Bill Craig, the distinguished television writer who helped create many of the mist popular television drama series of the past 40 years, has died at the age of 72.

When I called my old friend and colleague, Bill Craig, a few weeks ago, he said to me: ''I'm on my way out, you know.'' No skirting round the subject, just the plain facts. And not a trace of self-pity. That was typical of the man. Bill had a tendency to be laconic.

He was also sometimes angry - oh, about a lot of things, but more often than not about script editors whose raison d'etre he never quite understood, and certain producers. Of the few honourable exceptions among the latter, I think I was one. I certainly hope so.

Bill and I went back a long way. When I was just starting to produce drama for Thames Television, I took the plunge and asked Bill to write for a series I'd been given called Public Eye. This was the one about Frank Marker, the private eye in the shabby mack, curmudgeonly on the surface, but with a heart of gold. Bill's style of writing was perfect for it with just the right balance of gritty realism tempered with a dry sense of humour. I loved it, and when I went on to produce The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (in truth the rivals of Conan Doyle), Bill gave me two elegant adaptations of quirky minor Victorian detective stories. This was around 1970. I should mention that this was a budding relationship between a novice producer and a writer who was already a big name in network drama.

By that time, Bill Craig had a string of prestigious credits to his name, not least as a lead writer on BBC Television's Doctor Finlay's Casebook, starring Andrew Cruickshank, Barbara Mullen, and Bill Simpson, but perhaps even more so as the adapter of Sunset Song, the first book of the Lewis Grassic Gibbon trilogy, starring among others the young Vivien Heilbron and Andrew Keir, again for BBC and to enormous acclaim. He was also responsible for the two sequels. When we got the news about Bill's passing, Vivien spoke most warmly about these early days in her career, a measure of the respect and affection that Bill inspired in the people with whom he worked.

Bill Craig worked as a journalist for the Scottish Daily Express for five years, during which time he began to write scripts for radio.

This led to television work, beginning with Deadline Midnight and Probation Officer for ATV. He wrote original episodes of Callan (Thames), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Granada), The Bretts (Central), The Irish RM, giving Channel Four one of its first successes in drama series, and Poirot for LWT.

Bill adapted Dorothy L Sayer's Murder Must Advertise and the original series of Neil Munro's The Vital Spark with Roddy McMillan, John Grieve, et al. He created and wrote many episodes of BBC's The Borderers. His final creation for BBC Scotland was the series Strathblair.

When I became head of drama at Scottish Television, I was obviously going to try to get a writer with a track record like Bill's to work at Cowcaddens.

For many years, Bill, like his old friend Tom Wright who pre-deceased him by only a few weeks, was one of the mainstay writers in the High Road team.

They were completely professional always, never missing the tight deadlines of a twice-

weekly serial, argumentative as always and in truth, great fun to work with. We all have happy memories of that time.

And of course when Scottish Television decided to re-make Cronin's Doctor Finlay who else would have been more appropriate to launch the new series as its first writer but Bill Craig.

With the deaths of Tom Wright and now Bill Craig, we've reached some kind of milestone in the history of television drama. These were men who helped to forge a new art form to which they brought self-discipline, meticulous craft, passion, and some humour. They attracted huge and loyal audiences to something that was essentially populist, but was never regarded merely as channel fodder.

The writer could have his or her vision, and not worry too much about chasing ratings. Nowadays, the writer has probably got to be more subservient to the system. That would have made Bill angry again.

Throughout his long career and his recent trying illness, Bill was loved and supported by his wonderful wife, Alro.

Bill Craig, writer; born 1930, died July 20, 2002.