The Guardian (30/Jan/2007) - Shaffer twins had identity crisis over name
(c) The Guardian (30/Jan/2007)
- keywords: Academy Awards, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Shaffer, Frenzy (1972), New York City, New York
Shaffer twins had identity crisis over name
As the writers of such masterpieces as Amadeus and Sleuth, Peter and Anthony Shaffer became synonymous with the best of British drama. But it has emerged that the family name was once subject to the intense rivalry often seen in the brothers’ plays.
Unpublished letters written by Sir Peter in the 1960s reveal an obsessive jealousy over “the name thing”, with him repeatedly begging his twin to publish his plays under a pseudonym.
Sir Peter — having got a headstart as a playwright — feared that Anthony, who had worked as a barrister and in film advertising, was trampling on his territory.“I realise that all my life, until I was 32, I felt anonymous: feeble: unemployable: never an individual... I suppose a lot of it had to do with being a twin. One of ‘the boys’. Never quite unique,” he writes. “Now, in some hateful way... I do feel threatened. As if my little Kingdom has been invaded, and I am no longer to be The Playwright, but again part of that faintly cute and annihilating ‘Which one of them did it?’ ” In another passage, he implored: “Before it’s too late... I beg you to take another name for writing — make a Self which everyone will know as you — a glittering persona you can develop throughout the years. I will be Me; you will be You.”
Anthony, who died in 2001, continued to use the family name and went on to revolutionise the British stage thriller with Sleuth. He was nominated for an Oscar for the film version and wrote screenplays for the Alfred Hitchcock film Frenzy and The Wicker Man. Sir Peter, 80, is best known for Amadeus and Equus. Both were adapted for the cinema, with Amadeuswinning eight Oscars. A new production of Equus, about a boy who blinds horses, will open in the West End next month, with Daniel Radcliffe as the teenager.
Sir Peter was 32 before his first important play, Five Finger Exercise, was staged, while Anthony was in his forties when Sleuth became a hit.
The brothers wrote detective stories under the pen name of Peter Antony, and the letters discovered at Anthony’s London home suggest that they also collaborated on the farce Black Comedy, with Sir Peter referring to how his brother had “at least been paid something for all your good work on BC”.
But still he remained obsessed about their name. Irritated that the New York Post had wrongly credited him with Anyone for Murder, Sir Peter wrote: “It threw me into a sort of tizz ... Let me spit it out, since it is ... eating me ... I feel in some horrid way threatened. I’m vain, I know. I quite like having my first name dropped in references to me, and am distressed if, to distinguish us, it has to be put back again.”
The twins spoke most days by phone, but since Anthony’s death, the family has been feuding over his literary estate.
Sir Peter did not return calls from The Times yesterday. Macnaughton Lord, the theatrical and literary agency, said: “Neither Peter, nor any of his representatives, will have any comment.”
Three years ago, in an interview with The Times, Sir Peter spoke about his dead brother as he prepared to bring Anthony’s play Murderer to the London stage. “I was very depressed by Tony’s death, and distressed, and in some ways have remained so,” he said.
“Tony showed me first drafts of some of his plays. But we were a bit — not exactly wary — but a bit unwilling to tread on each other’s toes.”
Stars of stage and screen
Born on May 15, 1926, five minutes earlier than his twin brother Peter. Educated at St Paul’s and Cambridge and qualified as a barrister Wrote Frenzy in 1972 for Alfred Hitchcock’s return to Britain. Best remembered for Sleuth, which won a Tony award for its Broadway run in 1971 and became a Hollywood film in 1972 Had success adapting two Agatha Christie novels — Death on the Nile (1978) and Evil Under the Sun (1981) Wrote novels together with his brother under the name Peter Anthony
Also educated at St Paul’s and Cambridge Had a West End hit with his first play, Five Finger Exercise (1958), which became a poorly regarded film Won an international reputation with Equus (1973), which won a Tony award for its stage incarnation and nominations for a Bafta and an Oscar as a film Won a second Tony for Amadeus, which also won an Oscar when it was adapted in 1984 Knighted in 2001