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Smoking Diaries author dies of cancer, aged 71

PUBLISHED: 12:05 14 August 2008 | UPDATED: 15:18 07 September 2010

Simon Gray - gave up champagne but not the ciggies

Simon Gray - gave up champagne but not the ciggies

By Robyn Rosen SIMON Gray – the Highgate playwright and diarist best known for penning The Smoking Diaries and for his heavy smoking and drinking – has died aged 71. The author of 30 stage and TV plays and five novels was born in Hampshire on October 21,

By Robyn Rosen

SIMON Gray - the Highgate playwright and diarist best known for penning The Smoking Diaries and for his heavy smoking and drinking - has died aged 71.

The author of 30 stage and TV plays and five novels was born in Hampshire on October 21, 1936.

He was evacuated to Canada for five years during the war and returned to Britain to attend Westminster School.

He went back to Canada, where he studied at Dalhousie University, but returned to study English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Many of his plays, such as the 1981 Quartermaine's Terms, were often based around the upper-class attitudes of his contemporaries at Cambridge.

He became a lecturer in English literature at Queen Mary College, Cambridge in 1965 were he remained for 20 years.

He married Beryl Kevern when he was 29 and lived in Highgate until 1997.

He then moved to Holland Park with his second wife, Victoria Rothschild. The couple first met when they were lecturers at Queen Mary College.

His first stage play, Wise Child, premiered in the West End in 1967 and starred Alec Guinness.

Two more plays - Butley (1971) and Otherwise Engaged (1975) - ran successfully with good friend Harold Pinter as director and Alan Bates starring in both.

His 1995 play Cell Mates hit the headlines when lead actor Stephen Fry suffered a breakdown and went missing the day after the opening night.

In 1996, his younger brother Piers died of alcoholism when he was 49.

Mr Gray also battled alcoholism throughout his life, famously admitting to drinking three bottles of champagne a day.

After spending three weeks in intensive care in May 1997, he vowed never to touch the stuff again - a promise he kept.

A smoker since the age of seven, Mr Gray puffed 65 cigarettes a day at the height of his addiction and refused to stop even after he was diagnosed with lung cancer last year.

His attempts at quitting his habit were chronicled in his hugely successful memoirs The Smoking Diaries (2004) and The Last Cigarette (2008).

In 2005, he was awarded a CBE for services to drama and literature.

He is survived by his wife and two children from his first marriage, Benjamin and Lucy.

Toby Stephens, who played the lead in Mr Gray's autobiographical play Japes in 2001, said: "We bonded during the play and became friends. I was very drawn to him as a personality.

"We would meet up for dinner once every two weeks and I would speak regularly with him on the phone. We would talk about plays and films we had seen. They were wonderful evenings.

"The fact I won't have that any more is devastating. I had wonderful times with him.

"He was my idea of an ideal Englishman - gentle, kind, literate and open minded. I will miss him immensely.


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