Beverley Cross

(New York Times)

In 1961, his farce Boeing-Boeing, adapted from a play by Marc Camoletti, was a West End hit, as was his 1963 musical Half a Sixpence, adapted from HG Wells' novel Kipps.

Beverley Cross, 66, Playwright and Librettist
New York Times Obituary
Monday, 30 March 1998

LONDON 29 March - Beverley Cross, the playwright, librettist and writer who devoted himself in equal measure to his own career and to that of the great love of his life, Dame Maggie Smith, died here on March 20. He was 66. The Times of London said he had recently been treated for a series of aneurysms.

Professionally, Mr. Cross was probably best known for his first play, "One More River," which opened in 1959, and for the boisterous musical comedy "Half a Sixpence" (1963). But he will also be remembered for his long pursuit of Ms. Smith, who became his third wife in 1975. The two met in 1952 at a student revue at Oxford, where Mr. Cross was an undergraduate. Mr. Cross married a contemporary from Oxford, Elizabeth Clunies-Ross, but never forgot Ms. Smith, who was cast in his second play, "Strip the Willow," in 1960. Hopelessly in love, Mr. Cross made his feelings clear in the first stage direction he wrote for Ms. Smith's character: "She is about 25 and very beautiful. As elegant and sophisticated as a top international model. A great sense of fun. A marvelous girl." The two had an affair while Mr. Cross waited for his divorce to come through, but fate intervened again. Urged on by Mr. Cross, Ms. Smith joined Laurence Olivier's new National Theater at the Old Vic, only to fall in love with fellow actor, Robert Stephens, whom she married. Mr. Cross was filled, he said later, with murderous hatred for Mr. Stephens, and later married model Gayden Collins.

But in 1975, Ms. Smith's tempestuous marriage to Mr. Stephens ended. After their divorce, Mr. Cross obtained his own divorce and married Ms. Smith in a civil ceremony at the Greenwich registry office. In his entry in Who's Who, he ignored his first two marriages and recorded only his third. In addition to Ms. Smith, he is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, a son from his second marriage and two stepsons.

Mr. Cross was born in 1931, a son of the theater. His mother, Eileen Dale, was a dancer and an actress, and his father, George Cross, was a theatrical manager. After attending Pangbourne Nautical College, he enlisted in the British Army, then worked in the Norwegian Merchant Navy before studying history at Balliol College, Oxford. For a time, he tried acting and spent two seasons with the Shakespeare Memorial Theater Company in Stratford-on-Avon. He also played small roles in the West End.

But Mr. Cross was not really cut out for the job, and a remark by Sir John Gielgud, who was directing him the part of Balthazar in "Much Ado About Nothing" apparently changed his career. "You'll never make and actor" he declared. "You wear your doublet and hose like a blazer and flannels."

In 1956, Mr. Cross took a job as a production assistant for children's drama at the BBC, then began writing children's plays himself. His first, "The Singing Dolphin," was produced in 1959; his second, "The Three Cavaliers," was produced the next year. He achieved instant success with his first adult play, "On More River," about a mutiny in which a crew puts its first officer on trial for manslaughter. The play made its debut in Liverpool in 1959, starring Michael Caine; when it moved to the West End, it was directed by Olivier. "Strip the Willow," Mr. Cross' second play, never made it to the West End, although it made Miss Smith a bona fide star. It was a Shavian comedy about a group of English survivors of a nuclear war.

In the 1960's, Mr. Cross wrote or helped to write the books to successful musical comedies. The best known was "Half a Sixpence," (1963), an adaptation of H.G. Wells's novel "Kipps," which ran in London for more than a year and was made into a film, for which Mr. Cross wrote the screenplay. His other musicals included the adaptations of two French farces, "Boeing-Boeing" (1962) and "Happy Birthday" (1979). Mr. Cross also wrote two novels, other plays for children and the librettos to modern operas, including "The Mines of Sulfur" (1968) and "Victory" (1970), adapted from the novel by Conrad. He also wrote television plays and screenplays.

Through it all, Mr. Cross was the steadying force for the shy and often reclusive Ms. Smith, who became Dame Maggie in 1990 and who depended upon him to run interference with the outside world. "I'm remarkably fortunate," she once said. "When you meet again someone you should have married in the first place, it's like a script. That kind of luck is too good to be true."


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