Michael Abbensetts

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Michael Abbensetts
Michael John Abbensetts

(1938-06-08)8 June 1938
Died24 November 2016(2016-11-24) (aged 78)
Notable workSweet Talk
Empire Road
Children1 daughter

Michael John Abbensetts (8 June 1938 – 24 November 2016)[1][2] was a Guyana-born British writer who settled in England in the 1960s. He had been described as "the best Black playwright to emerge from his generation,[3][4] and as having given "Caribbeans a real voice in Britain".[5][6] He was the first black British playwright commissioned to write a television drama series, Empire Road, which the BBC aired from 1978 to 1979.[1]

Early years[edit]

Born in Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana), the son of Neville John (a doctor) and Elaine Abbensetts,[7] Michael Abbensetts attended Queen's College from 1952 to 1956, then Stanstead College, Quebec, Canada, and Sir George Williams University, in Montreal (1960–61), before moving to England "around 1963".[8][9] He became a British citizen in 1974.[10]

Writing career[edit]

Abbensetts's work debuted in theatre in 1973 with Sweet Talk, which had a cast including Mona Hammond and Don Warrington. It was directed by Stephen Frears.[11] For television, Abbensetts's 1977 work Black Christmas aired on BBC and was also directed by Frears.[12] It has been called by Stephen Bourne "one of the best television dramas of the 1970s".[13] From the 1970s to 1990s, Abbensetts continued his theatre career throughout London. Some of his works during this time period included Samba (1980), Outlaw (1983), and The Lion (1993).[14]

Apart from plays, Abbensetts was a screenwriter for Empire Road (BBC, 1978–79), considered British television's first Black soap opera. He has said: "I never really liked it being called a Soap. It was The Daily Mail that called it that. I always thought of it as a drama series, where each episode had a separate story."[9] The second series was directed by Horace Ové, "establishing a production unit with a Black director, Black writer and Black actors."[12] The cast featured Norman Beaton, Corinne Skinner-Carter, Joseph Marcell, Rudolph Walker and Wayne Laryea. Other television projects by Abbensetts include Easy Money (1981), Big George Is Dead (Channel 4, 1987), starring Norman Beaton, Linzi Drew and Ram John Holder,[15] and the mini-series Little Napoleons (1994, Channel 4).[16]

Teaching and fellowships[edit]

In 1983–84, Abbensetts was Visiting Professor of Drama at Carnegie-Mellon University. From September 2002, he was a Project Fellow in the Caribbean Studies Department of the University of North London. He was a Fellow at City and Guilds of London Art School, 2006–09.[12]

Later years and personal life[edit]

With Abbensetts' health declining in his latter years as a result of Alzheimer's disease,[2][17] a tribute was organised for his benefit by Anton Phillips on Sunday, 9 December 2012: a rehearsed reading of Sweet Talk, directed by Phillips and attended by Abbensetts himself, was held at the Tricycle Theatre, with many well known figures in Black theatre and arts in the audience, including Yvonne Brewster, Don Warrington, Rudolph Walker, Oscar James, Allister Bain, and Errol Lloyd.[18]

Abbensetts died aged 78 on 24 November 2016, survived by his daughter, Justine, from his relationship with Anne Stewart, and by two grandchildren, Sean and Danielle, as well as a sister Elizabeth. His first wife Connie, a lawyer, had died of cancer towards the end of the 1980s, and in 2005 he was married to Liz Bluett, though they later separated.[1]

Selected works[edit]

Stage plays[edit]

Television plays[edit]

  • The Museum Attendant, BBC2, 1973
  • Inner City Blues, 1974;
  • Crime and Passion, 1975;
  • Roadrunner, 1977;
  • Black Christmas, BBC, 1977.
  • Empire Road, series, BBC, 1978–79.
  • Big George Is Dead, Channel 4, 1987.
  • Little Napoleons, mini-series, Channel 4, 1994.

Radio plays[edit]

  • Sweet Talk, BBC Radio, 1974.
  • Home Again, BBC Radio, 1975.
  • The Sunny Side of the Street, BBC Radio, 1977.
  • Brothers of the Sword, BBC Radio, 1978.
  • Alterations, BBC World Service, 1980.
  • The Fast Lane, Capital Radio, 1980.
  • The Dark Horse, BBC Radio, 1981.


  • Sweet Talk, London: Methuen, 1974.
  • Empire Road (novelisation of TV series), London: Grenada, 1979.
  • Four Plays (Sweet Talk; Alterations; In the Mood; El Dorado), London: Oberon Books, 2001. ISBN 9781840021790


  1. ^ a b c Michael Coveney, "Michael Abbensetts obituary", The Guardian, 20 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b Michelle Yaa Asantewa, "Michael Abbensetts June 8th 1938 - November 24th 2016: The Play Must Go On", Way Wive Wordz, 25 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Playwright and Dramatist", Guyana Diaspora, 24 April 2006.
  4. ^ "Abbensetts, Michael, British Writer", Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC).
  5. ^ Sarita Malik, "Abbensetts, Michael (1938-)", BFI Screenonline.
  6. ^ Theatre Communications Group Archived 2 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Michael Abbensetts Biography (1938–)", filmreference.com
  8. ^ Bourne, Stephen (2020). "Abbensetts, Michael John (1938–2016), playwright and television screenwriter". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.112173. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  9. ^ a b Michelle Stoby, "Black British Drama After Empire Road: An interview with Michael Abbensetts", Wasafiri, Issue 35, Spring 2002, pp. 3–8.
  10. ^ "Michael Abbensetts (1938 – )", Dollee.com
  11. ^ Stephen Bourne, "The Black Presence on the London Stage, 1825–1965: Some Key Players and a Timeline". Archived 14 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ a b c "Michael Abbensetts", Archived 4 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine Royal Literary Fund.
  13. ^ Stephen Bourne, Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television, Continuum, 2005, p. 200.
  14. ^ "Michael Abbensetts", National Theatre, Black Plays Archive.
  15. ^ "Big George Is Dead" at IMDb.
  16. ^ "Little Napoleons" at IMDb.
  17. ^ Max Walters, "Cricklewood pensioner missing after visiting Northwick Park Hospital", Brent and Kilburn Times, 4 July 2012.
  18. ^ John Gulliver, "Playwright who gave black actors a dramatic entrance" Archived 11 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Camden New Journal, 13 December 2012.
  • Leavy, Suzan. "Abbensetts an Example". Television Today (London, England), 19 May 1994.
  • Walters, Margaret. "Taking Race for Granted". New Society (London, England), 16 November 1978.

External links[edit]