Stephen Davis – A Life In Pictures
I have arrived here in the virtual world after a lifelong journey through the real world, researching stories around the globe and writing for large audiences in film, television, radio, theatre – and now fiction.
Straight out of Cambridge University, I worked uncredited on Granada Television’s Brideshead Revisited and apprenticed myself into the world of authored television drama, then in its heyday.
Since my first play, The Dissolution of Marcus Fleishman, written when I was 23 and produced first on BBC Radio and then produced again for BBC Television, I have been interested in how things happen, how they go wrong, why they go wrong, and why we can’t seem to control them.
In theatre, my debut play The Last Elephant at London’s Bush Theatre starred the young Alan Rickman. I was the youngest writer to do a live television drama broadcast, and as a university writer-in-residence in my 20s was awarded what may have been the UK’s first media degree.
My follow-up radio drama Events in Heroes’ Square was built around one of the last performances by Sir Michael Redgrave.
But I was always drawn to exploring the outside world to create the inner dimensions of drama. I went into challenging locations that were often beyond the access even of investigative journalists.
I was one of the first writers in the world to explore the Vietnam war in drama, and the first to reopen the riddle of the Kennedy assassination for my theatre play Love Field and subsequent feature film, Ruby, starring Danny Aiello.
As a drama writer, I was the first Englishman to get official access to the Provisional IRA, spending two years in Belfast and Derry. For a forthcoming book, I travelled the length of the Xingu River in Brazil’s Mato Grosso rainforest living in Indian villages.
Yuri Nosenko Double Agent, the first film co-produced between the BBC and Home Box Office in the USA, was my story about a bitter CIA defector controversy, starring Tommy Lee Jones, researched over fourteen months in the USA and Europe among senior CIA officers. It was listed among the ten best films of the year by The New York Times and nominated for an ACE Award.
I researched my BBC Television 4 part drama serial Degrees of Error, about the pharmaceutical industry’s practices in the wake of the thalidomide scandal, on three continents.
In the era of television that came in after the death of the television play, I revamped the pilot series of Waking the Dead, writing for three series and winning the show an International Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Drama and then the award in the subsequent season.
I have more recently written for the BBC Television forensic science drama series Silent Witness. But in the pressure cooker of ratings-driven prime-time, I have on occasions removed my credit from shows where the scripts were not recognisably those that I had personally researched and drafted.
I believe in drama, the lie that tells the truth, and I believe in audiences. All the rest is an aid or an obstacle that stands between a writer and the audience. It’s always personal.