By Anthony Hayward

Born: August 6, 1932;

Died: February 1, 2020

CHARLES Wood, who has died aged 87, was a screenwriter whose finest work focused on the British soldier in armed conflict. Although much of it appeared to be anti-war, he had an empathy with those in the front line, having himself served in the Army for five years. It was the politicians who sent them there whom he railed against – and, sometimes, the incompetence of commanding officers.

This shone out most effectively in his screenplay for The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), director Tony Richardson’s recreation of the time when more than 100 British troops were sent to their deaths in Turkey as they attacked superior Russian forces at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War.

Alongside the action, Wood’s script, tinged with satire, captures the essence of Victorian England’s “two nations” society, particularly in the upper classes’ use of elaborate language.

Two decades later, Wood brought a modern war to the screen in the 1988 television drama, Tumbledown. Directed by Richard Eyre, it told the story of a Falklands veteran, Scots Guards Lieutenant Robert Lawrence (played by Colin Firth), who was paralysed after being shot in the head, then felt abandoned by the Army and British government. This questioning of how Britain treated its war wounded caused controversy, but Tumbledown won Bafta, Royal Television Society and Prix Italia awards.

Charles Gerald Wood was born in St Peter Port, Guernsey, to actors Jack Wood and Mae Harris. At the Kidderminster Playhouse, he worked in his spare time as a stagehand and took small acting roles, before training in theatrical design and lithography at Birmingham School of Art (1948-50).

Five years in the 17th/21st Lancers (1950-55) saw Wood rise to the rank of corporal. He then went through various jobs, including theatre scenic artist and stage manager, before becoming an advertising copy artist on the Bristol Evening Post. He turned professional as a writer following his first broadcasting commissions, Traitor in a Steel Helmet (1961), a TV play about a recluse who comes into contact with the Army, and Prisoner and Escort (1962).

The Beatles movie Help! (1965) was the first of four films that Wood wrote for director Richard Lester. Others included the equally zany The Knack… and How to Get It (1965), How I Won the War (1967), a return to military satire, and The Bed Sitting Room (1969), a post-apocalyptic black comedy.

On TV, there was a rare sojourn into sitcom with Don’t Forget to Write! (1977-79), about the trials and tribulations of a playwright; a 10-part adaptation of Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals (1987) and, with director Tony Palmer, musical biopics of Wagner (1983), Puccini (1984) and Purcell (England, My England, 1995).

Wood drew on his military experience once more to script four episodes (1994-97) of the Napoleonic Wars TV saga Sharpe, and was reunited with Richard Eyre to co-write with him the 2001 film Iris, a biopic of novelist Iris Murdoch.

He is survived by his wife, actress Valerie Newman and their daughter, screenwriter Kate Wood. Their son, John, predeceased him.