My Jack would have loved ‘chaotic’ shiva

Mike Cohen
9 min readJun 6, 2024


Jewish Telegraph, June 2004

THAT’S MY ‘DOD’: Jack Rosenthal with daughter Amy

MAUREEN Lipman has admitted that she is trying to forget her husband Jack Rosenthal’s illness so she can remember the happy times they spent together.
Actress Maureen, who married the playwright in 1973, told me on Wednesday: ‘‘It was a terrible illness and I have to strip it from my mind and go back to the incredibly funny and sweet man I’ve been with all these years.’’
Jack died on Saturday from an aggressive myeloma, a form of leukaemia. He bravely battled the illness for more than a year.
Maureen felt that her fun-loving husband would have been delighted with the ‘‘chaos’’ at the shiva house on Tuesday night.
She said: ‘‘It was pure chaos. Everyone roared with memories of him and we all got a bit silly. He would have loved it.’’
She added: ‘‘A lot of the obituaries mentioned that he was married before we met like it didn’t matter. But it did matter because she released him and I got him. We had the best years.
‘‘Everyone keeps remembering all these one-liners and his wonderful smile. When I met Jack I felt such tremendous relief that I’d met myself in another form.’’
Maureen, who met Jack in Manchester whilst he was writing for Coronation Street, revealed that her children Amy and Adam have been rocks for her.
‘‘Everyone said I had to be the responsible one and look after the children,’’ she said, ‘‘but they have looked after me. They are holding me up.’’
She also revealed plans for a ‘‘huge’’ memorial service on his birthday in September and she will also prepare his autobiography for publication.
‘‘The way he has done it is unique and an interesting format,’’ Maureen said. ‘‘And I’m basking in parts of Jack that I didn’t know.’’
In a moving eulogy at her father’s funeral on Monday, Amy said: ‘‘Even as I search for these words it is so unreal that the man who would have helped me to find them isn’t here to ask. Isn’t here in his usual chair with a cup of what he called ‘Reality Coffee’ and a square of hazelnut chocolate, looking up as I come in and saying ‘Hello Gribiny’.
‘‘And I can’t stand watching over his shoulder with my usual thrilled trepidation as he, the great writer, begins to read. Knowing that although he might draw a pedantic line under my grammatical errors, at the end he will put down the pages and look up at me, his beautiful melancholy eyes radiating love, and say ‘Amela. How do you know all this?’
‘‘Well, I know all this because of him. My father, my friend, whose guidance and patience and unending, uncritical love has taught me everything I know about anything.
‘‘Who, when Adam and I were little, got up with us every morning at an ungodly, ‘Dodly’ hour to peruse the children’s encyclopaedia and tell us the meanings of words. Who instilled in us a love of language and appreciation of beauty from the earliest age. Who would carry me, as a tiny baby, from painting to painting on the walls of our flat in Rosslyn Hill, pointing out the details, teaching me how to look and how to see.
‘‘I remember that clearly, 30 years on, and I will remember everything.
‘‘How he painstakingly guided us through our homework and school projects, rousing us from listless uninterest with his own beaming enthusiasm: ‘Right! Let’s attack this trigonometry lark! We’re not going to let it beat us! Boom-boom-boom!’
‘‘How he made packed lunches not just for me but for my school-friends, teaching us to spread the butter and the filling right to the edges so that you never get a mouthful of dry bread.
‘‘How I once made him collect me from school in Harley Street during the worst snowstorm in decades and we sat for hours in frozen, immobile traffic trying to get home.
‘‘When the car broke down halfway up the Archway Road we got out and walked the rest of the way and I remember the snowflakes settling on his eyelashes, and still he never breathed a word of reproach or said to me, as any other father might have done, ‘Why the hell didn’t you get on the Tube like everyone else?’ He just walked on, puffing a bit, holding my hand.
‘‘My ‘Dod’ was a saint, but he was an eccentric saint, an offbeat angel with his feet on the ground and a heart the size of Old Trafford. He was and will always be an example to us, for he showed us how people should be treated, with warmth and compassion and care.
‘‘His relationship with our exceptional mother, the fun and the friendship they shared and the way they supported each other, in sickness (and such sickness) and in health, has taught us what marriage means.
‘‘And he has trained us to observe life whilst participating in it, to see the tiny ironies and subtle anomalies in the seeming banality of the everyday. His plays are deeply political, but his politics were human, not polemical; human, humane and above all humorous.
‘‘If Adam and I go on to spend our lives as writers, we will have been blessed with the greatest possible guide. We’ve been so rich in every way because of this beautiful man, and we are so impoverished today without him. ‘Dod’ approached his cancer in the same way that he approached my difficulty with Maths. ‘We’ll crack it. We’ll beat it. We’ll show it who’s boss’.
‘‘Unfortunately, in both cases, he was wrong. But there was a part of ‘Dod’ that did beat the cancer, that did show it who was boss. Because his soul was completely healthy, all the way through. Healthy, pure and free of disease. Perfect.
‘‘Even — or especially — in her absence, I like to leave the last word to Grandma. ‘You’ll never meet a man like your Daddy,’ she used to say, comfortingly, as I was growing up. ‘They broke the mould when they made Jack’. As usual, she was right. They did.’’
Hundreds of mourners attended Jack’s funeral on Monday. Maureen, Adam and Amy were joined at Hoop Lane Cemetery, north London by the writer’s former colleagues from the world of television, his friends and relations.
His agent Jenne Casarotto said: ‘‘The service was beautifully done. It was very touching, with lots of ‘Jackisms’ in it. I think he would have been happy with it.’’

CORONATION Street founder Tony Warren described Jack Rosenthal as ‘‘the nicest, funniest and most talented member of the writing team’’.
They first met when Tony replaced Jack in the promotion department of Granada in 1958.
‘‘His seat was still warm,’’ Tony laughed.
Jack worked for many years as a writer on Coronation Street.
Tony adds: ‘‘We didn’t see each other too often after that but whenever we did, we would just burst out laughing.
‘‘We weren’t allowed to sit next to each other at writer’s conferences because we used to make each other laugh so much.’’
Jewish Telegraph columnist Leita Donn remembers Jack as ‘‘one of the world’s funniest and most talented people. He was also a great friend for more than 30 years’’.
She says: ‘‘When we were both working for Granada I organised and managed a celebrity football team and Jack was one of my star players along with the likes of Richard Beckinsale, Robin Nedwell, John Nettles, most of the male members of Coronation Street and Jack’s great friend Michael Apted who went on to become one of Hollywood’s top film directors.
‘‘Jack wrote a special song so that the team could serenade me when we were travelling to football matches. He called it The Battle Song of the Granada All Stars and it ended with ‘There’s only one team that’s got Leita’.
‘‘With Jack’s help we raised thousands of pounds for various charities.
‘‘I am grateful for the memories of those sunlit days when I stood behind the touchline cheering him on, grateful for the laughs we shared.
‘‘He was a great wag and I remember one particular occasion when we went to London to play Radio 1 DJs.
‘‘I had phoned the national papers to invite them to cover the match. Afterwards I went in search of the press room. ‘It’s in there’, said Jack.
‘‘I went in and immediately did a U-turn to find Jack doubled up with laughter.
‘‘He had directed me into the bathroom where the rest of my team were starkers.
‘‘But that wasn’t the end of it. Some weeks later a Jack Rosenthal Coronation Street script landed on my desk. As I read it I recognised a familiar scenario.
Some of the Street’s characters were involved in a football match and Hilda Ogden, looking for husband Stan was directed — guess where?
‘‘We were all delighted when Jack and Maureen married.When their first baby arrived Jack rang me and said: ‘We’ve given her the working title of Amy’.
‘‘His next family production was son Adam, but, in the meantime, his writing career was really taking off. I qvelled for him as success followed success.
‘‘He has deservedly won many awards for his work but he should also have won one for sheer guts and courage in his fight against cancer.
‘‘ ‘I’m fine,’ he kept reassuring me. ‘Don’t worry about me.’
‘‘But worry I did and finally I got that phone call from Maureen to tell me: ‘I’ve got such sad news . . .’
‘‘Jack managed to be funny without ever being smutty. He could make you laugh and he could make you cry. He was a one-off, a gentle, talented, lovely man.’’

AUTHOR Colin Shindler described Jack Rosenthal as ‘‘one of the most talented men in the group of creative artists who were nurtured by Granada Television in the 1960s and 1970s’’.
Colin, who was a close friend of the Manchester-born writer, said: ‘‘It was there that he wrote and produced both Coronation Street and such well-regarded and popular situation comedies as The Dustbinmen and The Lovers.
‘‘Jack’s gentle, warm and humorous style reflected his own character for you would struggle to find too many villains in a Rosenthal play.
‘‘Perhaps his most memorable was the woman who was cruel to the two boys evacuated to Blackpool from wartime Manchester in The Evacuees (BBC, 1975), directed by Alan Parker which was based on his own experience.
‘‘The part of the boys’ mother was played by Maureen Lipman whom he met at Granada in 1969 and to whom he was happily married for more than 30 years.
‘‘He followed that with another BAFTA award-winning play, Barmitzvah Boy (BBC 1976) with which his name will forever be associated — frequently to his own irritation.
‘‘He was the first playwright to demonstrate that three-dimensional Jewish characters appealed to mainstream television audiences. All too often Jewish characters had been relegated to the comic bit part in British television. Rosenthal’s genius was to relegate that to history.
‘‘His work was of a consistently high standard — Spend, Spend, Spend won his third BAFTA in as many years and The Knowledge (1981) is still regarded by London cabbies as the greatest film ever made.
‘‘He continued to produce his unique brand of warm humorous writing with two plays for the BBC in the 1990s, Eskimo Days and Cold Enough for Snow, based on the experiences of his own children leaving for university and the initially upsetting effect on his own life.
‘‘In the Omnibus programme Jack the Lad, made for the BBC, he demonstrated that he was as talented in front of the camera as behind it, as he related the story of his early life and how it was mirrored in his plays.
‘‘Those who had the privilege of seeing his sculptures of Bobby Charlton, Eric Cantona and Don Bradman could also attest to his amazing and entirely unsuspected skill as a talented amateur sculptor.
‘‘Although everyone else thought his work was brilliant he never agreed with them, believing that he had failed to capture some tiny fleeting characteristic of his subjects.
‘‘In a profession that is often noted for its gossip and backbiting Jack had an Olympian stature. He never, to my knowledge, provoked anything but undiluted admiration from his peers and warmth and love from everyone else.
‘‘He produced, in addition to his wonderful catalogue of scripts two utterly delightful and highly talented children, Amy and Adam.
‘‘In addition to them and to Maureen who helped him fight his heroic battle against cancer for nearly two years, Jack Rosenthal will leave behind a host of close friends and brief acquaintances who will consider them fortunate to have known this uniquely gifted, wonderful man.’’

BARRY Angel was just 16 when he was hand-picked to star in the musical version of Jack Rosenthal’s Barmitzvah Boy.
Manchester-born Barry had planned to be an interpreter before landing the role in 1978.
He recalls: ‘‘I was a 16-year-old in London and had no idea what was going on.
‘‘I remember Jack being so kind. It felt like he was an uncle.
‘‘He was an extremely funny guy. Even as a 16-year-old I was riveted by him and what he had to say.’’
Barry, who now lives in London, added: ‘‘He was clearly a famous scriptwriter but he was so ordinary; a quiet unassuming guy.
‘‘He didn’t need adulation or to be in the limelight. He was a gentleman and a nice guy with a dry sense of humour.’’



Mike Cohen

Jewish Telegraph deputy editor and arts editor. Email with your Jewish arts stories