Born: June 24, 1930;

Died: February 4, 2016

WILLIAM Gaskill (universally known as Bill), who has died aged 85, was a pioneering director succeeding Tony Richardson at the Royal Court Theatre and was instrumental in creating a new sense of realism in the theatre.

As a director he was fastidious in his interpretation of the essence of the play – always directing with a scrupulous clarity and honesty. The Royal Court had staged some of the most avant-garde theatre and he developed that pioneering spirit, premiering new works by Edward Bond, David Hare, Ann Jellcoe, Christopher Hampton and Arnold Wesker. Mr Gaskill had the knack of recognising such burgeoning talents and believing in them.

In 1965, he was also involved in a piece of theatre history. He staged Bond’s controversial play Saved which was refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain – it did have a scene with a baby being stoned. Mr Gaskill, with typical courage, presented the play in private performances and the laws of censorship were abolished.

He made two memorable visits to the Edinburgh Festival. In 1992 he directed a work that formed an adventurous salute to the relatively unknown plays of Harley Granville-Barker. The Voysey Inheritance with Michael Grandage was recognised as a witty but flawed piece and also that year he oversaw rehearsal readings of two other Barker plays.

In 1994 Brian McMaster, the festival’s director, presented Mr Gaskill with a real challenge; he asked him to direct John Arden’s demanding historical drama set in the Borders in the 16th century: its lenghty three acts are given in heavy Lowland Scots dialect. Armstrong’s Last Goodnight is a raunchy play about cattle rustling and Mr Gaskill caught the warring atmosphere with a vengeance. His production revealed an important play and one critic wrote “Gaskill's touches all the detail of tribal feuds, court intrigue, and fears of an English war.”

Born in Shipley, Mr Gaskill started directing while he was a student at Hertford College, Oxford before working in television. In 1957 he was appointed Tony Richardson’s deputy at the Royal Court - his first two productions gaining him much recognition.

In 1963 Laurence Olivier was setting up the National Theatre (NT) and asked Mr Gaskill to be a founding member. Mr Gaskill’s burgeoning reputation was enhanced when he directed two of the NT’s first and most acclaimed productions: The Recruiting Officer and the Beaux Stratagem. He was given star casts with Olivier, Maggie Smith and Derek Jacobi and Mr Gaskill’s direction gave the stars a comic freedom – many consider the productions to be amongst Olivier’s finest moments on stage. Mr Gaskill also directed an epic account of Granville-Barker’s The Madras House at the NT with Paul Schofield in 1977.

From 1965 to 72, Mr Gaskill returned to the Royal Court as artistic director and championed new writing and inventive productions: notably Bond’s feisty adaptation of Three Sisters with Glenda Jackson and Marianne Faithfull and the controversial Macbeth with Alec Guinness and Simone Signoret.

In 1974 he co-founded Joint Stock Theatre Company with David Hare, Max Stafford-Clark and David Aukin.

He was devoted to new theatre and searching for new interpretations of the classics. He taught at universities in America and at Rada where he directed promenade performances of the Shakespeare plays. In a slender autobiography he wrote, “I believe every play has an identity that it is the director’s job to reveal.” Mr Gaskill, who never married, certainly did that.