Nicholas Temperley Watson Darke (29th August 1948 – 10 June 2005), known to all as Nick, was born in Porthcothan in the parish of St Eval, near Padstow in North Cornwall, in a house on the beach. His father T.O. (Bob) Darke was a farmer. The farm was a mile up the road in Treburrick. He had 100 acres. Bob was also an ornithologist, a founder of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. He owned a printing press in Penzance (Darke Johnson Ltd). Nick’s mother was the actress Betty Cowan, born in Hampstead, London.
Nick grew up on the beach, had his own boat when he was 10 and learned to fish with his father. The family had a long connection with the sea. Bob went twice round the world before he was seventeen as a merchant seaman; his grandfather was a sea captain, wrecked twice off the Cape of Good Hope. His great grandfather was the owner of a shipping firm Temperley Carter and Darke, operating out of the East India Docks in London.
Nick went to St Merryn Primary School and then to Truro Cathedral School. He rebelled against the system of random violence and bad food. He was expelled for getting drunk on sports day. He went to Newquay Grammar, learned to surf and ran the first disco in Cornwall from the cellar bar of the Atlantic Hotel, playing Northern soul records he bought from hotel workers from Manchester.
He went to Rose Bruford College, in Sidcup, to study acting. His first job was touring Sweden, then repertory in the Lyric Belfast, during ‘The Troubles’. He learned his craft at The Victoria Theatre, Stoke on Trent. It employed a permanent company of actors. The theatre was in the round with 400 seats. Nick acted in over 80 plays, the classics and new plays, often working with the writers. He said the best advice you can give a novice playwright is ‘go and be an actor’. He directed Man is Man, The Miser, Absurd Person Singular, The Scarlet Pimpernel and A Cuckoo in the Nest.
He had always written. He sent sketches to the comedians Morecombe and Wise which they didn’t use. He wrote his first play for the theatre at Stoke. During this time he lived with the theatre designer Alison Chitty.
He gave up acting to write in 1978. He won the George Devine award in 1979. His work attracted further commissions. Everything he wrote for theatre was produced – twenty seven plays in twenty eight years. They are performed and translated throughout the world. He also wrote for radio, television and wrote several screenplays.
Most of his work reflects Cornish culture. When he was growing up the Cornish were a majority. He said in 1978: ‘I would like to write more about Cornwall because it’s what I know and where most of my experiences are. There is a huge area of life, past and present which needs to be written about.’
He met his wife Jane in 1980. They have two sons; Jim is a marine scientist, Henry a filmmaker and writer.
He moved back to Cornwall in 1990 and got on with the life of his childhood, fishing and wrecking (beachcombing). He kept lobster pots and scoured the beaches for anything of interest.
In 2001 he had a stroke which affected his speech and reading and writing. He and Jane made a film, The Wrecking Season, about the contacts he made tracing fishing gear back to the East coast of America. It’s a film about the North Atlantic community and Cornwall’s place within it.
He died of cancer in 2005, aged 56. His funeral was on the beach. He and Jane filmed the last few months of his life. She made the film The Art of Catching Lobsters about their life together and the grieving process.