Authors: Terence Rattigan

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Identity: Gay or bisexual

Author Works


First Episode, pr. 1933 (with Philip Heimann)

French Without Tears, pr. 1936

Flare Path, pr., pb. 1942

While the Sun Shines, pr. 1943

Love in Idleness, pr. 1944 (also known as O Mistress Mine, pr., pb. 1946)

The Winslow Boy, pr., pb. 1946

Playbill: “The Browning Version” and “Harlequinade,” pr. 1948 (2 one-acts)

Adventure Story, pr. 1949

The Deep Blue Sea, pr., pb. 1952

The Sleeping Prince, pr. 1953

The Collected Plays of Terence Rattigan, pb. 1953-1978 (4 volumes; Hamish Hamilton, editor)

Separate Tables: “Table by the Window” and “Table Number Seven,” pr. 1954 (2 playlets; commonly known as Separate Tables)

Ross, pr., pb. 1960

Man and Boy, pr., pb. 1963

A Bequest to the Nation, pr., pb. 1970 (adaptation of his teleplay Nelson)

In Praise of Love: “Before Dawn” and “After Lydia,” pb. 1973, pr. 1974 (as In Praise of Love)

Cause Célèbre, pr. 1977 (adaptation of his radio play)

Plays, pb. 1981-1985 (2 volumes)


Quiet Wedding, 1941 (based on Esther McCracken’s play)

English Without Tears, 1944 (with Anatole de Grunwald; also known as Her Man Gilbey)

The Way to the Stars, 1945 (with de Grunwald; also known as Johnny in the Clouds)

While the Sun Shines, 1946

The Winslow Boy, 1948 (with de Grunwald)

Bond Street, 1948

Brighton Rock, 1948 (later as Young Scarface; with Graham Greene; based on Greene’s novel)

The Browning Version, 1951

The Sound Barrier, 1952 (also known as Breaking the Sound Barrier)

The Final Test, 1954

The Prince and the Showgirl, 1957 (adaptation of The Sleeping Prince)

Separate Tables, 1958 (with John Gay; adaptation of Rattigan’s play)

The VIPs, 1963

The Yellow Rolls-Royce, 1965

A Bequest to the Nation, 1973


The Final Test, 1951

Heart to Heart, 1964

Nelson: A Portrait in Miniature, 1964

Radio Play:

Cause Célèbre, 1975


Born in Kensington, London, on June 10, 1911, to William Frank and Vera Houston Rattigan, Terence Mervyn Rattigan frequently mentioned the coronation of George V in that year, an event his mother was unable to attend because of her pregnancy. From a privileged background of diplomats on his father’s side and barristers on his mother’s side, Rattigan attended Harrow (where he wrote his first play, a short piece about Cesare Borgia) and Trinity College, Oxford (where he acted in a production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft, directed by John Gielgud). Unwilling to follow his father in diplomacy, Rattigan convinced his parents to finance him in a London residence and a playwriting career. His entire life was devoted to the theater: stage, film, and television.{$I[AN]9810000819}{$I[A]Rattigan, Terence}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Rattigan, Terence}{$I[geo]GAY OR BISEXUAL;Rattigan, Terence}{$I[tim]1911;Rattigan, Terence}

He wrote plays from his own personal experiences, reflecting the rapidly changing times, beginning with the carefree, youthful experiences of schoolboys in French Without Tears in pre-World War II England. Later he wrote about English life during World War II, especially in an interesting trilogy composed of Flare Path, While the Sun Shines, and Love in Idleness; he became increasingly frank in his later plays, dealing with the personal failures of upper-middle-class, frequently public, figures.

One of two of England’s most popular dramatists (Noël Coward being the other), Rattigan enjoyed success after success with plays such as The Winslow Boy and The Browning Version in the 1940’s. It was in the latter drama that his technique matured in a change from the diffuseness of earlier plays to a tightly knit construction that focused on one principal character. Also, the farcical or romantic moods of the earlier plays took on a somber note, as the serious problems of middle-class characters living in the postwar era took form in his plays.

An entire family in The Winslow Boy (based on a sensationally popular trial) find themselves in virtual financial ruin in their attempt to vindicate their young son, Ronnie, who has been unfairly dismissed from school. In The Browning Version, a schoolmaster, having failed as a teacher and a husband, finds a remnant of dignity and life after twenty years of living with emotional repression that has caused his metamorphosis into a living corpse. The lonely and alienated characters Hester Collyer, the wife of a successful judge in The Deep Blue Sea, and Sybil Railton-Bell and Major Pollock in Separate Tables have dark overtones, and they challenge the hypocrisy of prevailing attitudes.

The plays that emerged from the 1960’s–Man and Boy, about a hardened financier and his son, and A Bequest to the Nation, dealing with Lord Nelson’s insoluble problem caused by the conflict between his personal need for a mistress and the national admiration for a war hero’s wife–continue Rattigan’s themes in characters who enjoy public success. The Nelson story was so popular that it enjoyed successful performances on television, film, and stage. Other historical figures were dramatized in Ross and Adventure Story, the first about the political and personal life of the enigmatic T. E. Lawrence and the second about Alexander the Great.

When terminal illness struck actress Kay Kendall, wife of Rex Harrison, Rattigan used that experience as the source of In Praise of Love, one of the earliest plays about terminal illness. A few years later, his own bone cancer was diagnosed, and just before he died he was driven past a theater where Cause Célèbre (like The Winslow Boy, based on a sensational trial) was in rehearsal. In this manner, he bid his final farewell to the theater which he so loved and to which he had devoted his entire life.

As a popular playwright, Rattigan was frequently criticized for lacking ideas in his plays. Stung by the continuing criticism, he began a debate on the play of ideas in 1950 in New Statesman, a debate that drew letters during successive weeks from writers such as Sean O’Casey, Christopher Fry, and even George Bernard Shaw. Later that same decade, in 1956, when the London stage revolution began with the explosion of Jimmy Porter’s anger at the Royal Court Theatre in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956), Rattigan again came under fire from critics such as Kenneth Tynan who labeled him as a writer of the conventional, well-made play.

However, some of the new dramatists, such as Harold Pinter, David Rudkin, and Tom Stoppard, found much to be admired in the characters Rattigan developed (The Browning Version, especially, has enjoyed successful revivals). Embodying the glamour of the film world in his writing for films such as The Prince and the Showgirl, The VIPs, and The Yellow Rolls-Royce, Rattigan is, at the other extreme, the stage chronicler of the very private, lonely, pained individuals who endure social disenfranchisement. Socially disenfranchised in a limited way by his own homosexuality and dogged by the “serious” critics, Rattigan’s life paralleled the paradoxical successes and failures he dramatized in his plays.

BibliographyDarlow, Michael, and Gillian Hodson. Terence Rattigan: The Man and His Work. Rev. and updated ed. London: Quartet Books, 2000. A critical biography, thoroughly researched, using archives from the British Broadcasting Corporation. In this readable narrative of Rattigan, his plays, and their times, the authors write with authority and with permission from Rattigan to reveal much of what he had been unable to write about directly in his own plays. Includes photographs, a bibliography, a list of British and American opening dates and casts, and an index.O’Connor, Sean. Straight Acting: Popular Gay Drama from Wilde to Rattigan. Washington, D.C.: Cassell, 1998. A look at homosexuality and literature that traces gay writers from Oscar Wilde and W. Somerset Maugham to more modern writers such as Noël Coward and Terence Rattigan. Includes bibliography and index.Rusinko, Susan. Terence Rattigan. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A chronological summary-analysis of the complete stage, film, and television plays, analyzing Rattigan’s major plays, from his early sunny comedies to his later dramas about dysfunctional families in a dysfunctional society. Includes photograph, chronology, bibliography, index.Wansell, Geoffrey. Terence Rattigan. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. A biography of Rattigan that covers his works for the stage as well as those for television and the movie theater. Includes bibliography and index.Young, B. A. The Rattigan Version: The Theatre of Character. New York: Atheneum, 1988. A personal memoir by an author who knew Rattigan. Leisurely in pace and impressionistic in style, it raises some questions, as in the descriptions of Rattigan’s manner of throwing “his dialogue down on the page, caring only for its gist rather than its style.” Includes index, cast lists, and photographs that tell their own story
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