Peter Nichols Biography

Peter Nichols (born 31 July 1927) is an English writer of stage plays, film and television. He abandoned his first profession of acting, largely at the urging of Kenneth Williams, to become a successful playwright.

Born in Bristol, England, he was educated at Bristol Grammar School, and served his compulsory National Service as a clerk in Calcutta and later in the Combined Services Entertainments Unit in Singapore where he entertained the troops alongside John Schlesinger, Stanley Baxter, and Kenneth Williams, before going on to study acting at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He later claimed to have studied acting because there were no dedicated courses for playwrights. While he was working as a teacher he began to write television plays which achieved notice. His first play for the stage was The Hooded Terror, part of a season of new plays at the Little Theatre in Bristol which included Cockade by another new playwright Charles Wood. He later wrote A Day in the Death of Joe Egg for the stage, because he thought it would be unacceptable for television.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg is a one-set drama in music hall style. The National Health is a fantasy farce, also interrupted by vaudeville. Privates On Parade is a musical comedy, partly inspired by Nichols's own experiences in the Combined Services Entertainments Unit. Poppy takes the form of a Christmas pantomime.

Despite the comic style, Nichols' plays deal with the most serious of themes. In A Day in the Death of Joe Egg the burden of raising a hopelessly handicapped child shatters a couple's marriage. The patients of The National Health suffer and die, as do the singing soldiers of Privates On Parade. In Poppy, a pantomime take on the Chinese opium wars, Dick Whittington's sister becomes a drug addict. Passion Play (known as "Passion" in the United States), focusses on adultery and betrayal. In Blue Murder, a constable investigates a death.

Nichols is often considered an especially autobiographical playwright, and has chronicled much of the background to his plays in his published autobiography and diaries. Joe Egg is based on Nichols' own experiences of raising a handicapped child, The National Health draws on a hospital stay of his own, while Privates on Parade draws on his own military experiences.