Born: May 10, 1938;

Died: August 7, 2021.

ALMA Cullen, who has died aged 83, was the acclaimed author of several exciting, thought-provoking television and theatre dramas, and whose scripts demonstrated her command of language and her power as a wordsmith. She wrote for such high-profile TV series as Inspector Morse and A Touch of Frost, and also scripted an acclaimed 1991 STV legal drama series, The Advocates.

As the Evening Times’s TV writer noted in 1990, while The Advocates was being filmed: “Cullen has consistently filed stylish, brilliantly-done pieces for television. Some directors have said that if they wanted her to write about a doorknob, she could probably do the script”. Isla Blair, one of the stars of the series, said: "She is the only writer on television whose dialogue I have never wanted to change. That is very rare”.

In 1982 Cullen scripted an STV drama, Northern Lights, which starred Annette Crosby, Judy Parfitt and Rik Mayall, set during the Edinburgh Fringe and involving a doctor who lets a room to a student. It was widely acclaimed and shortlisted for an Emmy.

Reviewing it when it was aired in the US, the New York Times observed: “it is a bonny wisp of a Scottish play…..just the thing for a sultry summer night that is begging not to be taken too strenuously but wants something with a touch of humor, a touch of story line and a touch of talent in the telling.”

Another Cullen work for STV, Off Peak (1984), won the silver medal at the 1984 New York TV Festival and was transmitted as a Prix Italia entry in 1986.

Robert Love, former Head of Drama at STV, who worked with Cullen for many years, told The Herald: “Alma was a multifaceted writer: there was the darkness of Morse, the compassionate nature of her pioneering Aids story, Intimate Contact, and the wit and sparkle of her STV comedies, Northern Lights. and Off Peak.

“I commissioned and produced both Northern Lights and Off Peak and it was a total joy to work with her. Alma was a true professional, and a wonderful friend to me, and many others.”

Alma Cullen (née Fitzpatrick) was born in Liverpool and brought up on a housing estate. Life was not easy for the family, especially after her father had been injured at work. Cullen was an excellent pupil at the local Grammar School but left at 16 to work in a bank to help with the family finances.

She had a keen interest in the theatre and made annual visits to the Edinburgh Festival from the early Fifties. Particularly memorable for her was Richard Burton’s famous Hamlet, in the Assembly Hall. She read English at Liverpool University and graduated in 1970 and, while there, had her first play produced by BBC Leeds. A Glimpse into the Interior was set in Algeria and starred Michael Jayston and Patrick Troughton.

In 1960 she married James Cullen, whom she had met at university. He had a distinguished career as a botanist and in 1972 was appointed Assistant Keeper of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, where he is remembered for his total replanning of the rhododendron plantings.

Cullen built strong literary connections in the north and in 1977 her first TV play, The Caledonian Cascade, was produced by Granada Television. It was a satire set in Edinburgh and told of the bored wife of a prominent judge who entered a hair-styling competition with disastrous results. It starred Rikki Fulton, Richard Wilson, Annie Ross and Iain Cuthbertson.

There followed several commissions for TV dramas, most notably STV’s Two Per Cent (winner of the Pharic MacLaren award) and Off Peak starring Annette Crosbie and Isla Blair. For Channel 4 she wrote Winter Sunlight, which captured the anxieties of a middle-aged lady who was finding her new life, after her aged parents separated, uncomfortable.

In 1987 Cullen wrote the ground-breaking TV play, Intimate Contact with Daniel Massey and Claire Bloom, one of the first plays to deal with Aids.

Many of these plays captured her ability to reflect every-day social and domestic life – good and bad – with a clarity and underlying sympathy. She subtly captured the anxieties of a character and the pressures of life.

But it was the blockbuster TV series, A Touch of Frost, and Inspector Morse, that brought Cullen most renown. In the late 1980s she scripted four hugely successful Morse episodes under the guidance of Colin Dexter, author of the novels.

The first, The Secret of B5 (1984), saw Morse investigate the death of an architect who had many affairs. For her final Morse, The Death of the Self, Cullen created a thrilling but delightfully humorous closing scene. Morse traced a suspect, an opera singer, to Verona; when he went to interview her he was serenaded with an aria from Rigoletto by the soprano. Morse was mighty chuffed. Cullen also wrote a stage play on Morse, House of Gods, which toured in 2010 with Colin Baker in the lead.

In 1996 she scripted her only A Touch of Frost (Full Time for Swingers) in which David Jason’s Frost investigated the murder of a pizza waiter who doubled as a gigolo for middle-aged women.

Jason and Dame Maggie Smith then starred in Cullen’s outstanding script for All the King’s Men in 1999. It was based on the events that the Sandringham Company of soldiers experienced during the Great War, and their mysterious disappearance at Gallipoli.

After her husband’s death in 2013 Cullen moved back to live in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge. She wrote several plays for Glasgow’s Oran Mor theatre. Of the most recent, Paring Off, The Herald’s critic commented that it “has a lovely sense of serious fun which heightens Cullen’s deadly study of mid-twentieth century social and sexual mores.”

She is survived by her son, Patrick, and daughter, Rose.