Ed Bullins, screenwriter of Happy Birthday Cameo and Children of God, dies

His plays were rare and confronting but never overbearing. Artist from BBC Films pays tribute to the man who wrote the screenplays for Bread and Roses, Children of God and Through the Looking Glass

Ed Bullins, who wrote the screenplays for Bread and Roses and Children of God and Watership Down, has died. He was 86.

Ed Bullins. Photograph: © Bridgeman Images

He was living in Guildford, Surrey, when he died. The director Jonathan Glazer worked with him on under-rated films such as The Mighty Bystander and Under the Covers of Miss Charly.

Ed Bullins, Table Dancing and Proud image by Anthony and Paul Hendell

The award-winning director, Jeremy Dyson, who directed the film Watership Down, said: “He was a very, very vivid, rich, colourful and dynamic writer and I admired him greatly. It was always through his writing that he really became a presence. He was like a rare nature find: as a child of the late 50s and early 60s he was definitely a counter-culture writer, writing work that had as much to do with consumerism and commercialism as it did with the poets of his era.”

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“There were actors I admired [who] didn’t always always care to work for film directors. But with Ed, you were often amazed because not only was his writing so brilliant, it was also very funny and sardonic.

“He was a playwright who really wanted to make his script seen and heard. He was a risk-taker, an exuberant performer who didn’t accept compromise when it came to his art.”

Ed Bullins, Happy Birthday Cameo Image by Anthony and Paul Hendell

To his fans, his work was rare and confronting but never overbearing. The Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw said: “His style, if you liked, was in the tradition of Tennessee Williams and John Gielgud. And he was able to talk sense into language that was frequently as ornate as poetry.”

Christopher Cloutier, producer of 1986’s Bread and Roses, said Bullins’s plays were about “reality and the oppressed. He was one of the most remarkable writers Britain had produced and his reputation must be secure. He was a provocative, emotional, brilliant writer.”

Edward Elgar-Little, creative director of the Arts Council, said: “I got to know Ed many years ago while he was working as a tax advisor and it was clear from the very first meeting how brilliant he was, with an absolute drive, integrity and a passion for life that was impossible to fail to be inspired by. I have a huge amount of respect for his artistic integrity and his dedication to his craft.”

The Royal Court’s artistic director, Vicky Featherstone, added: “Ed Bullins leaves an incredible legacy in theatre, poetry and performance. From his collaborations with acclaimed directors such as Jonathan Glazer, Trish Bevan and Nicolas Kent through to the short plays of Joshua Humphreys and his plays in translation such as The Tempest, Adrienne Rich and Carrie Cracknell, he left a lasting mark.”

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