Director and writer celebrated for his work at Chichester Festival theatre and the BBC
The career of Patrick Garland, who has died aged 78, was as varied as it was productive. An actor, producer, director, writer and anthologist, he was a leading light of the BBC TV arts department for 12 years, twice artistic director of the Chichester Festival theatre and a close friend and associate of Alan Bennett, Rex Harrison, Eileen Atkins and Simon Callow.
Although he harboured ambitions in feature films, and directed a 1971 television adaptation of Paul Gallico's The Snow Goose (starring Richard Harris and an Emmy award-winning Jenny Agutter), as well as a creditable 1973 movie of Ibsen's A Doll's House (with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins), his life developed in the theatre. Much of his work was informed by his love of literature, and the poetry of Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Philip Larkin and John Clare. In 1963 he formed Poetry International with Ted Hughes and Charles Osborne.
Garland made his name with a 1967 adaptation of John Aubrey's Brief Lives, in which Roy Dotrice gave a brilliant, bravura performance of bitchiness and eccentricity as the 17th-century diarist. His long-running West End production of Brief Lives came out of an episode about Aubrey in Famous Gossips (1965), the BBC television series Garland made with Bennett.
He also directed Bennett's stage play Forty Years On (1968) at the Apollo, starring John Gielgud as a reminiscent headmaster. It was a huge success, and Garland's work in the theatre suddenly proliferated: a significant early production of Hair in Israel; his own spirited version of Cyrano de Bergerac (with Robert Herrick's love poetry standing in for Christian's jejune heartache), starring Edward Woodward, for the National Theatre; and successive Ibsens in New York – A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler – both with Claire Bloom.
Garland was the only child of Captain Ewart Garland and his wife, Rosalind Fell. His father was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and his wartime exploits as a member of the Royal Flying Corps were fictionalised by Patrick in a well received novel, The Wings of the Morning (1989). Patrick was educated at St Mary's college, Southampton, and St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he was tutored in English literature by Lord David Cecil (reading Victorian novels remained a passion for Garland).
At Oxford, he succeeded Ken Loach as president of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, and played Coriolanus (directed by Anthony Page) and Henry V in Magdalen College deer park. He went straight to the Bristol Old Vic for two years (1959-61), played King John and Clarence in the BBC's An Age of Kings cycle of Shakespeare's histories, and provided a Shakespearean anthology, The Rebel, for the quarter-centenary celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1964, with Peter Bowles, Clive Swift and David Warner.
By then Garland had embarked on his television career, working on Monitor, the arts programme initiated by Huw Wheldon. For television he interviewed many leading artists of the day (Noël Coward, Ninette de Valois, Stevie Smith, Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier), and produced Bennett's On the Margin revue series in 1966.
After Forty Years On, he directed a second Bennett play, Getting On (1971), starring Kenneth More as a middle-aged, self-absorbed Labour MP, then found himself directing Harrison in a French farce at Chichester, a collaboration that led to working with Harrison on a selection of George Bernard Shaw criticism at the Edinburgh festival in 1977 and a Broadway revival of My Fair Lady in 1980.
Other musical adventures included Billy (1974), an affectionate version of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall's Billy Liar, with music by John Barry and lyrics by Don Black, starring Michael Crawford; and, in his first stint in charge at Chichester (1980-84), two West End-bound nostalgia feasts – The Mitford Girls by Caryl Brahms, Ned Sherrin and Peter Greenwell, and Underneath the Arches, with Roy Hudd and Christopher Timothy as Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen leading the old Crazy Gang routines.
Garland, a committed High Anglican all his adult life, despite a Catholic school education (and a love of Latin mass), was devoted to the city of Chichester, and anthologised Sussex poetry. He also mobilised half the city, it seemed, in Victory! (1989), a promenade version of Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts, with James Bolam as Napoleon submitting to his coronation in Chichester cathedral.
He resumed the Chichester hot seat in 1991 after yet more literary London glory with Beecham (1980), starring Timothy West as the conductor Thomas Beecham; Kipling (1984) with Alec McCowen; a valiant 1987 revival of Frederick Lonsdale's Canaries Sometimes Sing, with Bowles and Sylvia Syms, at the Albery; and Atkins's Virginia Woolf solo in A Room of One's Own (at Hampstead in 1989, in New York two years later), which he adapted himself. He and Atkins returned to Woolf, with Vanessa Redgrave as Vita Sackville-West, in Atkins's own Vita and Virginia (1993).
Later productions included an interesting Regency period The Tempest in Regent's Park in 1996, with Denis Quilley as Prospero: a 1998 revival of Brief Lives at the Duchess with a gloriously decrepit Michael Williams stepping into Dotrice's carpet slippers; and Jeff Baron's Visiting Mr Green (2007), in which Warren Mitchell played a cantankerous Jewish New York widower.
The Callow connection was forged in a not wholly successful 1998 Chichester production of Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight, in which Keith Baxter (who had played Prince Hal in Welles's great film) was the failing Henry IV and Callow was a booming Falstaff.
Callow was more suited to Charles Dickens, in a plum pudding solo performance directed by Garland in Peter Ackroyd's The Mystery of Charles Dickens (2000). Ten years later, Garland adapted and directed two Dickens monologues for Callow in a delightful pairing, Dr Marigold and Mr Chops.
Garland kept journals all his life, putting those of the 1980s to spectacular use in his wonderful account of his work and friendship with Harrison, The Incomparable Rex (1998), one of the best theatrical biographies of our day. He directed Fanfare for Elizabeth, a celebration of the Queen's 60th birthday, at the Royal Opera House in 1986, and Olivier's magnificent memorial in Westminster Abbey in 1989.
He loved Corsica, where he kept a house for many years, and he proposed to his wife, Alexandra Bastedo, the actor and animal sanctuary keeper, on top of a snow-capped Corsican mountain. They married in 1980. He lived with Bastedo, who survives him, in a farmhouse full of animals outside Chichester.
• Patrick Ewart Garland, director and writer, born 10 April 1935; died 19 April 2013