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Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 17:25 GMT

Tom Stoppard: A bard for our times?

A prolific playwright: Sir Tom Stoppard

Sir Tom Stoppard, who has won an Oscar for his screen-writing of Shakespeare in Love, is famous for probably being the world's cleverest playwright.

In fact, some critics say he is too clever, with audiences expecting ever-more impressive mental feats.

Oscars '99
But it is Stoppard's keen sense of irony and his skill in depicting it humorously on stage - in good Shakespearean tradition - which have earned him a great reputation.

Born Tomas Straussler in Czechoslovakia in 1937, his family moved to Singapore in 1939 to escape the Nazis. When the Japanese overran the island state during the war, Doctor Straussler sent his family to India but stayed behind himself and died in a prison camp.

Tom's mother later married a British army officer, Kenneth Stoppard. The family came to England in 1946.

He took to the country and found a "very satisfying affinity with all things English".

[ image: Marc Norman and SirTom Stoppard celebrate their Oscars for writing Shakespeare in Love]
Marc Norman and SirTom Stoppard celebrate their Oscars for writing Shakespeare in Love
After completing his A levels, he became a trainee reporter for the the Western Daily Press in Bristol, where his work included writing film and theatre criticism.

He left after six years to write full-time and began a stage play, A Walk on the Water, which was produced by BBC television. He earned a commission for a novel and had two 15-minute radio plays produced by the BBC - The Dissolution of Dominic Boot and 'M' is for Moon Among Other Things.

At the age of 29, he was the National Theatre's youngest-ever playwright.

His breakthrough came with the now-famous Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, in 1966, which met with wide critical praise. Stoppard's famous links with Shakespeare began here: the play is based on Hamlet, seen from a perspective of Samuel Beckett-style characters.

The play was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival and was taken up by the National Theatre for successful runs at the Old Vic and on Broadway in 1967.

An in-joke

The following year, The Real Inspector Hound confirmed his growing reputation.

In a career of more than 30 years, Stoppard won a string of awards, many for his acclaimed West End productions.

They included Jumpers and Travesties, although he also wrote for television and film. In 1986, he was jointly nominated for an Oscar for Brazil, while his adaptation of Empire Of The Sun won a Bafta nomination in 1989.

One joke he included in the script of Shakespeare in Love is an ironic reference to the lack of respect given to writers.

One of the characters asks: "Who's that?", to which comes the reply: "Nobody - the author".

Stoppard was awarded the CBE in 1978 and was knighted in 1997.

In 1965, he married Jose Ingle, a nurse, and they were divorced in 1972. His second wife was Dr Miriam Stoppard, a popular media doctor. They also divorced.

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