Peter Barnes (10 January 1931 – 1 July 2004) was an English Olivier Award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His most famous work is the play The Ruling Class, which was made into a 1972 film for which Peter O'Toole received an Oscar nomination.
He was born in Bow, London, but was raised on the east coast, where his parents worked in an amusement arcade and later owned a couple of cafes. He was educated at Marling School in Stroud, Gloucestershire and did his National Service with the RAF. Then he spent a short period working for London County Council.
Bored with his job, Barnes took a correspondence course in theology. He began to visit the British Museum reading room, which he used as an office on a daily basis. During this period he worked as a film critic, story editor, and a screenwriter. He achieved success with his baroque comedy 'The Ruling Class' (1968), which debuted at the Nottingham Playhouse. The play was notorious for its anti-naturalistic approach, unusual in theatre at the time. Following a successful three-month run in the West End, Barnes adapted the play for the 1972 film of the same name, which starred Peter O'Toole.
Following his initial success, Barnes wrote a series of stage plays offering apocalyptic visions of various periods in history:
Leonardo's Last Supper (1969) portrayed Leonardo da Vinci being prematurely declared dead, with his subsequent "resurrection" in a filthy charnel-house.
The Bewitched (1974), which he produced with the RSC, showed the Spanish state attempting to produce an heir for Carlos II, whom Barnes portrayed as being impotent and imbecile.
Laughter! (1978) was his most controversial work, a double-bill that jumped from the reign of Ivan the Terrible to a satire based on the tedious bureaucracy required to sustain Auschwitz.
Red Noses (1985) depicted a sprightly priest, originally played by Antony Sher, who travelled around the plague-affected villages of 14th century France with a band of fools, known as God's Zanies, offering holy assistance. It was for this play that Barnes won his Olivier award.
In his later years Barnes turned his attention more in the direction of films, radio, and television. For BBC Radio 3 he wrote a series of monologues entitled Barnes's People, for which he attracted a large number of well known actors: Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, Peggy Ashcroft, Judi Dench, and Ian McKellen.
Barnes carried on writing his historical comedies throughout the 1990s. These include Sunsets and Glories (1990), Dreaming (1999), and Jubilee (2001).
Barnes's second wife, Christie, gave birth to his first daughter in 2000 when he was 69. In 2002 his wife gave birth to triplets.
The last play Barnes completed was Babies, which is based on his experiences as an elderly father.
He died in July 2004 of a stroke.
BBC RADIO PLAYS
Most of the plays below went out as "Barnes' People". There were (I think) four series, including 1984, 1986, 1989. Most episodes were repeated on World Service.
'BILLY & ME' .....1989
Performed by Alan Rickman.
29 Dec 89, BBC R3 ("More Barnes People"). Repeated on BBC World Service.
Series 4 no. 2.
'NO END TO DREAMING' .....c1987
'THE PEACE OF WESTPHALIA' .....c1987
'THE REAL LONG JOHN SILVER' .... c.1987.
With Angela Pleasence, Michael Maloney and Sian Phillips.
26 Aug 86, R3. Also broadcast on BBC World Service c1987.
Series 3 no. 6.
HEIRS OF DIOGENES....1986
With Mike Gwilym, Michael Hordern and Simon Callow.
21 Aug 86. R3. Also broadcast on BBC World Service c1987.
Series 3 no. 4.
AFTER THE FUNERAL....1986
16 Aug 86, R3.
With Sean Connery, John Hurt and Donald Pleasance.
30m. A clever piece of writing where we think initially that a man has lost his wife and that his best friend is consoling him. But it's not like that at all. ABC rpt. c1998. Also broadcast on BBC World Service c1987. Series 3 no. 1.
'ACTING EXERCISE' .....1984
Also broadcast on BBC World Service c1985.
'THE RIGHT TIME & PLACE'....1984
Also broadcast on BBC World Service c1985.
With Peter Ustinov and Alec McCowen.
29 Feb 84, R3. Series 2 no. 4.
with Joan Plowright and Paul Scofield.
8 Feb 84, R3.
Lo Fingido Verdadero ....1983
By Lope de Vega, c1608.
Broadcast: Sunday 3rd April 1983. BBC R3.
The Roman actor Genesius who, playing the role of a Christian martyr in the theater for the amusement of the Emperor
Diocletian, was moved to a true conversion by the role he was playing. In his case, the feigned experience became truth, the
fictional role became reality, the scoffer became Saint Genesius, martyr.
Adapted freely by Peter Barnes from Evelyn Fishburn's translation of "Lo Fingido Verdadero" (c.1608), by Lope de Vega
Wth Denis Quilley [The Actor, Genesius], Timothy West [The Emporer Diocletian], Ronald Baddeley [The Emporer Aurelius],
David Pyatt [Numerian], Patrick Barr [Appa], Alan Rickman [Carinus Ceasar], Sean Arnold [Maximian], James Carey [Curious],
James Bryce [Marcius], Ann Beach [Camilia, the bread seller], Harold Innocent [Lentulus], Edward Cast [Lelius], Michael Bilton
[Patricius], Frances Jeater [Rosada], Alex Jennings [Celio], and Mary Hedd, Hilda Schroder, Jean Trend [Christians and Courtesans].
The Actors: Peter Woodthorpe [Penabilus], Timothy Bateson [Fabricius], Stephen Boxer [Octavius], Stuart Organ [The Soldier],
and Tina Marion [Marcella].
The Musicians: David Corkhill, Michael Dore, Christopher Lacey, Ron Leach, Robert White under the direction of the composer,
Directed by Ian Cotterell.
compiled by Nigel Deacon; biog. notes from 'Wikipedia'; the rest from Greg Linden and Jim.
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