As he recounts in his autobiography, Anthony Shaffer was born at 55 Croxteth Road L8 on 15th May 1926 at 9.30 a.m. To everyone’s surprise a further child, his identical twin brother Peter, arrived 5 minutes later, “to the mortification of the doctor, whose stethoscope had plainly failed to detect two heartbeats”. His parents were Jack, a Jewish estate agent, and his wife Reka (née Fredman).
Shaffer described his time as a child in Liverpool as “nine years of somewhat cosseted growing-up in a large house stocked with servants with laborious 1930s titles…most later to be replaced by the commanding and ubiquitous Nurse Murphy, a stout Irish bossy boots”. He recalled being taken to the Liverpool Playhouse to see a children’s play in which the young Michael Redgrave acted. Shaffer thought this was “ a seminal event. It stimulated a taste for the thriller, the melodrama and the suspense play”.
In 1935 the family moved to Hampstead. Having attended St Paul’s School, Shaffer then endured what he described as “three years of unrelieved hell” when he was conscripted to work in the mines as a ‘Bevin boy’ in the Kent coalfields. After studying law at Trinity College, Cambridge he practised as a barrister until the mid-1950s when he became a copywriter for the well-known advertising company Pearl & Dean. He formed his own company but by the end of the 1960s the world of advertising had lost its appeal and he quit it to try his hand at writing. His first product was the play Sleuth, the tremendous success of which dominates any assessment of his career.
Sleuth opened in Brighton for two weeks in 1970 and brought forth from that town’s most famous resident, Laurence Olivier, the concise critique “a piece of piss”. Nonetheless, when a film version of it was made two years later Olivier starred, alongside Michael Caine. The play ran for over 2,359 performances and won a Tony award as the best play of 1970. If his later plays failed to equal the success of Sleuth, his film screenplays were worthy of mention, especially the minor horror classic The Wicker Man (1973) and a number of Hercule Poiroit films.
Anthony Shaffer was married three times, his third wife being Diane Cilento, who had previously been married to Sean Connery. He died on 6th November 2001.
Shaffer's Liverpool home for the first 9 years of his life.
Anthony Shaffer's autobiography So What Did You Expect [Picador 2001] is an honest and witty work but does not devote much of its content to his early years in Liverpool. The Wikipedia entry is very thin. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry is quite detailed and the Guardian obituary is worth reading.
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