Camden News
Publications by New Journal Enterprises
  Home Archive Competition Jobs Tickets Accommodation Dating Contact us
The Review - FEATURE
Published: 10 May 2007

Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks in Finsbury Park, where they grew up
Writers give the little Hitler a Freudian trip

Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran return to their roots and tell how their latest play picks the brains of a young Adolf, writes Peter Gruner

FORTY years ago they were two rebellious teenagers trying to get a “beat group” together in a Finsbury Park church hall. They knew they wanted to be famous, they just didn’t know how. Today, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran are among Britain’s foremost television scriptwriters.
Famous for making us laugh with popular hit sitcoms like the BBC’s Birds of a Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and New Statesman, they are soon to launch their latest television comedy, Mumbai Calling, to be broadcast on ITV later this year.
It is co-written with and stars Sanjeev Bhaskar from Meet the Kumars, and is set in a call centre in India.
Marks and Gran also have a serious side, and there will be a special reading of their BBC radio play Dr Freud will See You Now, Mr Hitler, at The Tricycle Theatre on Sunday evening, May 13.
The play, first broadcast on Radio 4 on March 31, poses the intriguing question: would the course of history have been altered if Dr Freud – who ran a child psychiatric clinic in Vienna at the time – had been given the opportunity to treat young Adolf?
Marks and Gran were inspired to write the play after discovering that as a child Hitler had been badly traumatised by being regularly beaten by his father.
Maurice said: “As dramatists we were fascinated by the imaginary clash of two of the 20th century’s most influential minds.
“Like all Jewish kids growing up in the 1950s, we were very conscious of the Holocaust. Of course, we may not have come into the world if Hitler had invaded Britain.
“Most Jewish families either lost or knew people who lost loved ones in the death camps of Germany. One of the reasons for writing the Hitler play was to try and understand the mind of the man.
“Even today, with all the terrible things being perpetrated in the world, few atrocities come close to the systematic murder of six million Jews.
“What was particularly extraordinary was that Hitler’s racial ideas could be embraced by a supposedly civilised country.”
Starring many of the original radio cast, Sunday’s event is a benefit evening for the Freud Museum in Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, the former home of the great psychoanalyst.
The evening will include a discussion of the issues surrounding the play.
As well as Laurence and Maurice, the panel will include Cambridge University professor of history of science, John Forrester, and his novelist wife Lisa Appignanesi, who together wrote Freud’s Women (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1992).
Maurice said: “We’re slightly apprehensive that during the discussion we’ll get some distinguished Freudian telling us that he never used the word trousers but always said pantaloons.
“We’ll be up against people who know everything about him.”
Marks and Gran, who now both live in the Cotswolds, wanted to return to their Finsbury Park roots for this interview. We met outside St John’s Court in Princess Crescent, the council flats where Laurence grew up. Maurice lived just round the corner in Finsbury Park Road.
Laurence said: “Standing here takes me back to my childhood and all its influences.
“Mine was a traditional Jewish upbringing with parents who wanted me to do well in whatever I did.”
Laurence’s father was a stocktaker while Maurice’s was manager of a fabric shop in Berwick Street, Soho. Tragically, Laurence lost his father in the Moorgate Tube disaster of 1975, the story on which he based an award-winning Channel 4 documentary – Me, My Dad and Moorgate.
Both boys passed their 11-plus and went to grammar schools – Laurence to Holloway County, and Maurice to William Ellis.
Marks and Gran became friends at the Jewish Lads Brigade, which met weekly at the former Finsbury Park Junior School in Blackstock Road, now City and Islington College.
Laurence said: “I didn’t want to go to the JLB but my father was chairman so I had to. I’d rather have stayed at home and listened to the radio.”
They were both devotees of Round the Horne and Hancock’s Half Hour.
Both were keen readers. Maurice remembers enjoying the Just William stories – the classic children’s books by Richmal Crompton.
“I didn’t have TV until the late 50s,” he said. “So I went to the library and devoured books at the rate of four or five a week.”
Maurice added that his mother, Debbie, always wanted to be a writer.
He said: “Both my mother and Laurence’s mother, Lily, were very aspirational.
They could have achieved a lot more but they also needed to earn a living.”
Laurence and Maurice started writing together in their early 20s and went to the Players-Playwrights, a writers group that met at the British Drama League offices at Fitzroy Square. For five years they wrote, usually at night, while holding down full-time jobs.
Maurice had become manager of the Tottenham Job Centre while Laurence worked nearby as a reporter on the now defunct Tottenham Weekly Herald.
Still holding down their day jobs, they began to submit material to the BBC.
However, a chance meeting with Barry Took (one of the creators of Round The Horne) led to them getting the chance to write a radio show for the legendary Frankie Howerd.
From there they never looked back.
Comedy may have been Marks and Gran’s first love – but later they turned their hands to serious drama.
They wrote two major television pieces with strong Jewish elements: Wall of Silence in 1993 for the BBC, a murder mystery set in Stamford Hill’s Hasidic Jewish community, and Mosley (C4, 1998), the story of British fascist and anti-Semite Oswald Mosley.
The latter was condemned by some Jewish organisations for showing Mosley had a human side.
But as Maurice said to me: “It is because these political monsters are still human that we need to try and understand them.”

* Dr Freud Will See You Now, Mr Hitler at the Tricycle Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, NW6
Sunday, May 13.Phone: 020 7372 6611. Tickets £25. The play will be followed by a discussion with Professor John Forester and Lisa Appignanesi.

Comment on this article.
(You must supply your full name and email address for your comment to be published)





» Exhibition Listings
» Exhibition Tickets


Theatre Music
Arts & Events Attractions