5 December 1941
Ascot, Berkshire, England
|Died||16 February 2007 (aged 65)
|Occupation||broadcaster, author, biographer, critic and stage director|
Sheridan Morley (5 December 1941, Ascot, Berkshire − 16 February 2007, London) was an English author, biographer, critic, director, actor and broadcaster. He was the eldest son of actor Robert Morley and grandson of actress Dame Gladys Cooper, and wrote biographies of both. Nicholas Kenyon called him a "cultural omnivore" who was "genuinely popular with people".
Sheridan Morley was born in Ascot, Berkshire, in a nursing home opposite Ascot Racecourse. He was named after Sheridan Whiteside, the title role his father was playing in a long-running production of The Man Who Came to Dinner at the Savoy Theatre in London.
He has close family connections with stars of the stage: in addition to his father and his maternal grandmother, his aunt married actor Robert Hardy, and Joanna Lumley was a cousin. His maternal grandfather, Herbert Buckmaster, founded the Buck's Club where his bartender McGarry invented the Buck's Fizz cocktail. His godparents were dramatist Sewell Stokes and actor Peter Bull; his son Hugo was one of Noël Coward's many godchildren.
Morley grew up in Wargrave in Berkshire, and in Hollywood and New York, where his father was working. His father placed an advertisement in The Times, seeking a suitable school for his son: "Father with horrible memories of own schooldays at Wellington is searching for a school for his son, where the food matters as much as the education and the standards are those of a good three-star seaside hotel."
The successful reply came from Sizewell Hall in Suffolk, a coeducational preparatory school. This was run in laissez-faire style by Harry Tuyn, although the story that subjects such as maths and Latin were not taught at Sizewell Hall on the grounds that they were too boring is untrue. Morley was well taught there in the full range of subjects and remained as a private pupil after the school closed in 1955. After attending a crammer, Morley went on to read modern languages at Merton College, Oxford, from 1960, and became involved in student drama alongside Michael York, David Wood, Sam Walters, and Oliver Ford Davies. He graduated with third class honours, and then spent a year teaching drama at the University of Hawaii.
Sheridan Morley worked as a late-night newscaster for ITN from 1965, before moving to the BBC to present Late Night Line-Up for BBC Two from 1967 to 1971, alongside Joan Bakewell and Tony Bilbow. He also presented Film Night for BBC Two in 1971 and 1972. He presented Kaleidoscope for BBC Radio 4, and an innovatory arts programme for BBC Radio 2 from 1990 to 2004.
He had begun The Radio Two Arts Programme in April 1990. At first it consisted of three two-hour programmes a week: one a regional show, followed by a midweek arts documentary covering a single subject, then at weekends the show which was to become the flagship of the series, a magazine programme tackling eight different subjects in every show, interspersed with at least eight related musical recordings. He then moved to a new programme format of Melodies For You in 2004, again on BBC Radio 2. He broadcast his last Melodies programme in November 2006 three months before his death in February 2007.
His best-known work was the biography of Noël Coward, A Talent to Amuse, first published in 1969. Coward gave his full blessing, providing Morley with a list of his friends, and another of his enemies, telling him to start with the second first — which would make for a better book.
Morley joined The Times as deputy features editor in 1973, and then joined Punch in 1975 as its drama critic and arts editor, remaining with the magazine until 1989. In the late 1980s, he became a regular arts diarist for The Times and was its TV critic from 1989 to 1990. He then worked as drama critic for The Spectator from 1990; he was replaced in 2001 by Toby Young. Then, after a short period at the New Statesman, where he was replaced by Michael Portillo, he joined the Daily Express in 2004, where he remained until 2007. Meanwhile, he was also a drama critic for the International Herald Tribune from 1979 to 2005, and film critic for the Sunday Express from 1992 to 1995. In 1990, he was Arts Journalist of the Year, and was also nominated for a Grammy.
For a while in the 1990s Viz magazine ran a strip named after and featuring a hypochondriac character called Sheridan Poorly, an obvious skit on his name, although the character bore no other resemblance to him.
His play, Noël and Gertie, about Noël Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, opened in London in 1983, starring Simon Cadell and Joanna Lumley, and ran for nine years. It was performed in the US with Twiggy in the lead role. He also wrote a show based on the songs of Vivian Ellis, Spread a Little Happiness, which played in 1992.
Morley's last work as theatre director was in 1999 with a revival of Noël Coward's A Song at Twilight, first at The King's Head Theatre in Islington, and then at the Gielgud Theatre in a West End run from October 1999 to March 2000, starring Kika Markham, Mathew Bose, Corin Redgrave, and Vanessa Redgrave.
His life was posthumously celebrated on 22 May 2007 with a gala afternoon performance at the Gielgud Theatre, organised by his widow Ruth Leon,with contributions and performances by friends and colleagues, including Liz Robertson, Edward Fox, Jenny Seagrove, Cameron Mackintosh, Patricia Hodge, Michael Law and Annabel Leventon. Morley's archive is now held by Kingston University in Surrey.
Morley married twice: first to Margaret Gudejko, whom he met in Hawaii, in 1965; and then to Ruth Leon, the critic and television producer, in 1995, whom he had known since his days at Oxford. He suffered depression and then a stroke in his later years. He is survived by Ruth, his brother Wilton, sister Annabel, and son Hugo, and two daughters of his first marriage, which was dissolved in 1990.