Richard Brian Fawkes (1944-2020) was a playwright, author and director.

Fawkes was born in Camberley; his parents were Stanley and Dorethy. He was educated at the Royal Masonic School for Boys, Bushey. After that he spent eighteen months working with Voluntary Service Overseas as an instructor at the Outward Bound School in Kenya. He read English at St David’s College Lampeter, before joining the BBC as a general trainee in 1967. He worked for the BBC until 1971, when he joined a commercials production company. After that, he went freelance as an Assistant Director. Over the rest of his career, he worked as a director on stage and screen, a playwright, and an author of nine books on classical music. 

Very early in the life of Channel  4, Fawkes directed Tom Keating on Painters. Keating was an artist and art restorer; he admitted to painting fakes to gain revenge on traders who grew rich at artists’ expense. In his television programme, he discussed his favourite artists and their styles. Writing in The Times, Peter Davalle described the way the series took stuffiness and pretension out of art history to leave room for genuine love and understanding. Fawkes also directed Channel 4’s Every Window Tells a Story, in which Malcolm Miller explained and deciphered the significance of stained glass windows. Again, Davalle commented that Miller spoke in language everyone could understand; in particular, he described the cathedral as the binding of a book, with the windows as the text.  Changing Faces, first broadcast in 1987, traced the changing roles and ideals of British portrait painters; once more the series was light without being superficial.  

On stage, Fawkes’ work included producing Faust (2005) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (2006) for Opera South. Working with the operetta specialist Tom Higgins, he co-devised and then directed Waltzing in the Clouds, based on the life and music of the composer Robert Stolz. He also wrote the libretto’s for Priti Paintal’s operas Survival Song and Biko. Survival Song portrayed the events leading up to a necklace killing in a South African township. It was written as a study for the later two-act chamber opera on the life of Steve Biko, commissioned as a co-production by Birmingham Rep. and Royal Opera Garden Venture.  

Fawkes’ first book, co-written with Michael Darlow, was The last corner of Arabia, (Quartet Books, 1976). Darlow had visited Oman at the request of the Sultan, to make a documentary about what was then a very backward, but strategically vital, country. As the previous ruler had refused to modernize, there was no proper hospital and only two miles of made up road. Fawkes accompanied Darlow as production manager. The contract included a clause that Darlow would write a book about his experiences. As Fawkes was starting off as a serious writer, the two men divided up the chapters between them. The text was accompanied by photographs, mostly taken by the cameraman, Peter Middleton. 

Most of Fawkes’ later volumes concerned music, particularly classical music. His next book was Fighting for a Laugh: Entertaining the British and American Armed Forces 1939-1946 (Macdonald and Jane’s, 1978), a comprehensive study of wartime entertainment. He then published Dion Boucicault (Quartet Books, 1979). This was the first modern biography of a versatile 19th century playwright, actor and manager, who married three times, was accused of bigamy and made and lost several fortunes.  

Welsh National Opera (Julia McRae, 1986) followed the history of the company, from its early days with an amateur chorus to a major organization, able to give full freedom to exciting international producers. Most of Fawkes’ text consisted of a brief analysis of every production. Writing in The Financial Times, Loppert commented ‘But the book is at once a solid job of reporting, and something else as well – the sense of excitement that WNO performance can inspire certainly returns in the reading.’ 

In The Classical Music Map of Britain (Elliott & Thompson, 2010), Fawkes wrote a compendium of stories about Britain’s composers, arranged by geographical location. Each entry described why a particular place was special to the composer in question, which pieces were written there, and whether it was currently open to the public. Fawkes commented ‘There’s something wonderful about being able to go and look at something connected with a composer. I would like to think that readers will keep the book in their cars and as they travel around the country use it as a guide to places of interest.’ 

Fawkes was also the author of two audio books, The History of Opera and The History of Classical Music, (both published by Naxos). He contributed to a wide range of publications, including Opera Now, Classical Music Magazine, The Singer, Gramophone, The Telegraph and The Independent. 

Fawkes married Cherry Cole in 1971; he and Cherry had two sons and a daughter. He died in Chiswick on 8 January 2020.  

Sources 

Artists’ Collecting Society. (2012-2020). Tom Keating (1917-1984). Retrieved November 9 2020 from https://artistscollectingsociety.org/members/tom-keating/ 

Davalle, P. (1987, January 21). A darkening of joy and glory. Times, 43. Retrieved November 9 2020 from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IF0500255308/TTDA?u=nlw_ttda&sid=TTDA&xid=06e6a7f7 

Fawkes, R. (n.d.) Richard Fawkes. Retrieved November 9 2020 from https://richardfawkes.wordpress.com/work/ 

Davalle, P. (1986, March 3). Choice. Times, 31. Retrieved November 10 2020 from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IF0503024849/TTDA?u=nlw_ttda&sid=TTDA&xid=cf217121 

Morison, P. (1987, October 22). Light touch with portrait painters. Daily Telegraph, 10. Retrieved November 10 2020 from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IO0701129500/TGRH?u=nlw_ttda&sid=TGRH&xid=d3b850ba 

Opera South. (n.d.) Past opera productions. Retrieved November 10 2020 from http://iph.org.uk/theatre/OperaSouth2010/pa_index.html 

Spotlight on local talent. (2000, May 19). Greater London, Kent, and Surrey counties publications. Retrieved November 10 2020 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/10D872D87AD11DD6?p=UKNB 

Clements, A. (1992, June 2). Arts: Biko – opera. Financial Times. Retrieved November 10 2020 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/11416EF0DF7C97B8?p=UKNB 

Fanshawe, S. (Host). (1992, May 29). Terence Davies’ The Long Day Closes [Radio Broadcast]. Retrieved November 10 2020 from https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p03m0v1h 

British Entertainment History Project. (n.d.) Interview no. 709 – Michael Darlow – Transcript. Retrieved November 13 2020 from https://historyproject.org.uk/sites/default/files/Michael%20Darlow%20transcript.pdf 

Barrett, D. (1981). [Review of the book Dion Boucicault: a biography, by R. Fawkes] Theatre Journal, 33(1),125-126. https:// 

Yorkshire Post: celebration of true classical icons and unsung heroes. (2012, June 22). Yorkshire Post. Retrieved November 13 2020 from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/13F9AB9175ACE010?p=UKNB 

Stead, P. (1986). [Review of the book Welsh National Opera, by R. Fawkes] Welsh History Review, 13,520. Retrieved November 13 2020 from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/docview/1310493106?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo&imgSeq=1