Study Guide

Terence Rattigan

Terence Rattigan Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Terence Mervyn Rattigan was born in Kensington, London, on June 10, 1911, to William Frank Rattigan and Vera Houston Rattigan, ten days before the coronation of George V. His father, a career diplomat, was a minor functionary in the coronation and his mother missed the ceremony because of her confinement. Forty-two years later, when Rattigan wrote his sophisticated fantasy The Sleeping Prince as a pièce d’occasion for Elizabeth II’s coronation, he said that he used George V’s coronation for the background of the play as a present to his mother for having missed the real thing.

Both of Rattigan’s parents came from distinguished families of Irish lawyers, a heritage that fascinated Rattigan and showed itself not only in the characters of the lawyers in The Winslow Boy and Cause Célèbre but also in such scenes as the hotel residents’ “trial” of Major Pollock in Table Number Seven. Rattigan’s father, who failed in his own career and was pensioned off in 1922, hoped that Rattigan would find a career in the diplomatic service.

From early boyhood, however, when his parents first took him to the theater, Rattigan was determined to be a playwright. He hoarded his allowance and sneaked off to the theater, began writing plays at eleven, and read plays avidly while on scholarship at Harrow from 1925 to 1930. At Oxford on a history scholarship, he acted, wrote criticism for the Cherwell, and collaborated with fellow student Philip Heimann on a play about Oxonian high jinks and their sad...

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Terence Rattigan Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born in Kensington, London, on June 10, 1911, to William Frank and Vera Houston Rattigan, Terence Mervyn Rattigan frequently mentioned the coronation of George V in that year, an event his mother was unable to attend because of her pregnancy. From a privileged background of diplomats on his father’s side and barristers on his mother’s side, Rattigan attended Harrow (where he wrote his first play, a short piece about Cesare Borgia) and Trinity College, Oxford (where he acted in a production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft, directed by John Gielgud). Unwilling to follow his father in diplomacy, Rattigan convinced his parents to finance him in a London residence and a playwriting career. His entire life was devoted to the theater: stage, film, and television.

He wrote plays from his own personal experiences, reflecting the rapidly changing times, beginning with the carefree, youthful experiences of schoolboys in French Without Tears in pre-World War II England. Later he wrote about English life during World War II, especially in an interesting trilogy composed of Flare Path, While the Sun Shines, and Love in Idleness; he became increasingly frank in his later plays, dealing with the personal failures of upper-middle-class, frequently public, figures.

One of two of England’s most popular dramatists (Noël Coward being the other), Rattigan enjoyed success after success with plays such as The Winslow Boy and The Browning Version in the 1940’s. It was in the latter drama that his technique matured in a change from the diffuseness of earlier plays to a tightly knit construction that focused on one principal character. Also, the farcical or romantic moods of the earlier plays took on a somber note, as the serious problems of middle-class characters living in the postwar era took form in his plays.

An entire family in The Winslow Boy (based on a sensationally popular trial) find...

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Terence Rattigan Biography (Drama for Students)

Terence Rattigan Published by Gale Cengage

Terence Rattigan was born on June 10, 1911, in London, England. His father, William, was a career diplomat, and served in countries such as Turkey and Romania. While his parents lived abroad, Terence and his brother were raised by their grandparents in England. Rattigan was about eleven years old when his parents returned. By that time, he had fallen in love with reading and going to plays. He wrote his first play about the age of ten.

Rattigan was educated at the Harrow School from 1925 until 1930, when he entered Trinity College, Oxford. His experiences at the former, a public school, informed such plays as The Browning Version. Although Rattigan was training for the diplomatic core, by the time he reached Oxford, his interest was focused on the stage.

His first play, First Episode (1933) was written with Philip Heimann while still attending Oxford. It was a complete failure. Yet this did not deter Rattigan from leaving school and moving to London to become a professional playwright.

He achieved early success with his comedic play French without Tears (1934), which did extraordinarily well in London and in several other countries. At the time, the play held the record for the longest-running play in England. It was based on Rattigan’s experiences studying French. His next few plays were much less successful, both at home and in New York.

While Rattigan served in the Royal Air Force during World War II he continued to write plays, producing about one a year until the early 1960s. His Flare Path (1942), a war-themed romantic drama, was well-received in London. Rattigan also began a career writing screenplays with A Quiet Wedding (1940). Although his plays were popular with critics and audiences in London, critical acclaim in the United States continued to elude him.

This changed with Rattigan’s next two works. The Winslow Boy (1946), which concerned the Archer-Shee case in Great Britain, was lauded on both sides of the Atlantic and received several prestigious awards. His reputation as a serious dramatist was cemented with The Browning Version (1948), which received a similar critical response.

After 1948 Rattigan’s plays garnered mixed critical and commercial success. Such plays as The Deep Blue Sea (1952) about a woman’s obsessive love for an unworthy man were not well-received.

One of Rattigan’s last big successes was Separate Tables (1954), which concerns people’s loneliness and isolation. By the early 1960s, Rattigan stopped writing for the stage when his ideas about the theater were criticized for being old-fashioned. He focused on writing screenplays and traveling for several years; but he returned to writing for the stage in his final years. His last produced play was Cause Celebre (1977), based on the trial of Alama Rattenbury in 1930s England. Rattigan died of bone cancer on November 30, 1977.