David Storey, one of Britain’s leading dramatists as well as a Booker Prize-winning novelist whose autobiographical “This Sporting Life,” about a rugby player’s struggle to escape his working-class origins, was made into an acclaimed film, died March 26 in London. He was 83.
The cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease, said a daughter, Kate Storey.
Mr. Storey grew up in the north of England, the son of a coal miner, and was a professional rugby player before becoming one of his country’s most prominent writers of the 1960s and 1970s.
He began as a novelist, publishing “This Sporting Life” in 1960, about a hardened, rage-filled rugby player who falls in love with his widowed landlady. The novel came at a time when other writers from the British provinces were gaining literary recognition, including John Braine (“Room at the Top”), Stan Barstow (“A Kind of Loving”) and Alan Sillitoe (“Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” and “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”).
Mr. Storey’s novel won immediate praise, and in 1963 he wrote the screenplay for a film adaptation that provided the breakout role for actor Richard Harris. He and Rachel Roberts, who played the landlady, were nominated for best-acting Oscars in the film, which was directed by Lindsay Anderson.
In 1976, Mr. Storey won Britain’s most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize (now the Man Booker), for his novel “Saville,” a 500-page saga about the aspirations and emotional growth of a young man from a Yorkshire mining family.
“It has no false notes, no heaviness of emphasis, no editorial manipulations of plot to prove a point,” novelist Jeremy Brooks wrote in the Sunday Times of London, adding that it was “reminiscent of a nineteenth-century classic.”
It took Mr. Storey 10 years to write “Saville,” following a strict daily regimen.
“Miners work an eight-hour shift so I felt I must do an eight-hour shift as a writer, often a 12- or 16-hour shift,” he told the Sunday Times in 1994. “I would see my father come home so exhausted that he fell asleep in front of the fire with his eyes wide open.”
Mr. Storey may have labored over his novels, but he dashed off his plays as if they arrived at a moment’s inspiration. One of his best-known plays, “Home,” was written in two days.
Actors John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson had the principal roles in “Home” when it opened in London and later in New York in 1970. It slowly becomes apparent to the audience that the actors’ rambling, fragmented, sometimes humorous conversations are taking place at a psychiatric hospital.
“Mr. Storey writes brilliantly for actors,” theater critic Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Times, praising Gielgud and Richardson for “two of the greatest performances of two careers that have been among the glories of the English-speaking theater.”
“Home” was named best play of 1970-71 by the New York Drama Critics Circle, as were two of Mr. Storey’s other plays, “The Changing Room” (about a rugby team) and “The Contractor” (about workers putting up, then taking down a wedding tent).
Mr. Storey’s transatlantic theatrical success put him in the same company as a generation of distinguished British playwrights that included Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard.
“The plays are intuitive and poetic, and in their combination of laughter and sadness they remind me of Chekhov,” Anderson, who directed several of Mr. Storey’s plays in addition to “This Sporting Life,” said in 1994. “They don’t lend themselves easily to analysis, they have to be experienced.’’
David Malcolm Storey was born July 13, 1933, in the Yorkshire mining town of Wakefield, England. His father, determined that his three sons not work in the coal mines, was disappointed when David chose to attend art school.
To pay his way, the young Mr. Storey signed a 14-year contract to play professional rugby for a team in Leeds. While attending the Slade School of Fine Art in London, he commuted to Leeds on weekends but increasingly felt out of place in both worlds.
In 1956, the year he graduated, Mr. Storey bought out the remainder of his rugby contract. He taught in rough London schools for four years, sometimes having to fight gangs of boys, before the success of “This Sporting Life” allowed him to write full time.
His wife of 59 years, the former Barbara Rudd Hamilton, died in 2015. Survivors include four children; a brother; and six grandchildren.
Mr. Storey continued to write novels, plays and poems for many years but could not match his early success. In recent years, he returned to his early training and last year had an exhibition of his drawings in Yorkshire.
In 1976, Mr. Storey’s play “Mother’s Day” was greeted with universally harsh reviews in London. When he saw a group of critics gathered at a bar, he took out his anger on Michael Billington, then as now drama critic of the Guardian.
Mr. Storey quoted lines from his play — “Idiot! Buffoon! Gormless imbecile!” — with each blow.
“Other writers tell me it’s what they’ve always been dying to do,” he said years later, “but never actually got round to.”
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