If you have watched prime-time television drama over the past three decades it’s almost certain you will have enjoyed the work of the director Nick Laughland, who has died aged 69 of complications arising from a long-term illness. His CV reads like a chart-list of the most-loved TV series of the past 30 years: Lovejoy, Boon, Playing the Field, Where the Heart Is, New Tricks, Wild at Heart, Midsomer Murders.
Nick’s career as a drama director spanned genres from thriller to family; period adaptation to arthouse short. He attacked each project with the same vigour and creativity, and was able to draw from a crop of the country’s finest actors who loved working with him.
Born in Newport, Monmouthshire, to Hugh Laughland, a businessman, and Winifred (nee Russell), Nick went to boarding school in Bristol and then Birmingham Polytechnic (now Birmingham City University) – although his blossoming love of drama led to a failed economics degree. He spent much of his time working at Birmingham repertory theatre as a stage manager, and trained at Rada during holidays, but his passion was always television. Beginning his career in the late 1970s on the soap Crossroads, on ATV, as a floor manager, he worked his way up via production roles at the BBC on The Borgias and Barchester Chronicles, before completing the BBC directors’ course in the 80s, and then starting out as a director on Brookside and The Bill (1989-99).
At the BBC he met Nadira Seecoomar, then a floor manager, now a casting director, who became his partner and the mother of his two children. They separated in the 2000s but remained on good terms.
Nick progressed to TV movies and drama serials: Amnesia (2004), one of four collaborations on original projects with the writer Chris Lang, was nominated for an Edgar award. He was as at home working on detective series such as Lewis and Wire in the Blood or medical dramas including Peak Practice and Always and Everyone, as he was helming an acclaimed dramatisation of the Thomas Hardy novel Under The Greenwood Tree starring Keeley Hawes (2005).
Nick was meticulous in his preparation on set and noted for his rigour with scripts, attention to casting, and flair for shot preparation and execution, as well as his keen collaboration with soundtrack composers. But despite this, his sets were ones where actors were encouraged to improvise and bring their own creativity.
The actor David Harewood described him as “a great man and one of the first TV directors to truly give me the confidence and security to believe in myself as an actor”. The actor Sarah Lancashire “adored working with him. He had the most beautiful nature. Bright, generous and fun and so proud of his children.”
That last sentence struck me as the secret to my friend Nick’s strength as a director and human being. He brought his whole life to his work. The sense of fun, positivity, loyalty, modesty, kindness and sensitivity and support he brought to his personal life, he offered to his colleagues. As the actor Neil Dudgeon told me: “He respected and looked after his actors and crew. And they loved him in return.”
He is survived by his children, Oliver and Isabella, and his siblings, Alistair and Jane.