1946 – 2011
A Life in the Theatre
Run For Your Wife!
A Life in the Theatre
A Life In The Farce Lane
Ray Cooney is today recognised theatrically and publicly as ‘THE MASTER OF FARCE’ and a most worthy successor as an author to the great Ben Travers, and as a director/actor to Brian Rix. A most prolific writer of stage farces/comedies of high standards which have not only graced the stages of English speaking countries for more than 40 years, but have been staged worldwide and translated into more than 40 foreign languages including Chinese, Japanese and Russian. Television broadcasts in English and foreign languages have also been widespread. Thus has Ray Cooney earned an international reputation as the finest living writer of this form of theatre, and professional and amateur artists have benefited from his writing genius and influence as well as an actor/director. Charles Spencer – the doyen of theatre critics – wrote of FUNNY MONEY, ‘Ray Cooney is a National Treasure’.
The following resumé of Ray Cooney’s activities for over 65 years bears testament to his enormous theatrical input and influence on our theatrical world.
Ray began his theatrical career as a boy actor at the age of 14 in SONG OF NORWAY at the Palace Theatre in 1946. Following this he had many acting roles in weekly Rep and Tours until joining the Brian Rix Company at the Whitehall Theatre in 1956. During this period he began his writing career by writing ONE FOR THE POT with Tony Hilton. This was premiered at the Whitehall Theatre on August 2nd 1961. Whilst this had a successful run for over 4 years, Ray wrote CHASE ME COMRADE, which had its West End premier at the Whitehall Theatre on March 30th 1964. Following this he co-wrote CHARLIE GIRL (1964), BANG BANG BEIRUT again with Tony Hilton, MY GIDDY AUNT (1968), NOT NOW DARLING (1968) and MOVE OVER MRS MARKHAM (1971) all with John Chapman, WHY NOT STAY FOR BREAKFAST (1973) with Gene Stone and THERE GOES THE BRIDE (1974) with John Chapman. He then devised the musical ELVIS in 1977 with Jack Good which won the Evening Standard best musical award, followed by the play HER ROYAL HIGHNESS (1981). Then came Ray's biggest hit, RUN FOR YOUR WIFE in 1982, which ran for 9 years in the West End and Ray directed and played in the New York production. This was then followed by TWO INTO ONE (1984), WIFE BEGINS AT FORTY (1985) with Arne Sultan and Earl Barrett, OUT OF ORDER (1990) which won the Laurence Oliver award for best comedy, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY (1992), FUNNY MONEY (1995), CAUGHT IN THE NET (2001), sequel to RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, which was nominated for both the Laurence Olivier award and the Evening Standard Theatre award, TOM, DICK AND HARRY (2005) with son Michael Cooney, and the musical TWICE UPON A TIME (2011) with Keith Strachan and Chris Walker writing the music. Ray directed this at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Centre in California, starring Millicent Martin. It's estimated that over 100 million tickets have been sold throughout the world for Ray Cooney comedies!
Apart from starring in his own plays in London, America and Australia, Ray has appeared in many other productions including a year in the famous “The Mousetrap”.
Ray has also found time to direct more than twenty London and International stage productions, produce thirty West-End plays and musicals and, in 1983, create Britain’s ‘Theatre of Comedy’. In the Spring of 2004, Ray directed the West Coast Premier of his play CAUGHT IN THE NET at the International City Theatre, Longbeach in California, as well as playing the part of DAD.
Many of Ray’s works have been filmed or televised and Ray played leading roles in the movies of NOT NOW DARLING and CHASE ME COMRADE and the BBC TV production of WIFE BEGINS AT FORTY.
Ray ran the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on Sea, Essex (fortnightly Rep) from September 1969 to September 1970, and brought many Number One stars to this small seaside resort.
Between the years of 1970 and 1983, Ray produced many plays for the West End of London, on tour, and Summer Seasons in Bournemouth and Jersey, and his entourage of actors/followers grew even more. West End productions included LLOYD GEORGE KNEW MY FATHER, SAY GOODNIGHT TO GRANDMA, PASSION PLAY, WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY?, CHICAGO (Cambridge Theatre), OVER THE MOON, HAPPY AS A SANDBAG, DUET FOR ONE, BODIES, ELVIS, DAME OF SARK, GHOST ON TIPTOE, JACK THE RIPPER, THE MATING GAME, BIRDS OF PARADISE and IN AT THE DEATH.
In 1983, Ray formed the Theatre of Comedy Company (bringing together the founder members consisting of thirty West End stars) and became its first Artistic Director. During Ray's 8-year tenure the company produced over twenty plays, including OUT OF ORDER, RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, TWO INTO ONE, ROOKERY NOOK, WHEN WE ARE MARRIED, PYGMALION, SEE HOW THEY RUN, and AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT at the Shaftesbury Theatre, and LOOT, INTIMATE EXCHANGES, and SISTER MARY IGNATIUS at the Ambassadors Theatre.
Also, during the seventies, Ray went into co-production with Hymie Udwin in Johannesburg and it was up to Ray to find British names to play in the various productions in South Africa. It was during this period that he saw IPI TOMBI and brought it to the West End (via Paris). It opened in 1975 at Her Majesty's Theatre before moving on to The Cambridge Theatre and the Whitehall Theatre. It ran for 4 years in the West End and when it finished Ray took it to Israel and Nigeria and then on to Broadway.
In 1982 Ray, whilst writing RUN FOR YOUR WIFE presented the musical of ANDY CAPP at the Aldwych Theatre, London, starring Alan Price and Tom Courtenay.
In 1983 Ray and Laurie Marsh took over the lease of the Shaftesbury Theatre, which is when Ray formed the Theatre of Comedy. Along with the Shaftesbury Theatre, they also leased the Astoria Theatre, Duke of York's Theatre, Ambassadors Theatre and the Broadway Theatre, Kilburn. It was at this time that Ray asked his old mentor Brian Rix, now Lord Rix, to be part of this organisation and run the theatre side of his business.
In 1992, Ray bought the Playhouse Theatre in London. That year he staged the West End premiere of his latest farce IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY at the Playhouse. This was followed by JANE EYRE (1993) adapted by Fay Weldon and starring Tim Pigott-Smith, Frederick Lonsdale's ON APPROVAL (1994) starring Simon Ward, Martin Jarvis and Anna Carteret, and Ray's FUNNY MONEY in 1995. He sold the theatre in 1996.
His plays are produced all over the world - with the exception of North Korea - and the money brought into this country results in hundreds of thousand pounds each year. One would think that he is a multi-millionaire, but no, because of his philanthropy, most of this goes back into the profession that he adores. He also admits that he's 'pretty stupid' with investing!
Ray has been instrumental in the employment of millions of people worldwide, both in a professional or amateur way, thanks to his plays and as a producer or director.
Last year he made a film of his most successful play RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, which he financed himself, and he asked all of his chums that he had worked with over the past 60 years to play a small 'cameo' role in the film. They all agreed, 100%. They did it for nothing as a respect to Ray and what did Ray do, give a donation to charity in lieu. The Charities who benefited were: The Actors' Benevolent Fund, The Royal Theatrical Fund, Mencap and The London Taxi Drivers' Fund For Underprivileged Children. These are only a few of the Charities that Ray supports each year. Others charities he donates to include, Mane Chance Sanctuary, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Chickenshed, RSPCA, Fauna and Flora, St Clare Hospice, NSPCC, Hope Foundation, Mare & Foal, Theydon Boy Scouts, Second Chance, Pioneers Theatre Ltd, Mid Hants Railway, Queens Theatre Hornchurch, World Children's Fund, IFAW and many more including Littlewoods Football pools!!
As a public-spirited person Ray Cooney is always available to assist, advise and lend his energies to charitable efforts especially for the young and elderly and has master-minded the acquisition of three Sunshine Coaches for the Variety Club of Great Britain charity.
Whenever he's not writing, directing or acting, Ray is only too happy to give talks to Amateur Theatre Companies and very often turns up un-announced to see an amateur production of one of his plays, only letting them know after the performance.
Ray says he keeps fit, partly by swimming, playing tennis and gardening but mainly, by appearing in his own hectic plays!
He was awarded the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) in the 2005 Queen’s New Years Honours List for his services to drama.
Ray has been married to his lovely wife, Linda, since 1962 and they have two sons. Danni, who lives in Australia, where he looks after Ray's business interests in Australasia and the Far East and Michael, who lives in Los Angeles and is a successful play and screenwriter in his own right.
Apart from Danni and Michael and four Grandchildren, Ray's extended family also includes most of the feline population of Essex as well as everything else that strays into his garden from nearby Epping Forest. The pet shops of Epping would go out of business if Ray moved from the area!
The above brief summary of Ray's career has been compiled by Alan Osman, who is a dear friend of Ray's, and has known and worked with him since 1969
Updated 31st December 2013
Ray Cooney began his theatrical career as a boy actor in Song of Norway at the Palace Theatre in 1946. Following a period in repertory theatres around the UK, he joined the Brian Rix Company at the Whitehall Theatre and it was during this period he began his writing career including the West End hits MOVE OVER MRS MARKHAM, RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, TWO INTO ONE, OUT OF ORDER, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY, FUNNY MONEY, CAUGHT IN THE NET, TOM DICK & HARRY and many more. In 1983, he formed the Theatre of Comedy at the Shaftesbury Theatre and became its first Artistic Director. In February 2013, the film of his most successful play RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, directed by Ray, had its world premier in Leicester Square and has now come out on DVD.
In December 2014, Ray will have been married to the lovely Linda for 52 years (Aaagh!! says Linda).
Ray Cooney began his theatrical career as a boy actor in Song of Norway at the Palace Theatre in 1946. He served his apprenticeship by playing in various repertory companies from Worthing to Blackburn before graduating to Brian Rix’s company at the Whitehall Theatre in 1956. He played in ‘Dry Rot’ and ‘Simple Spyman’ and then began a writing career which, to date, has produced eighteen West End plays including ONE FOR THE POT (co-written with Tony Hilton), NOT NOW DARLING, MOVE OVER MRS MARKHAM and THERE GOES THE BRIDE, (all co-written with John Chapman), CHASE ME COMRADE, WHY NOT STAY FOR BREAKFAST, WIFE BEGINS AT FORTY, RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, TWO INTO ONE, OUT OF ORDER, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY, FUNNY MONEY, CAUGHT IN THE NET and TOM, DICK & HARRY (co-written with his son Michael Cooney).
As producer and director he has been responsible for over thirty London productions including Lloyd George Knew My Father, Whose Life Is It Anyway?, They’re Playing Our Song, Duet For One, Bodies, Chicago, Clouds and Children Of A Lesser God.
In 1983 Ray formed the Theatre of Comedy Company (bringing together the founder members consisting of thirty West End stars) and he became its first Artistic Director. During Ray’s tenure the company produced over twenty plays including RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, OUT OF ORDER, TWO INTO ONE, Passion Play, and the acclaimed revivals of See How They Run, Loot, When We Are Married and Pygmalion starring Peter O’Toole and John Thaw.
During Ray’s hectic theatrical career he has always found time to continue acting and played the last year of RUN FOR YOUR WIFE! in London before appearing in the New York production. He has also played the lead in IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY and FUNNY MONEY. In the Spring of 2004, Ray directed the West Coast Premiere of his play CAUGHT IN THE NET at the International City Theatre, Longbeach in California, as well as playing the part of DAD.
Ray’s latest play TOM, DICK & HARRY (co-written with his son, Michael, which Ray thinks has been the highlight of his career) had a very successful tryout at the Theatre Royal, Windsor in the Autumn of 2003. A West End production opened at the Duke of York's Theatre in August 2005. His musical TWICE UPON A TIME with music by Chris Walker and Keith Strachan has already had two try-out productions. One at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre, Guildford and another at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Centre, California in the spring of 2008.
Ray has been married to his artist wife, Linda for over 50 years, and they have two sons; Michael and Danny. Ray and Linda visit Michael – who is a successful playwright and Hollywood screenwriter –and grandchildren Spencer and Oliver followed by a trip to Australia to spend time with their other son, Danny and grandchildren Jess and Ashlea as often as time allows.
updated 31st December 2013
FOR YOUR WIFE! by Ray Cooney opened at the Shaftesbury
Theatre in 1983 at the same time as he formed the Theatre of Comedy
there, and included in its roll of honour are such names as Richard
Briers, Bernard Cribbins, James Bolam, Rodney Bewes, Ian Ogilvy,
Terry Scott, Lionel Jeffries, Henry McGee, Stratford Johns, Bill
Windsor Davies, Ralph Bates, Jack Watling, Sophie Lawrence, Una Stubbs,
Aimi Macdonald, Ian Lavender, Robin Askwith and Britt Ekland. “We
changed the cast every three months so we could get interesting TV
names to fit it in between their TV series,” said Ray, “and
it was a very happy time. We had about 20 different casts over a
period of twelve years in the West End, and a lot of people came
back to do
it again because it was such fun.”
One of the regulars during the play’s 25-year history has been
Eric Sykes who probably played Porterhouse more than anyone, and
formed a Porterhouse club for fellow actors such as Alfred Marks, Lionel
and Dennis Ramsden, who played the detective sergeant over the years.
It is still touring the country 25 years on! Ray himself is no stranger
to the cast list. He both acted in and directed the play on Broadway,
appeared in it in Florida and, more recently, ‘had
such fun’ playing Bobby in a cruise ship production. “Acting
for me is an indulgence,” he added.
Ray describes each of his 20 stage comedies as ‘the most enjoyable
when it’s your ‘baby’ and you are in that stage of
production’, but says that because of the length of its London
run, RUN FOR YOUR WIFE! is perhaps the best known. “To me it seems to be one of my most recent plays; I can’t believe
it’s 26 years since we first tried it out in Guildford. But
there have been over 500 productions of it all over the world, from
and Canada to Argentina and South Korea and Iceland to Australia,
while the number of performances over the years must run into the
of thousands. And it’s been translated into 35 languages… Japanese,
Chinese, Russian. French, German, Spanish, Italian. It would be easier
to say which languages it hasn’t been performed in. “I
wrote farce because I was an actor who appeared in a lot of farces
and I did not realise how much I had learned,” he continued. “To
write my kind of plays you need to understand what it’s like
to be on stage.”
As well as an acting career which has spanned 62 years, Ray has also
made his mark as a producer and director, with more than 30 West End
plays and musicals to his credit, including Whose Life Is
it Anyway? which transferred to Broadway and won a Tony award; Children
of a Lesser God (Play of the Year SWET award) and Pygmalion starring Peter O’Toole
and John Thaw. He began playwriting in 1959 when, with John Chapman,
he co-wrote ONE FOR THE POT which ran at Brian Rix’s Whitehall
Theatre for four years.
‘The Master of Farce’ OBE may be 77 but his playwriting years
are far from over – he’s now working on a musical! TWICE
UPON A TIME is based on his play TIME’S UP,
and after four years of workshops and previews at Guildford, it’s
nearing completion. With musicals Charlie Girl and Elvis already
under his belt, he says
TWICE UPON A TIME is a real audience pleaser. “It’s
about a young lawyer who can’t quit smoking and goes
to a hypnotherapist who regresses him to when he was a gangster in
1929 with Al Capone!” Ray recounted with his usual enthusiasm.
Updated 31st December 2013
Write a piece about ‘farce’ in 500 words, I was told. I’ve
been involved with farce for over 50 years and I don’t think
I could find any real satisfactory way of summing it up or explaining
not even sure that plays should be categorised. A ‘comedy’
is supposed to be ‘a play with a happy ending’. Chekhov
described his ‘plays’ as comedies. Ben Travers’ farces
were called comedies by Ben. I have a dictionary which describes ‘farce’
as “a style of comedy marked by broad humour and extravagant
and then goes on to say “a ridiculous or empty show”. Now
I don’t subscribe to that dictionary’s view at all. Some
of Alan Ayckbourn’s plays may be fairly described as ‘farces’,
but I don’t believe they are either ridiculous or empty.
It’s easy to underestimate farce, partly because there are one or
two not very good ones around, and because some actors who should know
better treat the playing of farce in a different way to that which they
might treat the playing of tragedy. Basically, I believe that the best
farces are tragedies. The plot line in a good farce should be able to
be transplanted into a stark tragedy. Tragedy is the essence of farce
and even the dialogue of farce should be interchangeable with that of
Most tragedies have as their basic theme the struggle of the individual
against forces which are overwhelming, and the individual’s efforts
to combat these forces as the tide runs stronger against him. In addition,
the individual is usually tortured because of his own character flaws
and his inability to control these flaws under stress. Well, that seems
to me to sum up most of my farces!
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I feel that farce probably
has more in common with tragedy than it has with comedy. Comedy is
about an eccentric person in an everyday situation: whereas farce
(and tragedy) usually involves ordinary people attempting to deal
with an eccentric
Therefore, if farce is more akin to tragedy, it would stand to reason
that the more real, the more truthful the play and the performance, the
stronger will be the audience reaction. There is absolutely no difference
between a man discovering his wife in bed with his best friend in a farce
and a man discovering his wife in bed with his best friend in a tragedy.
The reaction of the husband in each play should be exactly the same. The
difference is in the audience’s reaction – not the husband’s.
Of course, the actor playing in farce has to develop certain techniques.
Clearly, he has to listen to the play or he is going to walk into a lot
of laughs. The farce actor must learn, too, not to ‘hold the ball’
too long. Farce acting is very much like a tennis match: you play better
when your opponent returns the ball to you well. One feature of the writing
in tragedies is the long speeches where the leading player arrives centre
stage and bemoans his ill luck for a couple of pages. Very nice (and not
too difficult, I would suggest) for the leading player. This however,
is not the stuff of farce. Very rarely are there two-page speeches with
Macready pauses. You need the other actors and the other actors need you.
And I suppose it’s easy to underestimate farce because the language
appears mundane and ordinary. They are not intellectualising on their
predicaments. They are dealing with them – and usually under pressure.
The words ‘contrived’ and ‘concocted’ spring to
mind when considering the mechanics of farce writing. Possibly that’s
the difference between ‘farce’ and other types of plays. The
farce writer manipulates the situation to suit his play. However, I’m
convinced that the playing must remain utterly sincere and truthful. Of
course, the actor can only give a truthful performance if the writer has
given him a character and relationships which will sustain the performance.
So the writer, too, must be sincere and truthful even though the situations
are manipulated to suit the ‘contrived concoction’. I think
that’s about 500 words and I hope you are a little wiser. Anyway,
it’s given me food for thought.
© RAY COONEY PLAYS
Last updated 7th May 2002
All I ever wanted to be was an actor. I’d started my career as
a 14-year-old in Song Of Norway in 1946 – (“My
God, that makes him over 77, Gladys!”) – and I saw myself
as the next Olivier or Brando.
However, fate decreed that, after five years of weekly rep, I was to
join Brian Rix’s company at the Whitehall Theatre. Halcyon days!
From 1956 to 1960 playing to packed houses every night with my days
filled with playing tennis and chasing actresses (I wasn’t married
It was around 1958 that, as enjoyable as the tennis and the chasing
was, I felt I should be doing something more productive with my days – so
I gave up the tennis. And cut down on the chasing. And started to write.
As I hadn’t the faintest idea about the construction of plays I
discussed the matter with a fellow actor in Brian’s company, Tony
Hilton. I’d got him at a time when he too was thinking of doing
something more productive than chasing girls (Tony didn’t play
tennis!) so he and I sat down to write ONE FOR THE POT.
The writing of ONE FOR THE POT took over two years, which included
numerous rewrites plus try-out productions at Richmond, Wolverhampton
But the hard work was worth it. In 1961 it became Brian Rix’s fourth
play at the Whitehall and ran for four years.
I then wrote CHASE ME COMRADE by myself for Brian, but missed the camaraderie
of a co-writer. So when John Chapman (author of Brian’s two earlier
plays) asked me to work with him, I jumped at the chance. What a joy!
John and I sat the desk opposite each other for the next decade or so
and wrote NOT NOW DARLING, MOVE OVER MRS MARKHAM, MY
GIDDY AUNT and THERE
GOES THE BRIDE.
I was bereft when John decided to move on to writing for television
but, by now, I couldn’t stop the ideas from flowing, so for the
next umpteen years I was by myself at the desk coming up with RUN FOR YOUR WIFE!, TWO INTO ONE, OUT OF ORDER, IT
RUNS IN THE FAMILY, FUNNY MONEY! and CAUGHT
IN THE NET.
By now it was 2003 and I was beginning to feel bereft of plots when
our number two son, Michael (by this time a successful screenwriter
telephoned me from Los Angeles to say he’d decided to write a stage
comedy and had got a bit stuck.
Could he pick my brains? I said he could happily pick what was left
of them, yes. He started to tell me the basic premise and I kept interrupting
and saying, “Why don’t you do this?”, “Why don’t
you do that?”. After about the tenth creative interruption there
was a pause and Michael said “Why don’t we write this piece
together, Dad?”. I think my pause was even longer than his. Can
you imagine the thrill I felt? I was so overcome I didn’t know
whether to scream with delight or burst into tears – so, to prevent
any outpouring of unseemly fatherly emotion, I replaced the receiver.
Michael rang me straight back wanting to know if I was upset at his suggestion!
And what a joyous collaboration it has been. But if I thought I was
returning to the old days of either side of the desk with pens poised,
have had a rude awakening.
We spent the six months six thousand miles apart with the pair of us
emailing the rewrites to each of our computers. It is probably the
first time in history that a play has been co-written without the co-writers
ever having the pleasure of a cup of tea together!
Still, there was an upside to this new method of ‘co-writing’.
We didn't exchange a single cross word and I hope you enjoyed the
result of this collaboration titled TOM, DICK & HARRY.
often asked which of my plays was the most enjoyable experience – RUN
FOR YOUR WIFE!, OUT OF ORDER, FUNNY
MONEY!, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY, CAUGHT
IN THE NET?; or one from the halcyon days of co-writing
with John Chapman – NOT NOW DARLING or
MOVE OVER MRS MARKHAM; or even before that, when
starting out with Brian Rix at the Whitehall Theatre – ONE
FOR THE POT or CHASE ME COMRADE.
Well, the truth is that each play is the most enjoyable when it’s your ‘baby’ and
you’re in that wonderful stage of production.
However, I will now have no hesitation in saying which of my plays has
been the most absolute enjoyment, both in production and I know in retrospect.
The honour goes to TOM, DICK & HARRY. Why? Several reasons
but, firstly, because I had the joy of co-writing it with son, Michael
(What a talent!
I wonder where he gets that from?!).
“It is a tremendous feeling to walk off stage at the end of a show and
hear all that laughter back there.”
“I don’t first and foremost start looking for a comedic idea. What
you look for is a tragedy. People understand
the predicaments that arise from certain situations and settings and that’s
what they find all the funnier…”
“People who go to the theatre and who work in this industry know what
goes into a farce. As an actor you work
very hard in farce. When you come off stage you really know you’ve been
in one! For an audience, you see, it’s all very easy to underestimate – so
the more people laugh, the better I have done my job.”
“If X is in the cupboard and Y is in the bedroom and B is coming up the
garden path – what does X plus
Y minus B make? This kind of tangled
situation appealed to my rather Machiavellian
“I guess I started writing farces because that was the style
of play in which I was appearing at the time and because
of crazy mind I have.”
“Farce is light-hearted. Like Morecambe and Wise it has the appearance
of people just larking around, but
really it is all very carefully and cleverly rehearsed. It’s supposed to
look like they’re making
it up as they go along.”
updated 29th June
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