1922 - 2006
Allan prior was a prolific novelist and writer and television dramatist, one of the founding writers of the BBC's famous police series, Z Cars, writing five of the first ten episodes. He went on to become one of the foremost TV writers who emerged from the fifties and sixties.
Born in Newcastle-upon Tyne on January 13th 1922 he spent most of his boyhood in Blackpool. His father, a first world war officer, spent most of his civilian life gambling and getting involved in small furtive deals, as described by Allan in two semi-autobiographical novels, The Old Man and Me (1994) and The Old Man Again (1996). The family depended mainly on a shellfish business his mother inherited.
Whilst serving in the RAF between 1942 and 1946 Prior wrote his first ever story, a short story for a forces' magazine competition, which he won. However, his own personal highlight of his time serving his country was when he captained the RAF HQ Northern Ireland cricket XI. Upon leaving the RAF he went into the civil service but walked out of his job to concentrate on writing a novel. According to his second wife, Norma Prior "He felt entitled to take a risk as his generation had been taking much bigger risks for a long time." The novel, A Flame in the Air, about men returning from the war was typed out by his first wife, Edith, and was published in 1951. By that time he had also begun writing for BBC radio.
In 1948, with Norman Swallow - who later became a distinguished name in television documentary - he wrote a radio programme about Blackpool for the BBC’s North Region. This led to more radio work, including a dramadocumentary about Gypsies that won a glowing review from the Manchester Guardian. It was his first attempt to write dialogue for actors and he realised that he had a natural aptitude for it.
The Joy Ride, set in Blackpool, consolidated his reputation as a novelist of promise and in 1956 he wrote his first television play, a comedy called The Common Man for the ITV anthology series Armchair Theatre. Transmitted on November 11th 1956 the play starred Peter Butterworth. During the 1950s he wrote two or three radio plays a year and moved into television, a BBC soap opera, Starr and Company (as a replacement for The Grove Family in 1958), another serial, Yorky, with Bill Naughton, and episodes of the ITV series Deadline Midnight. By the time he was approached to write for Z Cars he was an experienced writer. The Z Cars format, devised by Troy Kennedy Martin, went on air at the beginning of 1962. Prior wrote five of the first ten. One of them, Big Catch, was described by the critic Philip Purser as "the best series drama, live or filmed, I have ever seen on television." Prior wrote more than 80 Z Cars scripts during the programme’s 16-year run.
Allan Prior became a regular contributor the Armchair Theatre and in 1964 he wrote a trilogy of teleplays, the common theme being the people of Blackpool and it's Golden Mile. The first, They Throw it at You starred Julia Foster, Megs Jenkins, Lennard Pearce and Jack Smethurst. It was broadcast on October 25th at 9:35pm and was the only play in that week's National Top Ten of TV shows. The second of his trilogy, The Girl in the Picture, introduced Nicola Pagett and give a TV debut to Peter Purves. The show made number 8 in the TV charts. The third and final play in the trilogy was broadcast in January 1965. I've Got a System starred Derek Francis, Avis Bunnage, Keith Baxter and Kika Markham and had betting and gambling as its theme.
The One Eyed Monster, a story about a north country seer taken up by television, went into publication in several European languages. It too was dramatised for television by Prior. In it Rupert Davies played a street trader who dispensed homely advice with each sale, and who went on to become a famous TV personality.
During this time he also contributed to popular series such as Dr Finlay’s Casebook and in the 1970s he continued to alternate between original plays, adaptations and episodes of series, the latter including The Onedin Line, Sutherland’s Law and The Expert. He wrote many radio plays for the BBC North Region as well as 20 novels and 50 original TV plays in addition to episodes of the Z Cars spin-off Softly Softly, Barlow and other police series such as The Sweeney and Juliet Bravo, although his work remained varied and he was never typecast into a particular genre. Amongst his last television dramas were The Charmer and A Perfect Hero, both starring Nigel Havers and he was the original writer of Howard's Way. In all he wrote 300 television scripts. He also wrote 70 radio plays and a number of film scripts but preferred television drama to film despite a stint in Hollywood.
Prior kept up a steady output of novels and in 1991 he published Führer, a study of Adolf Hitler which he described as "90 per cent factual and 10 per cent informed guesswork." He adapted it as a four-hour radio serial, broadcast on Radio 4 in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversay of the end of the Second World War. Prior passed away on June 1st 2006, aged 84. He was survived by his second wife Norma and three children. His daughter, Maddy Prior, is of Steeleye Span fame.
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