Stephen Poliakoff

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Stephen Poliakoff
Stephen Poliakoff.jpg
Stephen Poliakoff, May 2008
Born (1952-12-01) 1 December 1952 (age 64)
Holland Park, London, England, UK
Spouse(s) Sandy Welch
Children 2
Relatives Martyn Poliakoff (brother)

Stephen Poliakoff, CBE, FRSL (born 1 December 1952) is an acclaimed British playwright, director and scriptwriter, best known for his work as a television dramatist.[1]

Early life[edit]

Poliakoff was born in the Holland Park district in west London to Anglo-Jewish and Russian-Jewish parents, Ina (née Montagu), and Russian born Alexander Poliakoff.[2][3] The second of four children, he was sent at a young age to boarding school, which he hated. He then proceeded to Westminster School where he attracted sufficient attention for Granny, a play written and directed by him, to be reviewed in The Times newspaper. After Westminster, he went to King's College, Cambridge but never took a degree.[4]

Professional life[edit]


Poliakoff continued to write stage plays, becoming writer-in-residence for the National Theatre at the age of 24, but he became increasingly interested in the medium of television, with Stronger Than the Sun[5] (1977 – BBC1 Play for Today), Bloody Kids (1980 – ATV)[6] directed by Stephen Frears, Caught on a Train (1980 – BBC2 Playhouse) starring Peggy Ashcroft, and Soft Targets (1982 – Play for Today).[7] There were also TV adaptations of his stage plays Hitting Town (1976 – Thames Television/ITV Plays for Britain)[8] and City Sugar (1978 – Scottish Television / ITV The Sunday Drama).[9] These two plays were some of his first big successes.[10][11]

Poliakoff's theatre, although well received critically has never achieved a great level of attention from the critics, apart from their reviews. This has been attributed to the ambiguity of his politics.[12] His approach towards political issues has been described as individual in nature rather than generalising.[10] Some of the recurring themes in his works have been recognised as[12] environmental pollution, due to human intervention, both rural and urban. Most of his plays portray contemporary Britain. He is scared of and fascinated by Fascism. He said: "I'm writing about what's happening now, about people searching for beliefs in what is no longer a religious country, and about how individuals of charisma and power can polarise things."[12]

A full length study of his work was published in 2011 Stephen Poliakoff: On Stage and Screen by Robin Nelson (published by Bloomsbury).[13]

Nearly all of Poliakoff's plays premiered in London, four at the Royal National Theatre, four at the Royal Shakespeare Company and at the Almeida, Hampstead, Bush and Royal Court. Three of his plays have transferred to the West End. Many of the plays have been performed across Europe and also in the US, Australia and Japan.

In 1976 Poliakoff won the Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright Award for Hitting Town and City Sugar and in 1997 he won the Critic's Circle Best Play Award for the National Theatre production of Blinded By The Sun.[14]

Television and cinema[edit]

Poliakoff's first feature film was Runners, directed by Charles Sturridge, starring James Fox, Jane Asher and Kate Hardie. It received a limited theatrical release in 1983 before being shown in Channel 4's Film on Four slot. His directorial debut was the much-lauded and now rare Hidden City (1988),[15] premiered at the Venice Film Festival and starring Charles Dance, Richard E. Grant and Cassie Stuart. His television career continued with She's Been Away (1989)[16] starring Peggy Ashcroft and also winning awards at Venice, before a return to film with Close My Eyes (1991),[17] starring Clive Owen, Saskia Reeves and Alan Rickman in an elaborate reworking of the incest theme that had been central to Hitting Town(1976),[8] followed by Century (1994),[18] with Owen, Dance and Miranda Richardson. Less successful were Food of Love (1997) with Grant, Nathalie Baye and Joe McGann and The Tribe (1998)[19] starring Joely Richardson and Jeremy Northam, the latter eventually screened on BBC Two in the absence of a cinema distribution deal where it achieved extremely high viewing figures and was immediately repeated.

He subsequently returned to his favoured form, television, this time choosing a flexible serial format resulting in the acclaimed and Prix Italia-winning[20] Shooting the Past (1999),[21] the fresh critical and audience success of Perfect Strangers (2001),[22] a family drama starring Matthew Macfadyen, Michael Gambon and Lindsay Duncan and The Lost Prince (2003),[23] a single drama recognised with an Emmy award rare for a non-American production. The film also featured Miranda Richardson in a Golden Globe-nominated performance as Queen Mary of Teck. Michael Gambon, Gina McKee, Tom Hollander and Bill Nighy appeared in major roles. Late 2005 saw the one-off drama Friends and Crocodiles (2006)[24] starring Damian Lewis and Jodhi May, with its overlapping companion piece, Gideon's Daughter (2006),[25] starring Bill Nighy, Miranda Richardson and Emily Blunt, appearing early the following year. The latter won a Peabody Award in April 2007, with Golden Globes for Nighy and Blunt.

In 2005, he renewed recent criticisms of BBC scheduling and commissioning policy, arguing that the reintroduction of a regular evening slot for one-off plays on BBC1 would provide the re-invigoration of drama output that has become a priority for the corporation.

Joe's Palace [26] was screened on 4 November 2007 on BBC One and Capturing Mary [27] was screened on BBC Two on 12 November 2007. The Culture Show also screened a Poliakoff special, including an interview between Poliakoff and Mark Kermode and a new TV play, A Real Summer,[28] on 10 November.[29]

Glorious 39,[30] starring Romola Garai, Bill Nighy and Julie Christie, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2009 and was released in the UK that November.

In 2011, Poliakoff wrote a seven-minute short film, Astonish Me, to celebrate WWF's 50th anniversary. Starring Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton, the film was shown in Odeon Cinemas in August 2011 and made available on the WWF website and YouTube.[31]

In February and March 2013, Dancing on the Edge,[32] a five-part series which followed the fortunes of a black jazz band in 1930s London, was broadcast by the BBC, and also later won a Golden Globe.[33]

The most recent work by the director is the seven-part series Close to the Enemy [34] which was transmitted with great success on BBC Two in November/December 2016.[35] Close to the Enemy [36] is set in a bombed-out London in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Personal life[edit]

Stephen Poliakoff lives in London and is married to fellow scriptwriter Sandy Welch, with whom he has two children. He was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list 2007.[37]

His brother, Sir Martyn Poliakoff, a research chemist and lecturer, is a Fellow of the Royal Society,[38] being, until November 2016, its Foreign Secretary and vice-president.[39] He is also the presenter of a popular YouTube educational series on chemistry, The Periodic Table of Videos.[40]

Poliakoff's paternal grandfather, Joseph, was a Russian Jew who experienced first-hand the effects of the communist revolution in Russia from the family's Moscow flat across from the Kremlin.[41] Near starvation after the revolution, he was given a government job as a district telephone inspector from an admiring commissar and he helped build Moscow's first automatic telephone exchange.[41] He then fled with his family from the newly Stalinist Soviet Union to the UK in 1924[42][43] Poliakoff was a renowned inventor of electrical devices[44] whose many inventions included a selenium photograph telephony shutter in 1899 (US patent 700,100, 26 August 1901),[45][46] which, along with electrical sound amplification, allowed for synchronized audio on film, the radio volume control, a magnetic induction loop that allowed hearing-impaired people to hear in auditoriums or theatres,[47][48] and the paging beeper.[49] He also founded the Multitone Electric Company of London, England in 1931 that produced hearing aid devices[50] with their most prestigious client being Winston Churchill.[49]


Stage plays[edit]

All London except where otherwise stated:


Television dramas and films[edit]

All (originally) made for British television unless otherwise stated.

Prizes and Awards[edit]

Stephen Poliakoff has received the following awards:[10]


  1. ^ "Stephen Poliakoff on Stage and Screen". Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  2. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Poliakoff, Stephen (1952–) Biography". 
  3. ^ "Stephen Poliakoff Biography (1952?-)". 
  4. ^ Article in Saga magazine, December 2009
  5. ^ "Stronger Than The Sun (1977)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  6. ^ "Bloody Kids (1979)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  7. ^ "Soft Targets (1982)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  8. ^ a b "Hitting Town (1976)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  9. ^ "City Sugar (1978)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  10. ^ a b c "Stephen Poliakoff – Literature". Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  11. ^ "Theatre Plays". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  12. ^ a b c Peacock, D. Keith. "The Fascination of Fascism: The Plays of Stephen Poliakoff". Modern Drama. 27 (4): 494–505. doi:10.3138/md.27.4.494. 
  13. ^ Robin Nelson. "Stephen Poliakoff on Stage and Screen". Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved 2017-01-13. 
  14. ^ "Stephen Poliakoff: Bring back true grit". The Independent. 2013-11-20. Retrieved 2017-01-13. 
  15. ^ "Hidden City (1987)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  16. ^ "She's Been Away (1989)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  17. ^ "Close My Eyes (1991)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  18. ^ "Century (1994)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  19. ^ "The Tribe (1998)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  20. ^ "Prix Italia". 
  21. ^ "Shooting The Past (1999)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  22. ^ "Perfect Strangers (2001)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  23. ^ "The Lost Prince (2003)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  24. ^ "Friends And Crocodiles (2006)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  25. ^ "Gideon's Daughter (2006)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  26. ^ "Joe's Palace (2007)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  27. ^ "Capturing Mary (2007)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  28. ^ "A Real Summer (2007)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  29. ^ "BBC – Press Office – Stephen Poliakoff dramas for 2007". 
  30. ^ "Glorious '39 (2009)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  31. ^ "Win tickets to see Stephen Poliakoff's WWF film – competition". the Guardian. 
  32. ^ "Dancing On The Edge (2013)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  33. ^ "Dancing on the edge, IMDB". IMDB. 2014. Retrieved 2015-12-31. 
  34. ^ "Close To The Enemy (2016)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  35. ^ "BBC Media Centre, report on Close To The Enemy". BBC. Summer 2015. 
  36. ^ "Close To The Enemy (2016)". Stephen Poliakoff Official Website. Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  37. ^ "BBC NEWS – Entertainment – Rushdie and Eavis lead honours". 
  38. ^ "Martyn Poliakoff Biography, The Royal Society". 
  39. ^ "The Royal Society, the Foreign Secretary, and International Relations". Science & Diplomacy. 
  40. ^ "Professor says World Cup trophy cannot be solid gold". BBC. 12 Jun 2010. Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  41. ^ a b Poliakoff, Stephen (2008-05-28). "Ringside at the revolution". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  42. ^ Wroe, Nicholas (2009-11-27). "A life in drama: Stephen Poliakoff". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  43. ^ Information, Reed Business (1978-01-12). New Scientist. Reed Business Information. 
  44. ^ Periodic Videos (2016-10-27), Geissler Tubes - Periodic Table of Videos, retrieved 2017-01-12 
  45. ^ Western Electrician. 30. Electrician Publishing Company. 1902. p. 382. Retrieved 2017-01-26. 
  46. ^ The Electrical World and Engineer. McGraw Publishing Company. 1901-01-01. 
  47. ^ "Induction Loops Around the World......Where are we? - Part I–Robert Traynor–Hearing International". Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  48. ^ [1], Oswald, Barber Sneath & Joseph Poliakoff, "Method of and apparatus for the transmission of speech and other sounds" 
  49. ^ a b Garvey, Alison (2011-05-09). "Marketing Content Company: Multitone, the inventor of the first paging system celebrates its 80th birthday today". Marketing Content Company. Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  50. ^ "History of T-Coils—General Information". Retrieved 2017-01-12. 

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