William Templeton (screenwriter)

William Pettigrew Templeton (7 June 1913 – 23 October 1973) was a Scottish playwright and screenwriter who made a major contribution to the Golden Age of Television[1][2] writing a string of episodic dramas for American prime time television during the 1950s and 1960s,[3] a time when many hour-long anthology drama series received wide critical acclaim. Templeton had a long film career both in the UK and the US. His adaptation of The Fallen Idol (also known as The Lost Illusion) a 1948 film with Ralph Richardson directed by Carol Reed and based on the short story The Basement Room by Graham Greene was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Direction and Best Adapted Screenplay, and won a BAFTA Award for Best British Film.[4]

William Templeton
Born(1913-06-07)7 June 1913
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Died23 October 1973(1973-10-23) (aged 60)
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
OccupationPlaywright, screenwriter
SpouseElizabeth Esterhazy (1953–61)
RelativesChristopher Templeton b.1960 (son)

Early lifeEdit

At 20 Templeton wrote the one-act play The King's Spaniel, which ran at the Royal Lyceum Theatre. At 24, his first three-act play, Circus Murder, was picked up and produced by Jevan Brandon Thomas at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow in 1937, then quickly exported to London by the producer Esme Church for a run at the New Theatre (1938) under the title The Painted Smile. Theatre critic WA Darlington[5] of The Daily Telegraph called it "a cleverly created illusion". After being decommissioned from the RAF after World War II, Templeton continued to write a string of critically acclaimed West End plays, including:

Writing in the Sunday Times on 21 April 1946, theatre critic James Agate wrote of the play, 'Exercise Bowler': 'This play has an immense amount to say, is inventive, brilliantly theatrical and magnificently laid out for actors. Best of all, it is not pretentious in the blank-verse manner beloved of the high-brow poetic dramatist'. [6] Templeton wrote the largely anti-war play under the pseudonym 'T. Atkinson', a generic slang name for British soldiers at this time.[7]

Hollywood careerEdit

At the height of his theatre career in the late 1940s, Templeton started to attract the attention of British and Hollywood film makers, securing a series of contracts from major film companies including Sir Alexander Korda at London Films, Walt Disney, Desilu and Universal.[8] He became best known for his 1956 adaptation of George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984,[9] with Edmond O'Brien as Winston Smith:[10] "It was a masterly adaptation that depicted with power and poignancy and terrifying beauty the end result of thought control", wrote Jack Gould in The New York Times.[11] His screenplay adaptation of the book All on a Summer's Day by HLV Fletcher became the British crime thriller Double Confession (1950) directed by Ken Annakin, starring Peter Lorre.[12]

Comfortable writing for a variety of genres, Templeton was able to contribute to several of the major television series of the period: The Alcoa Hour (1954–1955);[13] Goodyear Playhouse (1956); Matinee Theatre (1956); Sword of Freedom (1957): The Untouchables (1960); the original Adventures of Robin Hood[14] series (1957) with Richard Greene[15] and the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse[16] anthology series broadcast by CBS from 1948 to 1958 and produced by Desi Arnaz. It was at this time that the Studio One producer declared William Templeton to be "One of the country's most distinguished writers in television".

Personal lifeEdit

William married the Hungarian actress Elizabeth Getrude Esterházy on 22 September 1953 in Westport, Connecticut. Samuel Goldwyn Jr. was his best man. The marriage lasted until 1961 when the couple were divorced. They had one child, Christopher Frederick Templeton. On 23 October 1973, Templeton died of cirrhosis at the age of 60 at the Glasgow home of his elderly aunt, having just directed a trilogy of documentary programmes for NBC titled The Distant Drummer [17] narrated by Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum and Rod Steiger.


Date Series & Film Credits Script and Episode
1948 The Fallen Idol (Film) Film Script by William Templeton (directed by Carol Reed)
1948 Philco Television Playhouse (TV) Episodic scriptwriter (1948–55)
1949 The Queen's Maries (TV) TV Film & Radio Play by William Templeton
1950 Double Confession (Film) Film Script by William Templeton
1950 Quel Bandito Sono Io! (Film) Additional dialogue by William Templeton (Produced by Carlo Ponti)
1950 Midnight Episode (Film) Film Script by William Templeton
1950 Robert Montgomery Presents Episodic TV scriptwriter (1950–57)
1950 Sunday Night Theatre (TV) BBC Live Teleplay: 'The Ivory Tower'.
1951 The Silent Village (TV) BBC Live Teleplay (with Audrey Hepburn)
1952 Alliance for Peace Documentary Script by William Templeton (narrated by Edward R. Murrow)
1954 Studio One (TV Series) 'Donovan’s Brain', ‘Cardinal Mindzenty’, 'Prelude to Murder', '1984', 'The Eddie Chapman Story'.
1954 Full Circle (Animated Film) Commentary Writer
1955 Mr. Finley's Feelings (Animation) Narration Script by William Templeton
1955 Matinee Theatre (TV Series) 'Madame de Treymes', 'Letter of Introduction', 'The Tell-Tale Heart', 'The Bottle Imp'. (1955–58)
1956 The Man Called X (TV Series) ‘For External Use Only’.
1956 1984 (Film) Feature film full script adaptation of the novel by George Orwell
1956 Goodyear Playhouse (TV) 'A Murder is Announced'. (TV script adaptation from Agatha Christie short story).
1957 Sword of Freedom (TV Series) The Ambassador’, 'Marriage of Convenience', ‘The Eye of the Artist’, ‘The Marionettes', ‘The Reluctant Duke’, ‘The School’, 'The Ship'.
1957 Overseas Press Club (TV) 'The Millionth Frenchman'
1958 The Alcoa Hour (TV Series) 'Mrs Gilling and the Skyscraper', ‘Protege’, 'The Archangel Harrigen'.
1959 Five Fingers (TV Series) ‘The Men with Triangle Heads'.
1959 The School (TV) BBC Live Teleplay.
1959 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (TV) ‘Murder in Gratitude’, 'Perilous’.
1959 Men Into Space 'Is there another Civilization?’, ‘Moonquake’.
1960 The Adventures of Robin Hood(TV) ‘The Pharaoh Stones’.
1960 The Untouchables (TV Series) 'A Seat on the Fence’.
1960 Churchill - The Valiant Years (TV) ‘Triumph in France' (narrated by Richard Burton).
1961 Whiplash (TV Series) ‘The Legacy’.
1961 Checkmate (TV Series) ‘State of Shock’.
1961 The New Breed (TV Series) 'The Torch', 'Cross the Little Line', 'To None a Deadly Drug'.
1962 Kraft Mystery Theatre (TV) ‘Sound of Murder’, ‘Dead on Nine’.
1962 Fair Exchange (TV Series) Episodic scriptwriter (1962–63).
1965 The Flying Swan (TV Series) ‘Trial Run’,‘The Streets.’
1967 The Dream World of Harrison Marks Documentary narrative script
1971 The Eagle's Lament (Documentary) W. P. Templeton as Writer/Director
1972 The Distant Drummer (TV Series) W. P. Templeton as Director (narrated by Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum & Rod Steiger)


  1. ^ WIlliam Templeton credits listings in the Museum of Broadcast Communications
  2. ^ The Golden Age of Television l Definition by LA Times
  3. ^ William Templeton credits listings on Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ The Fallen Idol Film feature on BFI website
  5. ^ WA Darlington, Theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph Listing on Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ Theatre Plays on British TV
  7. ^ 'Exercise Bowler' by T. Atkinson.
  8. ^ Desilu productions: Templeton credit for Perilous on Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ 1984 Original version on YouTube
  10. ^ 1984 (released in 1956) William Templeton credits listing on Internet Movie database
  11. ^ Jack Gould Obit in the New York Times
  12. ^ Double Confession l Listing on BFI website as one of top 50 most wanted British films
  13. ^ The Alcoa Hour W.Templeton credit listings on the Museum of Broadcasting Online database
  14. ^ The Adventures of Robin Hood listings & credits on Internet Movie database
  15. ^ 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1960) Pharaoh Stones Episode on YouTube
  16. ^ Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse W.Templeton credits on TV Heaven
  17. ^ The Distant Drummer full documentary streaming on YouTube