Garry O'Connor (writer)

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Garry O'Connor

Garry O'Connor is a playwright, biographer and novelist.

Personal life[edit]

Born Edgware, London, England, Garry O'Connor is a biographer and novelist, noted for his publications on theatrical and literary figures.

Son of Cavan O'Connor, Irish tenor, BBC broadcasting star and Variety Artist,[1] and Rita, also a singer, maiden name Odoli-Tate, O'Connor is the grand-nephew of Dame Maggie Teyte DBE, Croix de Lorraine, Chevalier, Legion d'Honneur, the international opera soprano and interpreter of French song, and of James William Tate, songwriter, accompanist, and composer.

Educated at St Albans School and King's College, Cambridge, where he was an Exhibitioner and State Scholar, and won the James Essay Prize, O'Connor was President of University Actors. He was taught at Cambridge by Professors Boris Ford and John Broadbent, with George Rylands as his Director of Studies, where O'Connor concentrated mainly on directing and writing plays. He is an MA of King's College.

After Cambridge, winning a French Government scholarship to Paris for drama, he studied mime at the École Jacques Le Coq in Paris[2] before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company as Michel Saint-Denis' assistant. This was during the Peter Hall seasons at Stratford Upon Avon. Thereafter he directed plays in London and elsewhere until his decision to become a full-time writer.

On 25 June 1970 he married Victoria Meredith-Owens, a farmer and yoga teacher. They have six children, Tobias Cavan, Joseph Owen, Emilie Margaret, Frederick Garry, Peter Alexander, and Juliet Elizabeth, and two grandchildren. His home is in King's Sutton, in Northamptonshire.

Theatre and media career[edit]

O'Connor directed his own version of Jonson's Catiline in the Stratford Studio, with Roy Dotrice, Janet Suzman, and Jean Tardieu's The Keyhole at the Aldwych Theatre.[3] He directed the London premiere of Alun Owen's A Little Winter Love at Stratford East ('directed by Garry O'Connor with almost the psychic speed of communication that there can be about jazz': Penelope Gilliatt, Observer),[4] devised and directed A John Whiting Evening, premieres at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and productions at RADA, the London Drama Centre, and Webber-Douglas School. He also read plays for the RSC and translated plays from French for the RSC, and later for the National Theatre in Olivier’s regime.

O'Connor was the first Resident Dramatist and Appeals Director of the Hampstead Theatre Club.[5] He has had eight of his own plays produced, among them I Learnt in Ipswich How to Poison Flowers (1969), at the Arts Theatre Ipswich, directed by Nick Barter,[6] The Musicians (Mercury Theatre, London, 1970), in which Tom Conti made his first appearance on a London Stage, Semmelweis at the Edinburgh Festival (1976), which according to Harold Hobson writing in the Sunday Times 'has saved the dramatic reputation of this year's Festival',[7] while Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian that it 'unnervingly and absorbingly demonstrates that pride is often the counterbalance to ineradicable prejudice'.[8]

His Dialogue Between Friends at the Open Space was based on his involvement with Arnold Wesker's controversial The Friends, staged at the Roundhouse in 1970. His book Darlings of the Gods was adapted as a three-part mini-series for Thames Television and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1991, and was filmed in Australia. More recently Campion's Ghost, adapted from his novel about John Donne, was performed on Radio 4 (1997), with Paul McGann and Timothy West in the leading roles. He has also written and presented features for Radio 3, and acted as consultant on BBC 1 documentaries on Laurence Olivier and Pope John Paul II, appearing in the latter.

Early writing career[edit]

In the early 1960s O'Connor wrote a short Daily Mail Charles Greville column, and then became television critic for Queen Magazine 1965-66, succeeding Sir Angus Wilson. He contributed to the Financial Times as its Paris arts correspondent when he lived in Paris, and as a full-time London daily critic (1966–73), regularly writing also for Plays and Players, Theatre Quarterly, the TLS and other periodicals. He has reviewed books and written features, conducted interviews for the Times, Sunday Times, Mail on Sunday and other newspapers.

O'Connor's first book, French Theatre Today, came out in 1976, followed by many others.[9] Among the subjects of his biographies are Ralph Richardson, ('a masterpiece', Simon Callow, Financial Times; 'Stunning...the best biography of an actor I have ever read', New York Times),[10][11] two of Alec Guinness (the second, Alec Guinness the Unknown, considered by the Literary Review to be 'a truly brilliant detective of the truly great actor biographies of our time'),[12] and by the Guardian as going 'far beyond the reach of most such books, and is his best book so far', Peggy Ashcroft, Paul Scofield, Maggie Teyte, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Tony and Cherie Blair(The Darlings of Downing Street), Seán O'Casey and William Shakespeare. Virtually all his books have been serialised, while he has been translated among other languages into Polish and Swedish.

Awards, honours[edit]

French Government Scholarship for Drama; Oxford Experimental Theatre Club, Oxford, 1st Prize in 1974 for I Forget How Nelson Died; Arts Council bursaries for plays I Learnt In Ipswich How to Poison Flowers and Epitaph For a Militant; Arts Council Literature Award, 1979; often cited in Books of the Year by The Times, Sunday Times, Observer.

O'Connor's favourite biography is that of William Shakespeare, in which he endeavours 'to give Shakespeare a life, not only as a historical figure...but the dimension of one who is still living'. For this he brought in the opinions of those who have worked closely with the plays.[13] Widely reviewed as a 'vivid recreation' and 'an imaginative exercise in "faction" (Frank Kermode, Sunday Telegraph), 'a gem' (Publisher's Weekly), and John Mortimer in the Sunday Times described it thus: 'Garry O'Connor's Shakespeare is a contemporary figure.... The ideas jostle each other off the page in this entertaining book.' It became his most controversial book, causing a furore:[14] 'Garry O'Connor is a literary luminary who has written excellent books on Sean O'Casey, Laurence Olivier and French theatre...his biography of William Shakespeare was received with all the fire and brimstone that naturally falls upon someone who tries to do something rich and strange with our most prized of cultural assets' (Time Out).[15]

List of writings and critical comment[edit]

  • The Vagabond Lover: A Father-Son Memoir. CentreHouse Press, 2017.
  • The Butcher of Poland: Hitler’s Lawyer Hans Frank. History Press, 2014.
  • Subdued Fires: An Intimate Portrait of Pope Benedict XVI. History Press, 2013.
  • The 1st Household Cavalry 1943-44: In the Shadow of Monte Amaro. History Press, 2013.
  • With the author, Derek Jacobi’s As Luck Would Have It. HarperCollins, 2013.
  • The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Maggie Teyte. Arts Council Literary Award; Victor Gollancz and Atheneum New York, 1979.
  • Ralph Richardson: An Actor's Life. Many editions. Hodder & Stoughton, 1980; Coronet, 1982; Applause, 2000. Methuen, 2001; extracted, serialised in New York Times, The Australian.[16]
  • Darlings of the Gods: One Year in the Lives of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Hodder, 1984, serialised in the Observer and filmed three-part mini-series in Australia by ABC and Thames Television.
  • Olivier: In Celebration (editor). Hodder, 1987. Sunday Times best seller list.[17]
  • Sean O'Casey: A Life. Hodder and US Atheneum, 1988; Paladin, 1990. 'Written with tenderness and great technical skill,' Richard Holmes, Times. 'Scrupulous in its factuality and full in its documentation.... It is well and honestly done and it is highly recommended,' Anthony Burges, The Independent.[18][19][20]
  • William Shakespeare: A Life. Hodder, 1991; and Sceptre, 1992.[21]
  • Alec Guinness: Master of Disguise. Hodder, 1993; and Sceptre, 1994.[22][23]
  • The Secret Woman: A Life of Peggy Ashcroft. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997;[24] three-part Sunday Times serial. This provoked a storm of anger and controversy within the British press, with attacks on O'Connor from Harold Pinter, Lord Jeremy Hutchinson, and Labour politician Gerald Kaufman. The book was equally defended by Michael Foot and Lord Tweedsmuir.[25]
  • William Shakespeare: A Popular Life. New expanded edition, 2001. Extract in New York Times, 26 December 1999.[26][27]
  • Paul Scofield: The Biography. Macmillan, 2002; and Applause, New York, 2003. Paul Scofield CH, who died Easter 2008, and who collaborated with O'Connor on this, wrote of the book when he read it in typescript that he was 'overwhelmed...and not only of your extraordinary understanding of the actor, i.e. all actors, and the penetration of this particular actor's sources of action as well as acting - but also because of the depth of your insights'. O'Connor was able 'to take the portrait of one performer, into a larger arena, and achieved a spaciousness of vision and perception'.[28]
  • Alec Guinness, the Unknown: A Life. Macmillan, 2003; Pan, 2004; Applause, 2004.[29]
  • Universal Father: A Life of Pope John Paul II, Bloomsbury UK and US, 2005; paperback, 2006; Irish Independent, Great Biographies series, 2007. Bloomsbury ebook, 2010. AN Wilson wrote in the Mail on Sunday, 'O'Connor, whose previous books include superb biographies of Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson and Paul Scofield, is very much at home in this warm portrait of the greatest actor manager of them all.' Damion Thompson in the Telegraph said the biography was the 'only life of the late Pope that is an artistic achievement in its own right. None of O'Connor's predecessors has matched his exposition of the literary, philosophical and dramatic sources of John Paul's pontificate, or his nimble untangling of the strands of theological argument'.[30] 'An ambitious and textured biography...a powerful portrait of the artist who became Pope': Washington Post.
  • The Darlings of Downing Street: the psycho-sexual drama of power. Politicos, 2007; serialised in Mail on Sunday,[31] Catholic Herald.[32] 'Eloquent, a climactic tirade...a credible mountain of condemnation.... His central theme is presented with coruscating force,' Glasgow Herald. 'A highly charged assessment of a pair of ham actors who saw 'politics as a performance art. Highly recommended': Roger Lewis, Sunday Express. Geoffrey Goodman said it 'provided a flavour of Blairism in power which is unlikely to be bettered'.[33]
  • Holy Crosses & Nazi Flags: Benedict and the Roman Catholic Church. Smashwords and Amazon ebook, 2010. 'Garry O'Connor's most challenging, dramatic and controversial biography – a case for the prosecution that accuses the Pope of damaging the hierarchy of Catholicism and calls for him to "step down".' Sir Michael Holroyd.


  • The Book That Kills. Aesop Modern Oxford, 2014.
  • Darlings of the Gods. Coronet, 1991.[34]
  • Campion's Ghost: The Sacred and Profane Memories of John Donne, Poet. Hodder and Sceptre, 1995 and 1996. 'That O'Connor manages to re-create figures such as John Donne and Elizabeth I in many complex and unexpected ways is a tribute to his skill. Donne becomes almost the symbol of his age. Not only is he at the heart of the Renaissance, but he also embodies in his private anguish the bloody battle between Catholicism and Protestantism.' Sunday Times. 'A historical novel which carries the pungent whiff of authenticity...learned and compelling.' Time Out.[35]
  • Chaucer's Triumph. Petrak Press, February 2007.[36] 'O'Connor takes on Chaucer at his own game - with a cast of tellers, this time on a journey from Leicester to London, teasing out a tale of eroticism and intrigue.' Penelope Middleboe, Booktribes. 'O'Connor's greatest achievement is his warm, wise, and humorous portrayal of the poet Chaucer.' Catherine Perkins, Historical Society Review.[37] 'Absolutely splendid...vivid, dramatic, mysterious and totally involving.' Sir Derek Jacobi.


  • Naked Woman: Semmelweis, De Raptu Meo, CentreHouse Press, 2016.
  • De Raptu Meo, Geoffrey Chaucer on Trial for Rape, Inner Temple Hall, 2014, reviewed by Libby Purves.
  • Two Plays by Garry O'Connor: Debussy Was My Grandfather, The Madness of Vivien Leigh, CentreHouse Press, 2012.


  1. ^ Cavan O’Connor Obituary, Independent, 14 January 1997. Retrieved 20 August 2011
  2. ^ ‘Liberty of the Body’, Times Educational Supplement, April 1962
  3. ^ 2 July 1964,
  4. ^ Observer (London), 13 June 1965; 8 December 1991, p56.
  5. ^ James Roose-Evans, letter to Garry O’Connor, 2 September 1962
  6. ^ Financial Times, BA Young, 6 December 1969
  7. ^ Sunday Times, 18 August 1975, Colour Supplement 8 May 1970, 20 January 2002, Christopher Sylvester reviews Paul Scofield: The Biography.
  8. ^ Guardian, 11 September 1975.
  9. ^ Contemporary Authors, vol 97, Gale (US), 2001, pp318-20.
  10. ^ The Times (London), 21 October 1982, 8 March 1997, Michael Arditti, 'Theatre's Lady of Virtue - Some of It Easy'.
  11. ^ Washington Post Book World, 15 January 1982, 5 June 1988, p5.
  12. ^ Literary Review, November 2002.
  13. ^ Contemporary Authors, vol 97, Gale (US), 2001, pp318-20.
  14. ^ Spectator, 18 April 1987, pp30-31, 9 April 1988, p31, 6 March 1991, pp47-48.
  15. ^ Time Out, 11–18 August 1993; New York Times book review, 3 July 1988, p7.
  16. ^ Times Literary Supplement, 23 November 1979; 24 December 1982; 6–12 May 1988, p495; 6 March 1992, pp10-11.
  17. ^ Spectator, 18 April 1987, pp30-31, 9 April 1988, p31, 6 March 1991, pp47-48.
  18. ^ Spectator, 18 April 1987, pp30-31, 9 April 1988, p31, 6 March 1991, pp47-48.
  19. ^ Time Out, 11–18 August 1993; New York Times book review, 3 July 1988, p7.
  20. ^ Times Literary Supplement, 23 November 1979; 24 December 1982; 6–12 May 1988, p495; 6 March 1992, pp10-11.
  21. ^ Times Literary Supplement, 23 November 1979; 24 December 1982; 6–12 May 1988, p495; 6 March 1992, pp10-11.
  22. ^ Daily Telegraph (London), 30 January 1993, 8 March 1997, Denis Quilley, 'But Love was Always Her Driving Force'.
  23. ^ Sunday Telegraph, 7 February 1993.
  24. ^ Daily Telegraph (London), 30 January 1993, 8 March 1997, Denis Quilley, 'But Love was Always Her Driving Force'.
  25. ^ New Statesman & Society, 11 April 1997, review by William Buchan of The Secret Woman, p49.
  26. ^ Library Journal, 1 November 1999, review of William Shakespeare: A Popular Life, p82.
  27. ^ Publisher's Weekly, 13 December 1999, review of William Shakespeare, A Popular Life, p77.
  28. ^ Paul Scofield letter to Garry O’Connor, 3 September 2001
  29. ^ Evening Standard, 12 November 2002, Alexander Walker, 'Goosing Guinness out of the closet'.
  30. ^ Daily Telegraph, 24 April 2005
  31. ^ Mail on Sunday, 10/17 June 2007.
  32. ^ Catholic Herald, 22 July 2007.
  33. ^ Camden New Journal, September 2007.
  34. ^ Observer (London), 13 June 1965; 8 December 1991, p56.
  35. ^ Time Out, 11–18 August 1993; New York Times book review, 3 July 1988, p7.
  36. ^ Daily Mail, 23 February 2007,'Was Chaucer a Rapist?'
  37. ^ Historical Society Review, November 2007.

External links[edit]