physical education, 1953-65; playwright, 1965—. Victoria Theater, Stoke-on-Trent, England, resident playwright, 1966-67; National Youth Theater, writer, 1966. Military service: Royal Air Force, 1950-52.
AWARDS, HONORS: Arts Council bursary, 1966; John Whitney Award, 1967; award from Writers Guild of Great Britain, 1971; Radio Scriptwriter award, 1972; promising playwright's award from Lord Goodman.
A Night to Make the Angels Weep (first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, at Victoria Theater, 1964; produced in London, England, 1971), published in New English Dramatists Eleven, Penguin (London, England), 1967.
The Mighty Reservoy (first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, at Victoria Theater, 1964; produced in London, England, 1967), published in New English Dramatists Fourteen, Penguin (London, England), 1970.
The Rat Run, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1965.
All Honour Mr. Todd, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, at Victoria Theater, 1966.
I'm in Charge of These Ruins, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, at Victoria Theater, 1966.
(With others) Sing an Arful Story, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1966.
Jock-on-the-Go (adaptation of story "Jock-at-a-Venture" by Arnold Bennett), first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1966.
Holder Dying, first produced in part in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1966.
Zigger Zagger (first produced in London, England, 1967), published in Zigger Zagger and Mooney and His Caravans (also see below), Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1970.
(With Joyce Cheeseman) Clayhanger (adaptation of a novel by Arnold Bennett), first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1967.
The Ballad of the Artificial Mash, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, at Victoria Theater, 1967.
The Apprentices (first produced in London, England 1968), Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1970.
The Adventures of Gervase Beckett; or, The Man Who Changed Places (first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1969), Eyre Methuen (London, England), 1973.
Fuzz, first produced in London, England, 1969.
Inside-Outside, first produced in Nottingham, England, 1970.
The Affair at Bennett's Hill, Worcestershire, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1970.
Spring-Heeled Jack (first produced in London, England, 1970), published in Plays and Players, November, 1970.
The 1861 Whitby Lifeboat Disaster, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1970, produced in London, England, 1971.
The Knotty: A Musical Documentary, Methuen (London, England,), 1970.
(With Mike Butler) The Samaritan (first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1971; produced in London, England, 1971), published in Plays and Players, July, 1971.
Cadium Firty, first produced in London, England, 1971.
Good Lads at Heart, first produced in London, England, 1971; produced in Brooklyn, NY, at Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House, 1979.
Slip Road Wedding, first produced in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, 1971; produced in London, England, 1971.
Prisoners of the War, first produced in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, 1971.
But Fred, Freud Is Dead (first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1972), published in Plays and Players, March, 1972.
Moby Dick, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1972.
The Most Cheerful Man, first produced in London, England, 1973.
Geordie's March, first produced in London, England, 1973.
The Trip to Florence, first produced in London, England, 1974.
Lost Yer Tongue?, first produced in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, 1974.
Vince Lays the Carpet, and Fred Erects the Tent, first produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1975.
The Ballad of Ben Bagot, published in Prompt Two, edited by Alan Durband, Hutchinson (London, England), 1976.
(With Paul Joyce) Love Us and Leave Us, first produced in London, England, 1976.
The Bread and Butter Trade, first produced in London, England, 1976.
Twilight Joker, first produced in Brighton, England, 1977; produced in London, England, 1978.
Pinvin Careless and His Lines of Force, produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1977.
Family Ties: Wrong First Time; Never Right, Yet Again (produced in London, England, 1977), published in Act 2, edited by David Self and Ray Speakman, Hutchinson (London, England), 1979.
Forest Lodge, produced in Salisbury, England, 1977.
Tolly of the Black Boy, produced in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1977.
Rattling the Railings (produced in London, England, 1978), Samuel French (London, England), 1979.
The Banger, produced in Nottingham, England, 1978.
Cul de Sac, first produced in Chichester, England, 1978; produced in London, England, 1979.
England, My Own, produced in London, England, 1978.
Soldier Boy, produced in London, England, 1978.
VE Night, produced in Chicester, England, 1979.
The Limes, and I Kid You Not, produced in London, England, 1979.
The Pied Piper (musical adaptation of the poem by Robert Browning; produced in Stoke-on Trent, England, 1980), Samuel French (London, England), 1982.
The Ticket, produced in London, England, 1980.
The Night John, produced in London, England, 1980.
We Were All Heroes, produced in Andover, Hampshire, England, 1981.
Aesop's Fables (musical; produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, 1983), Samuel French (London, England), 1986.
Strippers (produced in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, 1984; produced in London, England, 1985), Amber Lane Press (Oxford, England), 1985.
Hotel Dorado, produced in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, 1985.
Chestnuts, produced at Bolton Octagen, 1987.
The Weeping Madonna, published in New Plays 1: Contemporary One-Act Plays, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1988.
Under the Fish (community play), produced in Bradford on Avon, England, 1990.
Have You Seen This Girl (community play), produced in Southborough, Kent, England, 1991.
Twin Oaks (community play), first produced in Lambersart, France, then Southborough, Kent, England, both 1992.
The Sailor's Horse (community play), produced in Minehead, England, 1997.
(With Jon Hurley) Labels, performed at Glewstone Court Hotel, 1998.
Hold Fast (community play), produced in Romsey, Hampshire, England, 1999.
Pigeons Aloft, produced at Ross Festival, 2000.
Mr. Clean, produced at Ross Festival, 2001.
The Big Apple, produced at Ross Festival, 2001.
Campers, performed in Stoke-on-Trent, England, at Edensor High School, 2001.
Also author of Dobson's Drie Bobs, The Launching of the Esso Northumbria, and I Would Prefer Not To (adaptation of the novella Bartleby by Herman Melville).
Mooney and His Caravans (first broadcast in 1966; produced on stage in London, England, 1968), published in Zigger Zagger and Mooney and His Caravans, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1970.
The Heroism of Thomas Chadwick, 1967.
The Last Train through the Harecastle Tunnel, 1969.
The Gregorian Chant, 1972.
The Dividing Fence, 1972.
Shakespeare—or Bust, 1973.
Three for the Fancy, 1973.
Dancing in the Dark, 1974.
The Rough and the Smooth, 1975.
(With Paul Joyce) The Jolly Swagman, 1976.
The Ballad of Ben Bagot, 1977.
The Reluctant Chosen, 1979.
Put Out to Grass, 1979.
Also writer for the Salvation Army series.
The Fishing Party, 1971.
Play Soft, Then Attack, 1978.
The First Flame, 1980.
The Rundle Gibbet, 1981.
The Overnight Man, 1982.
The Romany Trip (documentary), 1983.
The Top Sail at Imberley, 1983.
Madam Main Course, 1983.
Poole Harbour, 1984.
Letters to the Otter, 1985.
When Youth and Pleasure Meet, 1986.
The Mumper, 1988.
Blind down the Thames, 1988.
Stones, Tops, and Tarns, 1989.
Tales My Father Taught Me, 1990.
The Offcuts Voyage, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1988.
(Editor) New Plays 1, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1988.
(Editor) New Plays 2, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1989.
(Editor) New Plays 3, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1990.
WORK IN PROGRESS: The Humanitarians, with Dick Parker; Daphne, with Doug Braddy and Carol Braddy.
SIDELIGHTS: Peter Terson had already launched a career as a physical education teacher when the birth of his first child revived an interest in writing that had been dormant for years. Finding that he was often up in the middle of the night after caring for his infant son, Terson began work on a novel; he eventually abandoned the project in favor of writing plays, a decision based on his interest in writing dialogue. His first two plays were optioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation but never produced because they were judged to need too much work to adapt them for broadcast. Terson was encouraged by the sales, however, and continued to write in his spare time for the next seven years.
During much of this period Terson lived in the Vale of Evesham, a rural, fruit-growing area in central England. His early plays are set in Evesham and contain a sinister undercurrent: progress and civilization threaten nature and alienate humankind. Terson sent samples of his work to Peter Cheeseman, director of the Victoria Theater in Stoke-on-Trent, an in-the-round theater committed to regionalism. Cheeseman was impressed with Terson's work and A Night to Make the Angels Weep was performed at the Victoria in 1964. Other Terson plays set in the Vale of Evesham and sharing the theme of rural tradition opposing the forces of change include The Mighty Reservoy, Mooney and His Caravans, All Honour Mr. Todd, and I'm in Charge of These Ruins. As a collection the plays constitute a cycle, emphasizing themes in a quiet, dialogue-centered fashion.
Typical of Terson's writing during this period is Mooney and His Caravans. The story centers on a married couple, Charley and Mave, who are so determined to escape city life that they are willing to submit themselves to repeated degradation in a rural trailer-park community run like a concentration camp by the evil, cunning Mooney. Humiliated and stripped of all pretense, with Mave carrying Mooney's baby, the couple rediscovers their love for each other and returns to the city.
Terson was named resident playwright of the Victoria Theater in 1966, and was also invited to write a play for the National Youth Theater by its director, Michael Croft. Terson's acceptance of the offer required a major change in his writing style; whereas the productions at the Victoria Theater were small in scale and represented regional, rural interests, the London-based National Youth presented large, showy productions, staged by school children and young adults, and dealt with themes that appealed to urban youth. Terson responded to the challenge with Zigger Zagger, a look at almost fanatical adoration of and identification with professional soccer teams as seen through the eyes of Harry Philton, a school dropout seeking his niche in a society in decline. Harry bounces from job to job, falling into unhappy relationships and a dead-end career.
Terson gave up his post as resident playwright at the Victoria Theater in 1967 and began to devote more time to working with the National Youth Theater, evolving the themes he had developed in Zigger Zagger. The Apprentices is an elaboration on those themes in a more naturalistic fashion; the hopes and dreams of a working-class youth are stripped away one by one until he finds himself trapped in a colorless, meaningless world with no future.
Terson's ability to tailor a play to fit a particular cast and director has led some observers to classify him as a "primitive" to describe his unsophisticated natural talents and observations of human nature. However, the versatility required to be able to write for both the small, in-the-round Victoria Theater and the National Youth Theater with its large company of amateur players is considerable. In order to fully utilize the potential of the National Youth Theater, Terson would start with a basic outline and, working with cast and director Croft, work out staging details and dialogue.
An example of the success of this technique was observed by New York Times critic Richard Eder when Good Lads at Heart played in New York in 1979. The play, which examines the life and relationships of eighteen boys in reform school, presented the difficult task of adequately developing each of the characters. Eder wrote: "The play, written by Peter Terson for the group, is descriptive and instructive. Mr. Terson has not created a notable play but he has created a very useful one; and one that beautifully fits the nature and abilities of the performers."
In an essay about Terson in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gillette Elvgren compared the playwright to such luminaries as Arnold Wesker, John Osborne, and Harold Pinter, who also came from Britain's working class. "But unlike some works of these playwrights," observed Elvgren, "his own plays continue to reflect and draw sustenance from this heritage. Through their language and characters, his dramas depict man's isolation from the land and from his work. . . . Terson imbues his characters with a kind of colloquial relevance (and oftentimes delightful eccentricity) that never loses touch with the sources of work and class from which the writer sprang. Terson's particular and unique strengths as a playwright stem from this ability."
Elvgren commented that the violent climaxes of many of Terson's early plays recalled the youthful work of Anton Chekov, in that it is "somewhat arbitrary and contrived." He mused that television and radio were excellent media for showcasing the strengths of Terson's work, naming The Last Train through the Harcastle Tunnel, The Fishing Party, and The Gregorian Chant as "humorous, ironic works that do not demand the sustained dramatic intensity of an evening in the theater." He finds these works to be "poetic and mood statements which bring to life the workers who people the rural villages of the Midlands and the industrial back streets of the Northern cities."
Terson has been underrated by many commentators, according to John Elsom in Contemporary Dramatists. Referring to the common description of the writer as a "primitive" talent, Elsom surmised that the term was "intended to mean that his technique is artless, his observation fresh and original, and his naturally prolific talent untainted by too much sophistication." Yet the critic decided that "this somewhat backhanded tribute . . . belittles his ability." He theorized that the theater establishment has a difficult time fully accepting Terson's work because it does not include "popular West End comedies" or "middle-class families in the grip of emotional dilemmas." Instead, he writes about "problems which . . . seem to him more important. He is a highly skilled writer with a particular insight into Northern working-class societies and whose plays have, at best, a richness of imagination and an infectious humour." Elsom concluded: "Terson's plays have a much greater variety and range than is often supposed. . . . His influence in British regional theater has been considerable, and more than any other contemporary dramatist he carries forward the ideas of social drama."
Terson more recently told CA: "The most important development in my writing in recent years is working with other people. Since working on community plays, I have found that many people have stories to tell but are unable to do so. I work with them. I hope to get together a group of plays and form a company of local people to put them on in Ross on Wye. Up to now I have written plays with Jon Hurley, a wine specialist; Doug and Carol Braddy, social workers; Didi Lodge, a farmer's wife; and Dick Parker, a retired doctor. All of these add a new dimension (and a new depth) to my work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Dramatists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 13: British Dramatists since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.
Drama, winter, 1968.
Evening Sentinel, October 4, 1967, p. 6.
London, June, 1968.
New Statesman, September 29, 1967; March 22, 1968; August 28, 1968; May 15, 1970.
New York Times, March 28, 1979, Richard Eder, review of Good Lads at Heart.
Observer, September 3, 1967; May 19, 1968; August 25, 1968.
Plays and Players, September, 1970; October, 1970; November, 1970; March, 1972.
Punch, March 20, 1968; September 2, 1970.
Spectator, September 2, 1967; September 6, 1969.
Stage, August 27, 1970; September 17, 1970; December 3, 1970; August 5, 1971; September 30, 1971.
Times Literary Supplement, April 23, 1970.
Variety, October 6, 1971.