Although his father was a middle-class secondary-school teacher, John Peter McGrath identified with the working classes through his Irish Catholic immigrant grandparents and, especially, his paternal grandfather, who worked as a boilermaker in the Birkenhead yards. McGrath was reared in Merseyside (near Liverpool) until World War II, when the family was evacuated to a working-class district in North Wales, returning to Merseyside in 1951.
From 1953 to 1955, McGrath fulfilled his National Service as a gunner, bombardier, then artillery officer in the British army, which sent him to Germany and Egypt. His officer status helped to qualify him in 1955 as a student at the University of Oxford, where he took a Dip.Ed. in directing and writing in 1959.
McGrath gave up a promising career in commercial theater and the popular media to commit his talents to alternative groups. After being associated with the Royal Court Theatre and the Script Department at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) from 1959 to 1965, he lent his energies briefly to Centre 42, the Writers’ Action Group, and Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. One of the crucial turning points for McGrath was in 1968, when he went to Paris and was deeply influenced by the para-revolutionary fever during the May strike, when students joined nine million workers to shut down the French system.
In 1962, McGrath married Elizabeth MacLennan, a gifted actress who was also a 1959...
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