Creator of popular thriller 'Sleuth'
Anthony Shaffer, who died on November 6th aged 75, called his thriller Sleuth "the main event" - and he could never escape it. That "who, what and how done it" tale provided the playwright with a secure place in the theatre and film history of the 1970s.
It was turned down by the then producer king of London's West End, Binky Beaumont, who told Anthony Shaffer it would not last a fortnight. It opened - for a fortnight - in January 1970 at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, won a prolonged standing ovation and was promptly labelled a "piece of piss" by Sir Laurence Olivier. It then moved to the St Martin's theatre in London.
Once in the West End, Sleuth played for 2,359 performances, and, playing for more than 2,000 performances on Broadway, won a Tony Award as the best play of 1970.
Two years later, it was turned into a film, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. Its stars were Michael Caine, as the younger man, Milo Tindle, and Olivier himself in the role of the scheming Andrew Wyke. The great man won a New York critics' award for his pains, and an Oscar nomination. Commenting on his co-star's interpretation, Caine recalled that Olivier hadn't seemed to be doing much, and then great waves of acting had swept towards him.
Anthony Shaffer was the right man to provide great waves of acting. Sleuth has washed around the world; in some distant clime the play is probably being performed, even now. It is an ideal vehicle for actors growing into a certain age and gravitas - Anthony Quayle was the first Wyke, and Peter Bowles was grappling with the part by the end of the 1990s - and with its smart youth versus wily, malevolent old age theme, it both teases and reassures. Audiences, said Anthony Shaffer, would have to be pretty dull dogs not to enjoy it.
Anthony Shaffer was the twin of that other playwright, Sir Peter Shaffer, and the two men's careers could blur in the public consciousness. But while Peter came up with Amadeus, The Royal Hunt Of The Sun and Equus, it was left to Anthony to provide such works as The Case Of The Oily Levantine (1979) and Murderer (1975) - an unsatisfactory outing for Robert Stephens strangling and chopping up his wife. And then there were the films.
Whatever the eventual fate of Sleuth, at least one of the films that Anthony Shaffer scripted, Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man (1973), was destined to become a little classic. The setting was a Scottish island lairded over by Christopher Lee - and it was reputedly his favourite script. Celtic twilight, blood sacrifice, paganism, passion and lust in the mist collided with visiting cop Edward Woodward's mainland, mainstream Christianity.
Born in Liverpool, where his parents quickly introduced him to the Playhouse, he was the son of a Jewish estate agent. Attendance at various schools around the (wartime) country culminated in scholarships for the twins to St Paul's school, which had been evacuated from London to Berkhamsted.
There followed what he called in his forthcoming autobiography, So What Did You Expect?, "three years of unrelieved hell" as a Bevin boy in the Kent coalfield. In 1948, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read law and co-wrote detective stories with his brother. In 1951, he joined a divorce chambers in the Middle Temple, and practised as a barrister. By 1955, he had concluded that the money was inadequate, so he switched to advertising copywriting.
Five years later, he set up his own production company, Hardy Shaffer Associates - his partner was to be The Wicker Man's director - working primarily on television commercials. But, by the end of the 1960s, he had experimented with LSD and found that the appeal of advertising had palled. He quit to write; the result was Sleuth.
He scripted his first film, the ill-starred John Hurt/Hayley Mills comedy, Forbush And The Penguins, in 1972. But after the Broadway success of Sleuth in 1970, Alfred Hitchcock had contacted him, and thus did he script Frenzy (1972), which marked the director's brief return to London films.
More films followed: Absolution (1981) had Richard Burton as a Catholic priest-cum-teacher. But the richest seam was provided by Agatha Christie's all-star charabancs, with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot.
If Sleuth had been a modern extension to the dame's constructions, then Death On The Nile (1978), Evil Under The Sun (1982) - Anthony Shaffer's favourite of the three - and Appointment With Death (1988), which he co-wrote and regarded as perfectly dreadful, were the stately homes.
He was irritated when Sleuth was dismissed as just entertainment. "What do you mean just?" he asked when the film came out. "It's a bloody sight harder to entertain than to bore."
His first two marriages ended in divorce. His third wife, the actor Diane Cilento, survives him, as do two daughters from his second marriage.
Anthony Joshua Shaffer: born 1926; died, November 2001