David Mercer (playwright)

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For other people named David Mercer, see David Mercer (disambiguation).

David Mercer (27 June 1928 – 8 August 1980) was an English dramatist.

David Mercer circa 1963


Mercer was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, England. Like the central characters of his plays Where the Difference Begins and After Haggerty, he was the son of an engine-driver. After failing to get into grammar school, Mercer left school at 14, worked as a technician and in the Merchant Navy[1] before attending Kings College, Newcastle (which then awarded degrees validated by Durham University) from where he graduated in 1953. He married Jitke Sigmund, a Czech-born[2] woman who was chief buyer for Marks & Spencer, and spent a year in Paris, where he attempted to become a painter and wrote a novel (about expatriates in Paris) in a style heavily influenced by Percy Wyndham Lewis. In late 1957, now separated and living with Dilys Johnson (whom he later married), he rented a room in a flat at 10 Compayne Gardens, London NW6, that was rented, in turn, by the poet Jon Silkin from Rudolf Nassauer (a wine merchant, poet, and novelist) and his wife, Bernice Rubens, who was later winner of the 1970 Booker Prize. The historical novelist Malcolm Macdonald, then a student at the Slade, was another of Silkin's tenants at that time. There Mercer wrote a more political novel whose acerbic Northern hero, Congo Booth, was an early prototype of many disaffected-marxist heroes in his television work. Neither novel was ever published. All three – Silkin, Mercer, and Macdonald – earned a living teaching English as a Foreign Language at the St Giles School of English in Oxford St. Mercer later taught English and Science at the Hairdressers College until his television and stage earnings freed him to write full-time.

In 1967, Mercer met a German actress, Maria Machado with whom he later had his first child, Maya Mercer.

Mercer began his career as a dramatist with the trilogy of television plays, The Generations, being composed of Where the Difference Begins (1961), the anti-nuclear piece A Climate of Fear (1962) and the non-naturalistic The Birth of a Private Man (1963). A Way of Living (1963) was another naturalistic piece, and dealt with the division between a young fisherman and a girl from a mining family who is about to go to university. Three other television plays from this period - A Suitable Case for Treatment (1962, film adaptation: Morgan, 1966), For Tea on Sunday (1963) and In Two Minds (1967) share a concern with madness or, in the critic John Russell Taylor's words, "social alienation expressed in terms of psychological alienation".[3] In Two Minds was remade as the feature film Family Life (1971), again directed by Loach.

Mercer's first play to be written for the stage, Ride a Cock Horse, was seen in the West End in a 1965 production starring Peter O'Toole. An early work, the one-act The Governor's Lady, in which an elderly colonial governor gradually turns into a gorilla, was originally written for radio in 1960 but not performed until it was staged by the RSC in 1965. The RSC later stage many of Mercer's works, including his next play Belcher's Luck (1966), "a wild tragi-comedy full of Lawrentian symbolism about fertility and impotence".[4] Other plays for television from the 1960s are And Did Those Feet (1965), The Parachute (1968) and Let's Murder Vivaldi (1968)[5] and another trilogy, comprising On the Eve of Publication (1969), The Cellar and the Almond Tree (1970) and Emma's Time (1970). The content of this body of work made John Russell Taylor regard Mercer as the most political of British dramatists of the period.[6] Much of Mercer's television work for the BBC was made in collaboration with the director Don Taylor.

In 1970 Mercer contributed White Poem - a monologue for a white Rhodesian racialist - to a Sharpeville massacre commemoration.[7]

Mercer wrote the screenplay for the Alain Resnais film Providence, in which John Gielgud portrays an elderly, dying writer; the film won a César Award.

He died after suffering a heart attack in Haifa, Israel, where he was living with his Israeli wife Dafna and their daughter Rebecca.[2]

As fictional character[edit]

Mercer is depicted as Malcolm Sloman in the Trevor Griffiths play The Party (1973). In 1982, The Arcata Promise, a stage adaptation of the 1974 television play, was produced by Brockman Seawell and premiered in New York in 1982, starring Brian Murray.[8]


  • Where the Difference Begins (1961)
  • A Climate of Fear (1962)
  • Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment (1962)
  • The Birth of a Private Man (1963)
  • A Way of Living (1963)
  • For Tea on Sunday (1963)
  • Ride a Cock Horse (1965)
  • The Governor's Lady (1965)
  • And Did Those Feet (1965)
  • Belcher's Luck (1966)
  • In Two Minds (1967)
  • Let's Murder Vivaldi (1968)
  • The Parachute (1968)
  • On the Eve of Publication (1969)
  • The Cellar and the Almond Tree (1970)
  • Emma's Time (1970)
  • After Haggerty (1970)
  • Flint (1970)
  • The Bankrupt
  • Afternoon at the Festival
  • The Arcata Promise (1974)
  • Duck Song (1974)
  • Shooting the Chandelier (1977)
  • Cousin Vladimir (1978)
  • The Ragazza (1978)
  • The Arcata Promise
  • Find Me
  • Huggy Bear - originally a short story in Jon Silkin's magazine Stand!


  1. ^ John Russell Taylor The Second Wave, Eyre Methuen, 1978 reprint, pp. 47-8 ISBN 0-413-45440-1
  2. ^ a b Janet Moat Mercer, David (1928-1980), BFI screenonline page
  3. ^ John Russell Taylor The Second Wave, London: Eyre Methuen, 1978 reprint, p.42 ISBN 0-413-45440-1
  4. ^ John Russell Taylor Anger & After, Methuen University Paperbacks edition, 1969, p.316
  5. ^ John Russell Taylor Anger & After, Methuen University Paperbacks edition, 1969, pp.314-6
  6. ^ John Russell Taylor The Second Wave, Eyre Methuen, 1978 reprint, p. 36 ISBN 0-413-45440-1
  7. ^ John Russell Taylor The Second Wave, Eyre Methuen, 1978 reprint, p.56 ISBN 0-413-45440-1
  8. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/theater/stage-arcata-promise-study-of-a-psychopathic-actor.html, Mel Gussow, The New York Times, 4 June 1982.

External links[edit]