Alma Cullen obituary

Other lives: Writer for stage and radio, and for the popular TV series Inspector Morse

My friend Alma Cullen, who has died aged 83, had a career as a scriptwriter spanning more than 40 years, with credits including Inspector Morse, and one of her plays won a silver award at the New York TV festival. This was no mean feat at a time when the industry was dominated by men.

Alma had tremendous empathy and concerns for children growing up in poverty, emanating from her own childhood. She was born in Prescot, Merseyside, daughter of Frank Fitzpatrick, a factory worker, and his wife, Elsie (nee Harrison), a shop assistant. At Childwall Valley high school for girls she was humiliated by a teacher because of holes in her shoes.

She studied English at Liverpool University. In 1960 she married James Cullen, a botanist, and they settled in Edinburgh. Later, she went back into education, obtaining a master’s at Edinburgh University in 1974.

Her first break came when she sent a play to BBC Radio Leeds. Soon after came scripts for Granada television: The Caledonian Cascade (1977) and A Hardy Breed of Girl (1978). For the BBC she wrote a film, Kay, the same year, and the following one ​A Degree of Uncertainty for the Play for Today series. Northern Lights (STV, 1982) was shortlisted for an Emmy award, and Off Peak (STV, 1984) was the winner of the silver medal at the New York TV festival. Her four-part drama series, Intimate Contact (ITV, 1987), starring Daniel Massey and Claire Bloom, was among the first to depict the Aids crisis.

We met when Alma and James moved to Cambridge in the late 1980s. Despite her success she was modest, but no pushover. When she and James attended high table at a college the fellows directed their comments to James, ignoring her. When she finally got into the conversation it was, “Oh, and what is it you do?” “I’m a writer,” she replied. “Oh? Well that can’t pay much,” a fellow chortled. “£30,000 the last script,” came the riposte. With academia not noted for its great pay, the smirk fell off his face.

In the 90s she wrote for A Touch of Frost and adapted works by Agatha Christie, Joanna Trollope and Joan Smith for the screen. In the late 80s and early 90s, working on Morse, she shared the Writers’ Guild award for best original drama two years in a row in 1991 and 1992. Her TV film All the King’s Men, starring David Jason and Dame Maggie Smith, won the former a best actor award in 2000.

As hard as Alma worked, she liked to have fun and wanted others to have fun too. She was endlessly kind, and supportive to other writers. “Wish me luck,” I’d say, going off to see a TV producer. “You don’t need luck,” she’d reply. “They’ll be lucky to have you.”

When James died in 2013, she moved to Edinburgh and returned to her earlier passion of stage and radio, writing plays for the Oran Mor theatre, touring her new Inspector Morse play, and writing Morse for Radio 4.

She is survived by her children, Patrick and Rose, and granddaughters Amy, Ellen, Louise and Julia.

Jane Carter Woodrow

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Nandita Ghose obituary
Other lives: Playwright, poet and producer for the BBC

Katie Ghose

10, Nov, 2020 @6:06 PM

Article image
Carolyn Jones obituary
Actor who played the garage secretary Sharon Metcalfe in the popular TV soap Crossroads

Anthony Hayward

06, Aug, 2018 @12:22 PM

Article image
Iain Pattinson obituary
Longstanding main scriptwriter for the much-loved Radio 4 panel game I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue

Simon O'Hagan

17, Feb, 2021 @4:55 PM

Article image
Nicholas Parsons obituary
Popular broadcaster and television host best known for Sale of the Century and Radio 4’s Just a Minute

Stephen Dixon

28, Jan, 2020 @12:56 PM

Article image
Stephen Thorne obituary
Actor whose majestic voice graced countless radio broadcasts and audiobook recordings

Toby Hadoke

31, May, 2019 @1:42 PM

Article image
Michael O’Donnell obituary
Doctor, General Medical Council ‘rebel’ and broadcaster who appeared on Stop the Week and My Word!

Karl Sabbagh

26, Apr, 2019 @1:56 PM

Article image
Hugh Dickson obituary
Actor with a gift for reading poetry who appeared in the BBC’s Elizabeth R and was a regular in every kind of radio drama

Alan Brownjohn

31, Dec, 2018 @5:40 PM

Article image
Othniel Smith obituary
Other lives: Writer for theatre, television and radio

Manon Eames

14, May, 2020 @12:03 PM

Article image
Nick Laughland obituary
Other lives: Director of television series spanning genres from thriller to arthouse

Chris Niel

06, Jul, 2020 @4:41 PM

Article image
Steve Annett obituary
Other lives: Newspaper, radio and television reporter

Tony Stark

15, Jul, 2019 @4:32 PM