Stephen Poliakoff

Stephen Poliakoff

Stephen Poliakoff, May 2008
Born (1952-12-01) 1 December 1952
Holland Park, London, England, UK
Spouse(s) Sandy Welch (2 children)

Stephen Poliakoff, CBE, FRSL (born 1 December 1952) is an acclaimed British playwright, director and scriptwriter, best known for his work as a television dramatist.

Early life

Poliakoff was born in the Holland Park district in west London to Anglo Jewish and Russian Jewish parents, Ina (née Montagu), and Russian born Alexander Poliakoff.[1][2] The second of four children, he was sent at a young age to boarding school, which he hated. He then proceeded to Westminster School where he attracted sufficient attention for Granny, a play written and directed by him, to be reviewed in The Times newspaper. After Westminster, he went to King's College, Cambridge but never took a degree.[3]

Professional life


Poliakoff continued to write stage plays, becoming writer-in-residence for the National Theatre at the age of 24, but he became increasingly interested in the medium of television, with Stronger Than the Sun (1977 – BBC1 Play for Today), Bloody Kids (1980 – ATV), Caught on a Train (1980 – BBC2 Playhouse) starring Peggy Ashcroft, and Soft Targets (1982 – Play for Today). There were also TV adaptations of his stage plays Hitting Town (1976 – Thames Television/ITV Play for Britain) and City Sugar (1978 – Scottish Television / ITV The Sunday Drama). Both these plays were some of his first big successes.[4]

Poliakoff's theatre, although well received critically has never achieved a great level of attention from the critics, apart from their reviews. This has been attributed to the ambiguity of his politics.[5] His approach towards political issues has been described as individual in nature rather than generalising.[4] Some of the recurring themes in his works have been recognised as:[5] environmental pollution, due to human intervention, both rural and urban. Most of his plays portray contemporary Britain. He is scared of and fascinated by Fascism. He said: "I'm writing about what's happening now, about people searching for beliefs in what is no longer a religious country, and about how individuals of charisma and power can polarize things."[5]

Television and cinema

Poliakoff's first feature film was Runners, directed by Charles Sturridge, starring James Fox, Jane Asher and Kate Hardie. It received a limited theatrical release in 1983 before being shown in Channel 4's Film on Four slot. His directorial debut was the much-lauded and now rare Hidden City (1988), premiered at the Venice Film Festival and starring Charles Dance, Richard E. Grant and Cassie Stuart. His television career continued with She's Been Away (1989) starring Peggy Ashcroft and also winning awards at Venice, before a return to film with Close My Eyes (1991), starring Clive Owen, Saskia Reeves and Alan Rickman in an elaborate reworking of the incest theme that had been central to Hitting Town, followed by Century (1993), with Owen, Dance and Miranda Richardson. Less successful were Food of Love (1997) with Grant, Nathalie Baye and Joe McGann and The Tribe (1998) starring Joely Richardson and Jeremy Northam, the latter eventually screened on BBC2 in the absence of a cinema distribution deal.

He subsequently returned to his favoured form, television, this time choosing a flexible serial format resulting in the acclaimed and Prix Italia[6]-winning Shooting the Past (1999), the fresh critical and audience success of Perfect Strangers (2001), a family drama starring Matthew Macfadyen, Michael Gambon and Lindsay Duncan and The Lost Prince (2003), a single drama recognized with an Emmy award rare for a non-American production. The film also featured Miranda Richardson in a Golden Globe-nominated performance as Queen Mary of Teck. Michael Gambon, Gina McKee, Tom Hollander and Bill Nighy appeared in major roles. Late 2005 saw the one-off drama Friends and Crocodiles starring Damian Lewis and Jodhi May, with its overlapping companion piece, Gideon's Daughter, starring Bill Nighy, Miranda Richardson and Emily Blunt, appearing early the following year. The latter won a Peabody Award in April 2007, with Golden Globes for Nighy and Blunt.

In 2005, he renewed recent criticisms of BBC scheduling and commissioning policy, arguing that the reintroduction of a regular evening slot for one-off plays on BBC1 would provide the re-invigoration of drama output that has become a priority for the corporation.

Joe's Palace was screened on 4 November 2007 on BBC One and Capturing Mary was screened on BBC Two on 12 November 2007. The Culture Show also screened a Poliakoff special, including an interview between Poliakoff and Mark Kermode and a new TV play, A Real Summer, on 10 November.[7]

Glorious 39, starring Romola Garai, Bill Nighy and Julie Christie, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2009 and was released in the UK that November.

In 2011, Poliakoff wrote a seven-minute short film, Astonish Me, to celebrate WWF's 50th anniversary. Starring Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton, the film was shown in Odeon Cinemas in August 2011 and made available on the WWF website and YouTube.[8]

In February and March 2013, Dancing on the Edge, a five-part series which followed the fortunes of a black jazz band in 1930s London, was broadcast by the BBC, and also later won a Golden Globe.[9]

A new work by the director, with the title Close to the Enemy, and set in a bombed-out London in the aftermath of the Second World War, is set to be broadcast by the BBC in November 2016.[10]

Personal life

Stephen Poliakoff lives in London and is married to fellow scriptwriter Sandy Welch, with whom he has two children. He was awarded a CBE in the Queen's 2007 Birthday Honours list.[11]

His brother, Sir Martyn Poliakoff, a research chemist and lecturer, is a Fellow of the Royal Society,[12] being, until November 2016, its Foreign Secretary and vice-president.[13] He is also the presenter of a popular YouTube educational series on chemistry, The Periodic Table of Videos .[14]

Poliakoff's paternal grandfather, Joseph, was a Russian Jew who experienced first-hand the effects of the communist revolution in Russia from the family's Moscow flat across from the Kremlin.[15] Near starvation after the revolution, he was given a government job as a district telephone inspector from an admiring commissar and he helped build Moscow's first automatic telephone exchange.[16] He then fled with his family from the newly Stalinist Soviet Union to the UK in 1924[17][18] Poliakoff was a renowned inventor of electrical devices[19] whose many inventions included a selenium photograph telephony shutter in 1899 (US patent 700,100, 26 August, 1901),[20][21] which, along with electrical sound amplification, allowed for synchronized audio on film, the radio volume control, a magnetic induction loop that allowed hearing-impaired people to hear in auditoriums or theatres,[22][23] and the paging beeper.[24] He also founded the Multitone Electric Company of London, England in 1931 that produced hearing aid devices[25] with their most prestigious client being Winston Churchill.[26]


Stage plays

All London except where otherwise stated:


Television dramas and films

All (originally) made for British television unless otherwise stated.

Prizes and Awards

Stephen Poliakoff has received the following awards:[4]


  1. "BFI Screenonline: Poliakoff, Stephen (1952–) Biography".
  2. "Stephen Poliakoff Biography (1952?-)".
  3. Article in Saga magazine, December 2009
  4. 1 2 3 "Stephen Poliakoff – Literature". Retrieved 2016-05-23.
  5. 1 2 3 Peacock, D. Keith. "The Fascination of Fascism: The Plays of Stephen Poliakoff". Modern Drama. 27 (4): 494–505. doi:10.3138/md.27.4.494.
  6. "Prix Italia".
  7. "BBC – Press Office – Stephen Poliakoff dramas for 2007".
  8. "Win tickets to see Stephen Poliakoff's WWF film – competition". the Guardian.
  9. "Dancing on the edge, IMDB". IMDB. 2014. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  10. "BBC Media Centre, report on Close To The Enemy". BBC. Summer 2015.
  11. "BBC NEWS – Entertainment – Rushdie and Eavis lead honours".
  12. "Martyn Poliakoff".
  13. "The Royal Society, the Foreign Secretary, and International Relations". Science & Diplomacy.
  14. "Professor says World Cup trophy cannot be solid gold". BBC. 12 Jun 2010. Retrieved 22 Nov 2015.

External links

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