Ray Cooney is today recognised theatrically and publicly as ‘THE MASTER OF FARCE’ and a most worthy successor as an author to the great Ben Travers, and as a director/actor to Brian Rix. A most prolific writer of stage farces/comedies of high standards which have not only graced the stages of English speaking countries for more than 40 years, but have been staged worldwide and translated into more than 40 foreign languages including Chinese, Japanese and Russian. Television broadcasts in English and foreign languages have also been widespread. Thus has Ray Cooney earned an international reputation as the finest living writer of this form of theatre, and professional and amateur artists have benefited from his writing genius and influence as well as an actor/director. Charles Spencer – the doyen of theatre critics – wrote of FUNNY MONEY, ‘Ray Cooney is a National Treasure’.
The following resumé of Ray Cooney’s activities for over seventy years bears testament to his enormous theatrical input and influence on our theatrical world.
Ray began his theatrical career as a boy actor at the age of 14 in SONG OF NORWAY at the Palace Theatre in 1946. He had a busy career between 1946 and 1950 appearing in "Calcutta in the Morning" at the Players Theatre and 'The Hidden Years" at the Fortune Theatre plus "Treasure Island", "Peace comes to Peckham", "The Winslow Boy" and "The Guinea Pig"in tours and repertory Companies around the UK. Between 1950 and 1952 Ray did his compulsory National Service in the Army. Following this he had many acting roles in weekly Rep and Tours until joining the Brian Rix Company at the Whitehall Theatre in 1956.
During this period he began his writing career by writing ONE FOR THE POT with Tony Hilton. This was premiered at the Whitehall Theatre on August 2nd 1961. Whilst this had a successful run for over 4 years, Ray wrote CHASE ME COMRADE, which had its West End premier at the Whitehall Theatre on March 30th 1964 and ran for 3 years. Following this he co-wrote CHARLIE GIRL (1964), MY GIDDY AUNT (1968), NOT NOW DARLING (1968) and MOVE OVER MRS MARKHAM (1971) all with John Chapman, WHY NOT STAY FOR BREAKFAST (1973) and THERE GOES THE BRIDE (1974) with John Chapman. He then devised the musical ELVIS in 1977 which won the Evening Standard best musical award, followed by the play HER ROYAL HIGHNESS (1981). Then came Ray's biggest hit, RUN FOR YOUR WIFE in 1982, which ran for 9 years in the West End and Ray directed and played in the New York production. This was then followed by TWO INTO ONE (1984), WIFE BEGINS AT FORTY (1985), OUT OF ORDER (1990) which won the Laurence Oliver award for best comedy, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY (1992), FUNNY MONEY (1995),CAUGHT IN THE NET (2001), sequel to RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, which was nominated for both the Laurence Olivier award and the Evening Standard Theatre award, TOM, DICK AND HARRY (2005) with son Michael Cooney, and the musical TWICE IN A LIFETIME (2011) with Keith Strachan and Chris Walker writing the music. It's estimated that over 100 million tickets have been sold throughout the world for Ray Cooney comedies!
Apart from starring in his own plays in London, America and Australia, Ray has appeared in many other productions including a year in the famous “The Mousetrap”.
Between the years of 1970 and 1983, Ray produced many plays for the West End including LLOYD GEORGE KNEW MY FATHER, SAY GOODNIGHT TO GRANDMA, PASSION PLAY, WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY?, CHICAGO, OVER THE MOON, HAPPY AS A SANDBAG, DUET FOR ONE, BODIES, ANDY CAPP, ELVIS, DAME OF SARK, GHOST ON TIPTOE, JACK THE RIPPER, THE MATING GAME, BIRDS OF PARADISE, IN AT THE DEATH and IPI TOMBI
In 1983, Ray formed the Theatre of Comedy Company (bringing together the founder members consisting of thirty West End stars) and became its first Artistic Director. During Ray's 8-year tenure the company produced over twenty plays, including OUT OF ORDER, RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, TWO INTO ONE, ROOKERY NOOK, WHEN WE ARE MARRIED, PYGMALION, SEE HOW THEY RUN, and AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT at the Shaftesbury Theatre, and LOOT, INTIMATE EXCHANGES, and SISTER MARY IGNATIUS at the Ambassadors Theatre.
In 1992, Ray bought the Playhouse Theatre in London. That year he staged the West End premiere of his latest farce IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY at the Playhouse. This was followed by JANE EYRE (1993) adapted by Fay Weldon and starring Tim Pigott-Smith, Frederick Lonsdale's ON APPROVAL (1994) starring Simon Ward, Martin Jarvis and Anna Carteret, and Ray's FUNNY MONEY in 1995.
"All Ray's plays have been produced at the delightful Dinner Theatre at Sonning (near Reading). Most recently "Run For Your Wife" from October to late November 2019".
Ray says he keeps fit, partly by swimming, playing tennis and gardening but mainly, by appearing in his own hectic plays!
He was awarded the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) in the 2005 Queen’s New Years Honours List for his services to drama.
Ray has been married to his lovely wife, Linda, since 1962 and they have two sons. Danni, who lives in Australia, where he looks after Ray's business interests in Australasia, the Far East and Russia and Michael, who lives in Los Angeles and is a successful play and screenwriter in his own right.
Danni has two children, Jess and Ashlea (recently married). Michael (married to the lovely Jessica) has three kids, Oliver, Spencer and Jemma. Ray and Linda make sure they see their two sons and the five grandchildren by doing the round-the-world trip at least once a year. Ray usually manages to combine these trips with directing and Acting in both Adelaide and Los Angeles!
Ray' and Linda's extended family also includes most of the feline population of Essex as well as everything else that strays into his garden from nearby Epping Forest. The pet shops of Epping would go out of business if Ray moved from the area!