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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