death notice of Stephen Thompson | Television

The Windrush scandal, in which thousands of immigrants who legally came to the UK after World War II were later detained and in some cases deported, was forcefully dramatized in the Bafta-winning BBC drama Sitting in Limbo (2020). Screenwriter and novelist Stephen Thompson, who died of cancer at age 56, based the script on the experiences of his older brother, Anthony Bryan.

In 2015, the Home Office began efforts to deport Bryan to Jamaica, a country he had not visited since he came to live in the UK with his mother in 1965, at the age of eight. The action was taken against him as part of the Conservative government’s “hostile environment” policy, ostensibly designed to reduce illegal immigration, only to become arbitrary and vindictive.

Bryan, a builder, lost his job and his right to work, as well as all rights to benefits and the NHS. He was subsequently detained in immigration centers after there was no official record of him as a British citizen. He was about to be evicted when a warrant was issued that prevented his removal.

Toy Soldiers, 2000, was Stephen Thompson’s debut novel and was based on his own turbulent experiences growing up in East London

Thompson and Bryan initially assumed this was a one-off. The coverage of Amelia Gentleman, who interviewed Bryan and other members of the Windrush generation for this paper, revealed that it is part of a joint government policy to meet deportation targets by harvesting “low hanging fruit” – a phrase used. used by immigration officers and repeated in Sitting in Limbo. Bryan was reduced to “having to beg to stay in my own country”.

It never occurred to Thompson to write about his brother’s trauma until the furore seemed to subside. “We wanted to hold on a little” [the government’s] feet in the fire,” he said.

Thompson’s debut novel, Toy Soldiers (2000), described by this article as ‘assured, quick and concisely convincing’, was based on his own turbulent experiences during his childhood in East London.

The son of Wilton and Lucille, he was born Steadman Thompson in Hackney, and attended Hackney Downs school, where his behavior sometimes gave cause for concern. At age 13, he was suspended for two months after he and another student violently assaulted a teacher who had challenged them for smoking marijuana in class. “We didn’t come to our senses until we saw the burgundy dripping from his broken nose,” Thompson wrote in an article about his book in 2000.

He left school without qualifications and became entangled in drug dealing and use. It wasn’t until he attempted suicide in his twenties that he entered rehab. While there, he encountered VS Naipaul’s novel A House for Mr Biswas. “Long before I finished it, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he said. “My desire to write was so strong it felt like an illness.”

His only previous writing experience was writing letters to relatives in Jamaica on behalf of his mother, who was semi-literate. She would ask him to read the correspondence to her before sending it so she could “assess whether or not her fat patois had been adequately translated into standard English.” Sometimes she thought the letters were too polished, the language a bit too ‘talkative’, and asked me to soften them a bit.” He described this as his first lesson in writing and rewriting. “Unintentionally, my mother prepared me for my future career.”

While still in rehab, he began to write down the experiences of his childhood and young adulthood. Over the course of 10 years and many drafts, these first scribbles evolved into Toy Soldiers, about a crack addict trying to put his criminal life behind him.

Immediately after leaving rehab in the late 1980s, Thompson was taught by novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi on a 12-week creative writing course at Riverside Studios, in west London. Kureishi was an early champion of Thompson’s work, encouraging him to send it to his own editor at Faber & Faber. He also taught at the Royal Court Young People’s Theater in the early 1990s, where one of his classmates was Joe Penhall, later the author of plays, including Blue/Orange and Mood Music.

Meet Me Under the Westway, 2007, by Stephen Thompson had a theatrical setting from his Royal Court days
Meet Me Under the Westway, 2007, by Stephen Thompson had a theatrical setting from his Royal Court days

“Steve was one of the most talented guys in the group,” Penhall said. “Of course he could write. We used to have to read our stuff out loud, and he could perform too, so I’d let him read my stuff. We were on the same page and read and wrote about the same topics: outsiders, the effect of colonialism on London, England, the world. He had a real clarity of vision. He could see through all the bullshit, which was quite unusual at that age.”

Three more novels followed: Missing Joe (2001), Meet Me Under the Westway (2007), with a theatrical setting from his Royal Court days, and No More Heroes (2015), a thriller that begins with the 7/7 terrorist to attack. Several TV series based on his books are currently in development.

He had initially considered writing Sitting in Limbo as a novel, but was persuaded by his agent to use it as the subject of his first television drama. Thompson, who had since added an S initial to his name, softened some of the more shocking details in his partially fictional account.

For example, Bryan and his partner Janet were watched for weeks before police and immigration officers entered their home in the early hours of the morning, armed with a battering ram, while on-screen the scene, while still disturbing, takes place with a handful of officers arriving. at a more civilized hour.

Other facts were adjusted for naughty reasons. “Stephen took the lead by writing to me as a Spurs supporter like him, knowing full well that I am Liverpool,” said Bryan.

Thompson was also editor of the online literary magazine The Colverstone Review and taught creative writing at Winchester University and the University of Edinburgh, as well as screenwriting at London’s Central Film School.

He is survived by his partner, Kass Boucher, and three siblings, Anthony, Viola, and Kenneth.

Stephen S Thompson (Steadman Thompson), writer, born February 23, 1966; died 26 May 2022

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