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31 July 1927 |
Life and career
Born in Bristol, England, he was educated at Bristol Grammar School, and served his compulsory National Service as a clerk in Calcutta and later in the Combined Services Entertainments Unit in Singapore where he entertained the troops alongside John Schlesinger, Stanley Baxter, and Kenneth Williams, before going on to study acting at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He later claimed to have studied acting because there were no dedicated courses for playwrights. While he was working as a teacher he began to write television plays which achieved notice. His first play for the stage was The Hooded Terror, part of a season of new plays at the Little Theatre in Bristol which included Cockade by another new playwright Charles Wood. He later wrote A Day in the Death of Joe Egg for the stage, because he thought it would be unacceptable for television.
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg is a one-set drama in music hall style. The National Health is a fantasy farce, also interrupted by vaudeville. Privates on Parade is a musical comedy, partly inspired by Nichols's own experiences in the Combined Services Entertainments Unit. Poppy takes the form of a Christmas pantomime.
Despite the comic style, Nichols' plays deal with the most serious of themes. In A Day in the Death of Joe Egg the burden of raising a hopelessly handicapped child shatters a couple's marriage. The patients of The National Health suffer and die, as do the singing soldiers of Privates on Parade. In Poppy, a pantomime take on the Chinese opium wars, Dick Whittington's sister becomes a drug addict. Passion Play (known as "Passion" in the United States), focusses on adultery and betrayal. In Blue Murder, a constable investigates a death.
Nichols is often considered an especially autobiographical playwright, and has chronicled much of the background to his plays in his published autobiography and diaries. Joe Egg is based on Nichols' own experiences of raising a handicapped child, The National Health draws on a hospital stay of his own, while Privates on Parade draws on his own military experiences.
His plays include:
- The Hooded Terror (Rehearsed Reading) (Little Theatre, Bristol 1964)
- Hash Brown! (Little Theatre, Bristol 1964)
- A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (Citizens Theatre, Glasgow 1967)
- The National Health (National Theatre at the Old Vic 1969)
- Forget-Me-Not-Lane (Greenwich Theatre 1971)
- Chez Nous (Globe Theatre, now known as the Gielgud Theatre 1974)
- Harding's Luck (Greenwich Theatre 1974)
- A Day in the life of John Bacon (Greenwich Theatre 1975)
- The Freeway (National Theatre at the Old Vic 1976)
- Privates on Parade (Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre 1977)
- Born in the Gardens (Bristol Old Vic 1970, London 1980)
- Passion Play (Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre 1981)
- Poppy (Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre 1982)
- A Piece of My Mind (Nuffield Theatre, Southampton 1987)
- Blue Murder (Show of Strength Theatre Company, Bristol 1995)
- So Long Life (Show of Strength Theatre Company, Bristol 2000)
- Nicholodeon (Show of Strength Theatre Company, Bristol 2000)
- Lingua Franca (Finborough Theatre, London, 2010)
- Feeling You're Behind an autobiography by Peter Nichols, Weidenfeld and Nicholson (1984) ISBN 0-297-78392-0
'Whatever interest my life may have had must have been exhausted. Yet there were better reasons than vanity – I needed the advance the publishers offered, which was far more generous than any given to me for a play; the theatre itself, once so alluring, now seemed past its best, the wrinkles showing, the kisses dry and dutiful; it would be a bitter pleasure to describe my disenchantment and blame the people who'd done me down; and if I didn't write a book about me, it was clear no one else would."` Peter Nichols' preface, page xi.
- Peter Nichols: Diaries 1969–1977 by Peter Nichols, Nick Hern Books (2000) ISBN 1-85459-474-5
"Did you know that Maggie Smith once accused Laurence Olivier of having "a tin ear and two left feet"? That's one of many enjoyably acerbic snippets in Peter Nichols' Diaries 1969–77, a period that stretches from the composition of his The National Health to the conception of his masterpiece, Passion Play....Nichols tends to be touchy, crusty, disappointed with himself....yet wonderfully observant, honest and likeable." Benedict Nightingale The Times 13 December 2000.
- Theatre Record and its annual indexes
- London Stage in the 20th Century by Robert Tanitch, Haus Books (2007) ISBN 978-1-904950-74-5
- The National: The Theatre and its work 1963–1997 by Simon Callow, Nick Hern Books (1997) ISBN 1-85459-323-4
- Interview with Peter Nichols for the Theatre Archive Project.
- 'Peter Nichols (1927–)' in The Literary Encyclopedia.
- British Library Podcast Peter Nichols discusses the archiving of his own papers in the British Library Manuscripts Collections as part of the international Manuscripts Matter conference.
- Peter Nichols at the Internet Broadway Database