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Last Updated: Monday, 26 December 2005, 03:57 GMT
Dramatist Rosenthal's final act
By Michael Osborn
BBC News entertainment reporter

Jack Rosenthal and Maureen Lipman
Jack Rosenthal, pictured with his wife Maureen Lipman, died in 2004
After a two-year wait, the final piece of work by renowned television scriptwriter Jack Rosenthal was given an airing on Boxing Day.

Ready When You Are, Mr McGill was originally made in 1976 but Rosenthal remade an updated version of his work shortly before he lost his battle with cancer in 2004.

The drama, which explores the world of television from the inside, focuses on a bit-part actor whose moment of glory goes horribly wrong.

Rosenthal's widow, the actress Maureen Lipman, says the play contains an important message about the state of modern television.

'No mystique'

"Everyone is so savvy now - the people who watch television are television. There's no mystique any longer," says the 59-year-old.

"Jack's thinking was that TV had become producer's choice and star-driven. He wanted to say what this had done to writers and the quality of TV," adds Lipman.

Rosenthal, famed for his work on Coronation Street and award-winning plays such as Bar Mitzvah Boy and Spend Spend Spend, faced delays in getting his updated work to the screen.

Maureen Lipman
This was Jack's gentle rant to say that television is a young man's game, perhaps
Maureen Lipman
"Sky had purported to love it, and then suddenly it wasn't being shown," says Lipman, his wife of 30 years.

She believes the play may have been shelved because of its criticism of modern TV.

"I can't think of another reason. They would say it was held back due to scheduling," adds Lipman. "It's being shown very late, but the main thing is that it will be out there."

The actress is also aware of the poignancy of her husband's final piece of work being brought to the public's attention at last.

"Dennis Potter had his blossoms and Harold Pinter's had his rant - this was Jack's gentle rant to say that television is a young man's game, perhaps," she says.

'Little man'

"It quintessentially sums up his feelings about the little man. Jack didn't think that anyone was boring, and thought everyone had a story to tell.

"The irony now is that every man is telling their story on TV."

While her husband's play was an indictment of the state of the small screen in the 21st Century, Lipman also bemoans the continued rise of reality TV programmes.

"It's a terrible phase which we have to sit out," she says. "Once they've done celebrity copulation, the buck stops there."

Scene from Ready When You Are, Mr McGill
Tom Courtenay (left) plays central character Joe McGill

But Lipman is more concerned with her husband's last hurrah, which she feels will complete the cycle of his life's work.

"It should be judged as a play in the canon of Jack Rosenthal. It is important to me that it goes out with a bang," she says.

Lipman adds that despite his illness, Rosenthal was on set every day during its production and felt happier working with his own material.

A stellar cast featuring Bill Nighy, Tom Courtenay and Amanda Holden star in the remake of Ready When You Are, Mr McGill - in sharp contrast to the original 1970s production.

"The chap who played Mr McGill was an extra himself, and the poor sod never worked again!" says Lipman.


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