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Martin, (Francis) Troy Kennedy (1932–2009), screenwriter, was born on 15 February 1932 at Inverbroom, in Ardbeg near Port Bannatyne, on the Isle of Bute off the west coast of Scotland, the son of Francis (Frank) Martin, later Francis Joseph Kennedy Martin, an electrical engineer, and his wife, Catherine, née Flannigan, a Montessori teacher. He was educated at Finchley Catholic Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin. After graduating he joined the Gordon Highlanders, becoming a second lieutenant, and in 1956 was posted to Cyprus where the EOKA insurrection ensured he saw some action. On leaving the army he embarked on a writing career, using his experience in Cyprus as the basis for his first television play, Incident at Echo Six (1958), and drawing on his military experience for a novel set in Indo-China, Beat on a Damask Drum (1959). The positive reception to his television play led to a contract with the BBC as a scriptwriter/adapter and over the next three years he adapted stories by Somerset Maugham, John Wyndham, and Raymond Chandler, among others, and wrote original plays including The Interrogator (1961), which won him a Society of Film and Television Arts scriptwriter's award.

It was while working on a series of short plays for Storyboard (1961) that Troy Kennedy Martin (as he was known) began to develop ideas for a new kind of television drama, eschewing the studio naturalism that was dominant at the time. Working with the producer James MacTaggart and writers such as John McGrath and Roger Smith he established himself as an emerging talent at the BBC. His growing reputation was cemented by the creation of Z Cars (1962–78), for which he won a Writer's Guild of Great Britain screenwriter's award. Collaborating with McGrath, who took on the role of director, Kennedy Martin brought into being a new kind of police drama, more realistic than its predecessors, such as Dixon of Dock Green, with a faster narrative pace, and an increased number of film inserts helping to enhance its realism. He and McGrath wanted to use the police series to explore the lives of real people in Liverpool, the ostensible setting for the drama, but the formulaic nature of series drama meant that it was the regular characters—the policemen—whom audiences identified with. Having created the format and such memorable characters as Detective Chief Inspector Charles Barlow, Detective Sergeant John Watt, Bert Lynch, and Fancy Smith, Kennedy Martin grew frustrated with the constraints of the series and left within three months.

Kennedy Martin and McGrath went on to work together on a six-part series, Diary of a Young Man (1964), which put into practice some of the ideas about a new, non-naturalistic television drama he had articulated in a seminal article published in Encore, ‘Nats go home: first statement of a new drama for television’ (1964). Direction on the series was shared by Ken Loach and Peter Duguid and its panoply of non-naturalistic techniques, including montages of still images, jump cuts, and narrational voice-over, together with extensive location filming, influenced some of the Wednesday Plays produced in 1965–6.

Kennedy Martin's military experience was again evident in episodes written for the ITV series Redcap in 1964–6 and in The Pistol (1965), a Wednesday Play written with Roger Smith from the novel by James Jones. Another Wednesday Play, The Man Without Papers (1965), and an episode for the science fiction series Out of the Unknown were his last scripts for the BBC for several years as he turned to writing screenplays for the caper movies The Italian Job (1969) and Kelly's Heroes (1970), both of which were enlivened by humour. Less well known during this period were the plays he adapted for Anglia Television in 1965–6, the episodes written for the ITV series Weavers Green (1966) and Parkin's Patch (1969–70), under the pseudonym of Tony Marsh, and a six-part sitcom, If It Moves, File It (1970), written for London Weekend Television. On 25 April 1967 he married Diana Mary Aubrey (b. 1939), the actress Diane Aubrey, who had been in Z Cars. She was the daughter of Harry Aubrey, butcher. They had two children, Matthew and Sophie.

The success of The Italian Job made Kennedy Martin one of the highest-paid screenwriters and he became a tax exile, living in Los Angeles for a while before returning to England to write episodes for Colditz and Fall of Eagles (both 1974) and The Sweeney (1975–8), a series created by his brother Ian Kennedy Martin (b. 1936). But it was the three serials he wrote in the 1980s—Reilly—Ace of Spies (1983), The Old Men at the Zoo (1983), adapted from the novel by Angus Wilson, and the nuclear thriller Edge of Darkness (1985)—that crowned a distinguished career. Edge of Darkness in particular demonstrated his unique ability to write an engrossing five-hour drama that was both popular and political. By this time he and Diana were divorced and he cited the separation from his daughter as a factor in depicting the sustained evocation of grief experienced by Yorkshire policeman Ronnie Craven (Bob Peck) following the murder of his daughter early in the serial, the catalyst for a complex thriller involving government duplicity and nuclear conspiracy.

Following the success of Edge of Darkness, which won six BAFTA awards, Kennedy Martin was invited to give the MacTaggart lecture in 1986, but the rest of his career was an anticlimax. While screenplays followed for Walter Hill's Red Heat (1988), the BBC TV film Hostile Waters (1997), Andy McNab's Bravo Two Zero (1999), and Gillian Slovo's Red Dust (2005), they were far outnumbered by unproduced scripts, including a long-cherished project about global warming completed shortly before his death. He lived latterly at 6 Ladbroke Gardens, Notting Hill, London, but died of lung cancer at the home of his daughter in Ditchling, Sussex, on 15 September 2009. She and his son survived him.

Lez Cooke

Sources  

L. Cooke, Troy Kennedy Martin (2007) · J. Caughie, Edge of darkness (2007) · The Times (16 Sept 2009) · Daily Telegraph (17 Sept 2009) · The Guardian (17 Sept 2009) · The Independent (17 Sept 2009) · WW (2009) · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

BBC WAC, file T48/351/1 · BFINA  

FILM

 

BFI NFTVA, documentary footage

 

SOUND

 

BL NSA, interview recording


Likenesses  

F. Hudson, photographs, 1958, Rex Features, London · obituary photographs

Wealth at death  

£454,888: probate, 4 May 2010, CGPLA Eng. & Wales