When I reviewed recently, for that splendid site Tangled Web UK, Michael Gilbert’s The Murder of Diana Devon, I reflected – not for the first time – on Gilbert’s remarkable versatility. That volume alone includes short stories, magazine competition puzzles, radio plays and a poem. Gilbert’s novels were many and various, and he also wrote for television, as well as creating four stage plays. He even found time to build a successful legal practice, his clients including Raymond Chandler.
There are some other writers of roughly comparable versatility. Francis Durbridge is a name that springs to mind. He achieved great success with his Paul Temple stories on the radio, and his television serials were hugely popular in their day (I’ve posted previously about my admiration for Bat out of Hell in particular.) He wrote numerous plays which had outings in the West End, and he was a prolific novelist – although oddly, I’d suggest, his novels tended to be less effective than his other work, because dialogue was his forte and characterisation and setting mattered much less to him.
Then there was Nigel Balchin, a fine novelist, who also wrote for stage and television, and had considerable success in the film world. He adapted Philip Macdonald’s The Nursemaid Who Disappeared for the silver screen, and arguably improved upon it. He even wrote, as I discovered recently, what Clive James describes as ‘the ur-text’ for Cleopatra.
But how many writers of today (especially in Britain) demonstrate comparable versatility? I’d love to write for radio, tv, film and stage, but unfortunately, I can’t see it happening in the near future. Producing novels and short stories is challenge enough (though I have bought a book on screenwriting, so who knows?). Has writing become more specialised – or am I simply overlooking the achievements of some great all-rounders of the present day?