The text of the formal proceedings at the reception at the Theatre Museum, Covent Garden on 1st April 2007, with the judges' remarks.
A recording of the event is available at TheatreVoice
Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the staff of the theatre Museum I would like to welcome you all here today - and it is fantastic to see so may of you here. This is the 10th STR Book Award so it is a celebration just in itself that it's hit its decade, which I think shows a lot about its importance and the growing importance of promoting the performing arts in the publishing arena.
I don't want to hijack this meeting, but a lot of people have already asked me this morning about what is actually happening about the Theatre Museum, so I'll just deflect the meeting for one minute to explain what is actually happening -- there are bits off odd information floating around.
The Victoria & Albert Museum has now decided that there will be permanent performance galleries at South Kensington. For those of you who know the museum its those known as galleries 103-106, which probably doesn't mean much anyway to anybody, but it is on the first floor and they are currently furniture galleries, but they are going to be turned over to the performing arts and will provide about 600 square metre which is obviously less space than here but at least it's something, given what's happened.
The permanent galleries won't be in place until about 2009-2010, but on 21st November we'll be opening the first exhibition there, which is in fact the Society of British Theatre Designers' exhibition of -- the quadrennial exhibition 'Collaborators' which they take to Prague to show contemporary theatre design on the international arena, and what we'll be doing is show the designs which will go to Prague in June and in addition some of the other designs which were shown at the Nottingham exhibition, the open exhibition, which we jointly feel to be of interest.
The opening of that is on the evening of 20th November, which is a Tuesday, and you'll all be very welcome to come. We'll try to invite as many of you here as possible, but if you don't get an invite and you want to come you'll be very welcome on that occasion.
Just two other final things to say. One is that the Education Programme at the Museum is continuing in this building, certainly until August. So if you know schools and all the rest do make it clear it's still available although numbers are keeping up reasonably well.
The other thing is that although the building is closed to the public in terms of walking through the front door, there are tours of the building, short tours at 12 and 3 o'clock every day. So if you have friends and people coming into London ion the next few months who want to look round what's here, please do direct them here.
And finally, although it probably not quite what I'd expected to do as the first performance exhibition at South Kensington, it is rather gratifying that Kylie Minogue - I don't know how many of you have been to see the exhibition - has proved to be the second most popular exhibition ever at the V & A, attracting two and a half thousand visitors a day, which shows there is at least a public hunger for one area of the performing arts.
On which point I'd like to hand over to Howard who is the master behind all this and puts an enormous effort into organising the prize and making it all happen - and particularly since it is the tenth year you ought to five him a big round of applause on getting it this far!
He was followed by Howard Loxton, Administrator of the Theatre Book Prize who chairs the panel of judges.
Now, I'd like to welcome you on behalf of the Society for Theatre Research. It's good to see you all again and in this Museum, though maybe for the last time - but, more of that later. Books first, we are here to discover the tenth winner of the Theatre Book Prize.
And firstly, thankyou for the books to the authors and the editors, and the publishers who brought them out and entered them for this prize. If you are an author and your book was eligible and isn't on display it means we didn't get it! Nevertheless, with titles ranging from gossipy autobiography to the heavily academic the judges have been kept pretty busy.
Whilst that's been largely pleasurable, we've noticed too many cases of literals and sloppy editing - one book even has its title misspelt on the cover - but I don't blame the editors. I know the commercial pressures they often work under. Accountants and the sales directors may not care about such things but they do matter to the reader.
I am delighted to be able to praise the readability of so many of the academic titles submitted - though not all of them -- one entry was being so busy trying to be 'with it' and approachable in its design that it had the opposite effect and looked impenetrable.
I'm not even going to try to give a run down of the overall entry we had this year -- in a moment the judges will be talking about the short-listed titles and some others that nearly made it. But I'd also like to put an oar in for a couple.
Digitalisation and computers have helped to lower the cost of illustrated books, though reproduction rights have often got more expensive, and we are seeing more of them. My thanks to Oberon and John Nelson for his visual history of The Ring, as produced at Covent Garden.
Although not strong on pictures, Barbara Revelhofer's book on The Early Stuart Masque from OUP, is also most welcome as an attempt to rediscover performance, while from the same house David Worrall's Theatric Revolution gives a fascinating overview of the place of theatre in late Georgian culture and comes the closest to an explanation of the Royal Patent system that I 've found. Another very readable academic book comes from Ashgate. The Cult of Kean by Jeffrey Kahan's gives us much more than its blurb suggests. It's not just about others' views on him and later fictionalisation but gives real insight into this fascinating actor.
No time to mention more, even though they are worth your attention. Take a look at them later if you haven't already, all entries are out there on display.
But I do want to take a moment to draw attention to the contribution of the smallest publishers: Nick Charlesworth's Badger Press for instance, with its histories of regional theatres. Their books are often a labour of love by a writer who may not have the skill and experience of their competitors. But even if they don't win the prizes they make a valuable contribution to the record of British theatre. Then there are the theatre specialists such as Nick Hern and Oberon, this year surprisingly, neither on the short list. What would we do without them. Play scripts are outside the remit for this prize, but how often do you see the big imprints publishing new plays by unknown writers the way Tom Maschler at Cape used to publish Storey or Wesker or Giles Gordon at Penguin produced collections of new plays back in the 60s. Thank you to James and Nick - and sometimes Faber and Methuen Drama too - for those instant and inexpensive scripts we can often buy instead of programmes.
But that's enough from me - we must move on to the actual short list.
Richard Mangan, former performer, stage manager and director - and for nearly twenty years administrator of the Mander and Mitchenson theatre Collection is going to start us off. Richard...
May I first of all say thank you to Howard for inviting me to be one of the judges for this year's Society for Theatre Research Book Prize and thereby to have the pleasure of meeting my fellow judges, Heather Neill and John Woodvine over the two most enjoyable lunches which were our reward.
I would like to say that I read all the books from cover to cover. I'd like to say that but it wouldn't be true, because I wasn't clever enough to understand some of them. I took some of them away with me on a short break with friends in January and one evening after dinner, I embarked on one of them. The company included two graduates from Oxbridge, two from Durham University, one from Manchester University and two experienced theatre practitioners. I read them a sentence which was fourteen lines long and contained two words which none of us understood. I persevered for a time but a sense of my own inadequacy eventually made me desist from the effort.
I would like to mention briefly some of the books which gave me particular pleasure, though in no particular order.
Robert Leach's Theatre Workshop: Joan Littlewood and the Making of Modern British Theatre published by the University of Exeter Press is an admirable and thoroughly researched account of that most influential of companies. Mr Leach gives a comprehensive account of the political, social and theatrical background which caused Joan Littlewood, Ewan MacColl and a number of other deeply committed practitioners to establish a company which has had such a lasting influence over the last fifty years and more. I was fortunate enough to have had some contact in my own career with some of those practitioners such as John Bury, Jean Newlove and Maxwell Shaw. Much of their work is still evident in the training of many students today as well as in the work of many of our theatre companies, major and minor. The book is written with students in mind and is to be commended for its great clarity and lack of jargon.
With this, although it didn't make the short-list, I would like to couple Murray Melvin's book, The Art of the Theatre Workshop, from Oberon Books. Murray, of course, was one of the leading lights of Theatre Workshop and is now the Honorary Archivist of the Company. He therefore brings to the book many personal memories and much first hand knowledge, as did Howard Goorney in his earlier book, The Theatre Workshop Story, to which both these new books refer. Murray's history of the company is concise and valuable, but its main attraction and value is the collection of photographs which he has unearthed, largely from the archive of John Spinner who photographed much of the company's early work in Stratford East. It is largely thanks to Murray that this wonderful collection now has a permanent home in the archive. They are an admirable record of that work and the two books together will, I believe, give future generations a true and indelible impression of that seminal time and activity..
Professor Elizabeth Schafer's book Lilian Baylis: a biography published by the University of Hertfordshire Press and the Society for Theatre Research looks afresh at that remarkable woman without whose pioneering work it is unlikely that our National Theatre, our Royal Ballet or English National Opera would exist. Professor Schafer has done much original research and returned to sources which were perhaps unknown to or ignored by earlier writers. That long-lasting image of the 'funny little woman at the Old Vic' with her odd accent, podgy features, her banjo playing and sausage frying may never entirely disappear, but I felt strongly that Professor Schafer had restored Lilian Baylis to her rightful place in the history of twentieth century theatre and demonstrated the measure of her remarkable achievement in exemplarily lucid and readable prose.
Also, in addition to the short-list, I would like to commend Adrian Woodhouse's biography Angus McBean: Face-maker published by Alma Books. This admirably researched book gave me not only a comprehensive history of that master photographer but also some fascinating glimpses of theatrical life, on and off the stage, for almost half a century. Like John Spinner at Stratford, Angus McBean captured the world of pre- and post-war West End Theatre with the eye and technique of a great artist, and one understands why and how he was able make those who sat for his camera portraits so grateful for his art. Adrian Woodhouse also has a telling section on the long and arcane tale of Harvard University's purchase of the McBean archive and subsequent developments. It was also fascinating to learn that one of our leading impresarios, Duncan Weldon, spent part of his early career as Angus's assistant and was delighted to ask him to take the production photographs for his first show.
Finally, before I hand over to my co-judge, the critic and journalist Heather Neill, a word of praise for John Fisher's book, Tommy Cooper: Always Leave Them Laughing published by Harper Collins Entertainment. John Fisher is a devotee of many of our great comedians, but I sensed that at heart, as he is for many of us, Cooper was The Man! This is the work of a true fan, by no means a hagiography for Tommy was no saint and John Fisher would be the first to acknowledge that. However, much can be forgiven a man who made so many laugh for so long. Occasionally some of the contractual details seemed inordinately long, but for the true obsessive, no detail is too much. I'm happy to say I read it 'just like that!'
Heather Neill: When I told colleagues that I was to be a judge of this prestigious prize the reaction was usually along the lines of "You poor thing - that's a lot of work" and sometimes "Oh dear, there'll be so much dross". Well a lot of work, yes, but (while agreeing with Richard's comments) on the whole I feel rather pleased with the expansion of my theatre library - otherwise known as tottering piles on the dining room floor - sitting room, stairs, bathroom... I know that I will refer to many of them in future. As for the rest, recipients of unusual gifts may draw their own conclusions.
But publishers - please (and this is on behalf of next year's lucky panel) please don't regard the closing date as the one to aim for. I think we received three books in the first six weeks after the 2006 prize was announced and almost 50 in the last three. There were couriers who came so often they all but stayed for Christmas dinner. Imagine your title being greeted not with whoops of delight but anxious groans about reading time disappearing.
One more moan - don't worry, I am getting to the good bit - there were a few books which looked unnecessarily off-putting. One such was Staging New Britain, edited by Geoffrey V Davis and Anne Fuchs, published by Peter Lang. The history and impact of black and Asian theatre in Britain is told in a lively manner, featuring many of the best-known practitioners in the field - Yvonne Brewster, Roy Williams, Jatinda Verma and many others as writers and interviewees. It is accessible, informative and a pleasure to read - despite the cover.
There are too many books to give a satisfactory picture of the field, so here are a few of my particular favourites, whether on the shortlist or not. Dominic Dromgoole's very personal Will and Me: How Shakespeare Took over My Life (Penguin) is a passionate, funny, iconoclastic, rollicking good read.
The Alchemist Exposed by Robert Butler (Oberon Books) is a particularly good example of an account of a rehearsal period, in this case the recent National Theatre production of The Alchemist. It is written with students in mind so will continue to be useful to people studying the text (or theatre practice) - or indeed anyone wishing to avoid falling for a conman.
Jeffrey Kahan's The Cult of Kean, published by Ashgate is a beautifully produced book which provides unusual perspectives on the "fierce, ungovernable, dangerous" early 19th century actor.
Reminiscence Theatre: Making Theatre from Memories by Pam Schweitzer, published by Jessica Kingsley is a timely record of an important movement in community theatre since the 1980s. It describes, with plentiful examples, how drama can be a means of sharing between the generations and of celebrating personal history and could well be an inspiration to others.
And finally, one of my favourite books of the year is Aleks Sierz's The Theatre of Martin Crimp (Methuen). This is an admirably clear assessment of one of our most mercurial playwrights, comprehensive, beautifully structured and providing both the political context in which individual plays were written and different perspectives from reviewers and interviewees.
So there's plenty to celebrate. And I've learned some amazing things too, perhaps most startlingly, from The Early Stuart Masque, Barbara Ravelhofer's admirably detailed account, that a particular costume worn by King Charles I in 1634 was worth the equivalent of 1,166 -- turkeys.
No other turkeys mentioned here, I'm glad to say.
Richard has already mentioned two books about Theatre Workshop and I'd like to mention one by another Workshop alumni:
Victor Spinetti up Front from Robson Books. He describes Joan Littlewood as 'My University' and gives his picture of Stratford East.
I picked this book up a little reluctantly and thought 'Here goes, another celebrity autobiography.' But it's more than that, it made me laugh -- out loud and often, and that takes a lot of beating.
On a personal note, Victor remembers a spiritualist meeting where he's told he has the gift of healing. In a very small way I can vouch for that.
We worked together once on TV. I had a wart on my thumb, which I suppose I was picking at. He noticed, placed his hand on the offending spot, held it for a moment and then said, 'It'll go away now' - and it did! Great Healer? Perhaps not, but certainly a charmer!
It didn't make the short-list, but you'll enjoy it.
Another that didn't quite make it was Jack Shepherd and Keith Dewhurst's Impossible Plays from Methuen Drama - now part of the Bloomsbury stable with A & C Black.
This is the story of the Bill Bryden company which occupied the Cottesloe Theatre from 1970 to 1986. Keith and Jack, like many other members of the company had worked with Bryden at the Royal Court and the Lyceum in Edinburgh and were closely involved in the remarkable achievements of this longest lasting ensemble within the National Theatre.
It is a very warm book, and even at its most serious, it's never far from some insight or juicy anecdote - often scurrilous, but always entertaining. It's like listening in on the best sort of Green Room or Theatre Bar conversation.
John Osborne: A Patriot for Us by John Osborne from Chatto and Windus is the first of my short-list titles.
This biography of playwright and former actor Osborne is a terrific book, beautifully written. Heilpern cleverly draws us into the narrative by starting in the present with a visit to Osborne's last home, to Helen his surviving wife and to his grave. Within a couple of chapters we're hooked and it is then he goes back to the beginning and takes us through the complex, tortured life of a man whose hand never seemed far away from a self-destruct button. Biography at its best!
My last book is The Victorian Clown by Jacky Bratton and Ann Featherstone from Cambridge University Press.
This book is drawn from two sources, neither of which was intended for publication, and they're both significant discoveries. Both throw new light onto the world of Circus in the 19th century, and its links with popular theatre.
The first part of the book gives an over view of Victorian circus and the background to the two clowns whose manuscripts follow.
First come the memoirs of James Frowde, a clown working in the 1840s and '50s. They were written , in old age, for his children, and present a vivid account of the excitements and hardships of life on the road with a travelling circus.
The last part of the book reveals a great discovery - the Gag Book of another clown, Thomas Lawrence, who worked a little later in the 19th century. The Victorian clown had a much more important function than those of today. He was there to link the acts not just with physical skills, but also verbally. If things went wrong he had to cover it up, he combined with the Ringmaster to ensure the show ran smoothly, if a drama was presented, and it often was in those days, he had to take his part.
This Gag Book is full of old jokes, punning, sketches, topical references and songs, and demonstrates a clear link to the newly popular Music Hall, to 20th century Variety and even to today's Standups.
Now I can't vouch for how this material is going to work, but I'm going to give you a few little excerpts from the gag book.
I shall never forget one evening:
Me and my sweetheart was taking a walk
She squeezed my arm. I squeezed her hand.
And she looked up in my face and said 'Do you love me?'
And I said, 'Yes.' Now I was ....
I say bless those wives that fill our lives
With little bees and honey. They ease life's shocks,
They mend our socks - but can't they spend the money!
Bad husbands are like bad coals:
They smoke too much and they keep going out ....
[Delayed laughter from the audience] ...like bad coals, you're rather slow burning!
What are a lovely woman's sparkling eyes
Compared with Baggott's mutton pies?
Now, a topical reference from 'A Railway Alphabet'
A stands for accidents frequent alas
B for the bunglers that bring them to pass
C the confusion that leads to the same
D the directors who are never to blame....
S for the signals some drivers don't mind
T is a train just two hours behind
Well, not a lot has changed in 140 years.
And now I'll just end with the last bit of a very long monologue about watches:
When we get old, like watches
We find it difficult to go
Our works get out of order
And we're often found too slow.
Our days are numbered like the watch:
It's true, as I'm a clown,
And like the watch, I now must stop
For my mainspring has run down.
Thank you very much John and thanks to all the judges for your time and diligence in reading and for your engaging remarks about the books today.
Regulars at this event will know that this is where we call upon our President, Timothy West to announce as a child actor in the movies, has now made a dazzling debut on the West End stage. So, if the magic works, please welcome Daniel Radcliffe the winner. Well, Tim can't be here today. He's about to open in Coriolanus with the RSC in Washington DC and we don't have an understudy. So what was I going to do.
Well, I thought, we have to have a guest, and - just as a reminder that STR is not just about elderly academic and elderly theatre knights - I thought it was time we reminded people that it is about anybody, young or old with an interest in theatre history: theatre past and theatre present. So I thought why not ask someone who has made his name.
Daniel Radcliffe then announced the winner as
JOHN OSBORNE: A PATRIOT FOR US by John Heilpern, published by Chatto and Windus.
Author John Heilpern lives in the United States and could not be present. Director Bill Bryden came forward to accept the prize on his behalf.
It's a very good book and so is the theatre Workshop book, which I enjoyed enormously.
The influence of John Osborne and her company was tremendously deep in me, as was my friendship and partnership with John Osborne. The good news about this book is that Helen Osborne, the late Helen Osbonre, was made very very sure that she got the right man to write this book.
John Heilpern from Vanity Fair and from other ... spent a whole year or a year and a half interviewing anybody who was alive who knew John. In a funny sort of way it was probably just as well that John had passed on before he started, because I think he, John, would probably have hated it.
The only think I can say about this book is that when the National Theatre opened and Kenneth Tynan came up to John and said to John 'You must write a play for the National theatre. Come with us, and make history!' And John, quick as a flash, said, 'Ken, I've made history!' And he certainly did and this book is an honour of it.
I think he was a very controversial, canaptious, deeply gifted man, who opened the door to the theatre for my generation. The first night of Look Back in Anger, just before my time - although it's my birthday - did open the door to a whole lot of writers, actors, directors, the whole theatre as we know it, and everything began on that night and this is a good tribute to it. And I'm sorry John's not here, he deserves all the applause we can give him. Thank you very much.
Howard Loxton then asked for guests to stay for a moment longer before going off to toast the winner.
You have just heard the latest news from Geoff on the situation about the Theatre Museum. The STR was one of the bodies that helped to set up this museum. There used to be a board behind you with the names of the original founders. That's now disappeared. I'm told it's now in a back corridor somewhere. Of the people on that board the V&A and the STR are, I think, the only surviving bodies. But there are individuals who still survive. Very much so. And one of them is Sir Donald Sinden, who is here today. Sir Donald, will you come and talk about the present situation at the Theatre Museum.
Sir Donald Sinden:
I'm sure that when I was asked to come along this morning it was to lighten the proceedings slightly with a few odd quips, but I'm afraid that I am spitting mad about the Theatre Museum -- the demise of -- It is disgraceful! We had talk at the beginning from Mr Marsh that the - exhibit - about Kylie Minogue - Why is that not here?
This is where that should have taken place. And the designer's exhibition. That should have been here. And the next year or so they'e gpnmgAnd the next year or so they're going to have an exhibition on Diaghilev and the Russian Ballet - and why is that not taking lace here at the Theatre Museum?
All of these things could have been here and improved the take at the front door immeasurably. But we're in this dire situation now.
But the Guardians of the Theatre Museum - we've formed ourselves into a group in the fond hope of er, saving the Museum - and offered to find the relatively small amount to turn this building into a the theatrical landmark that it ought to be. We are moving towards our target and we need promises of less than half a million pounds.
Now that sounds quite a lot of money, but compared with a lot of things - rubbish - it's small! Yes. And you can help by filling in one of the pledge forms that has been distributed today, or by visiting the Guardian's website to make your pledge, large or small - but preferably large.
We have very little time to fulfil our promise to redeem the V&A's broken promise - the V&A - It makes me spitting mad! When you think how we sweated away 50 years ago to get this place off the ground and then they can close it -- just like that! Terrifying! Anyway, that's the case as it is today. We need the money at the moment to show willing. So please make a pledge before you leave!
Book Prize Archive
Lilian Baylis: A biography (in the STR's online catalogue)
12th April 2007