Presentation address by Professor Griselda Pollock

Vice-Chancellor,

In the annual sequence of Golden Globes, Baftas and Oscars, the attention and the plaudits usually go to the directors and the actors.  But neither would have anything with which to win their accolades without the screenwriter who crafts the words through which actors convey their subtle emotions.  The screenwriter also has to imagine and plot every move, stage direction and use of space.  Producing a screenplay is an amazing art.

Peter Morgan is a screenwriter and playwright with an outstanding body of cinematic work in the last two decades.  The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, The Deal, The Special Relationship, The Other Boleyn Girl, Hereafter, The Damned United, and Rush, a film about two very different Formula I drivers, were all meticulously crafted by this most talented writer.

As playwright, Peter wrote Frost/Nixon in 2006 – it was made into the film in 2008 – and The Audience.  He initially adapted Le CarrĂ©’s famous novel Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy for the film directed by Tomas Alfredson in 2011, and earlier wrote the TV series The Jury, in 2002, Colditz in 2005, and the moving play The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries in 2014.

This outstanding career has been recognized by his peers with Academy Nomination and the Golden Globe for The Queen, a Bafta for The Last King of Scotland and Oscar nomination for Frost/Nixon.  In the New Year’s Honours this year, he was made CBE for services to drama.

Born in Wimbledon in 1963 to a family marked on both sides by terrible losses in the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism, Peter came to Leeds in 1981 to study English.  He switched to History of Art, in which he graduated in 1985 before honing his skills writing scripts for television.

Peter’s work probes and portrays masculinities driven by ambition yet often undone by vulnerability, while often locked in and formed by challenging confrontations with other men.  His screenplays are studies of the political man or the public figure examined for the psychology rather than ideology of the man.

Peter’s screenplays are contemporary history plays.  The acclaimed director Stephen Frears has called them ‘the most precious piece of writing on Britain in an age’.  Iconic moments in recent British history, such as the death of Princess Diana that rocked the monarchy and made Blair’s premiership, are arrestingly dissected.  One critic has written that ‘no one has worked like him in British theatre since Shakespeare.’

Peter’s sustained record of achievement as a writer for one of the most influential forms of contemporary culture, cinema, is unsurpassed, and his talent is such that he will, I am sure, be attending glittering awards ceremonies for decades to come.

Vice-Chancellor, it is with enormous personal pleasure that I present for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Peter Julian Robin Morgan.