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Censoring Revolution: the Lord Chamberlain and the Soviet Union

  • Steve Nicholson

Abstract

In two earlier articles, Steve Nicholson has explored ways in which the the right-wing theatre of the 1920s both shaped and reflected the prevailing opinions of the establishment – in NTQ29 (February 1992) looking at how the Russian Revolution was portrayed on the stage, and in NTQ30 (May 1992) at the ways in which domestic industrial conflicts were presented. He concludes the series with three case studies of the role of the Lord Chamberlain, on whose collection of unpublished manuscripts now housed in the British Library his researches have been based, in preventing more sympathetic – or even more objective – views of Soviet and related subjects from reaching the stage. His analysis is based on a study of the correspondence over the banning of Geo A. DeGray's The Russian Monk, Hubert Griffith's Red Sunday, and a play in translation by a Soviet dramatist, Sergei Tretiakov's Roar China. Steve Nicholson is currently Lecturer in Drama at the Workshop Theatre of the University of Leeds.

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Notes and References

1. Unsigned comment on the The Russian Monk, by Geo DeGray, in the Lord Chamberlain's files on Censorship. The play itself is in the Lord Chamberlain's Collection of Unlicensed Plays.

2. The best known is Richard Findlater's valuable Banned! A Review of Theatrical Censorship in Britain 1901–1968, and the most comprehensive and academic Florance's, John A. Theatrical Censorship in Britain 1901–1968, unpublished Ph. D Thesis, University of Wales, 1980. Johnston, John, a former member of the Chamberlain's, Lord Office who has had prior access to many of the papers and much relevant information, has published The Lord Chamberlain's Blue Pencil (London, 1990).

3. Pigott, E. F. Smythe, cited in Woodfield, James, English Theatre in Transition 1881–1914 (Beckenham, 1984), p. 113.

4. Redford, G. A., from Report from the Joint Select Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons on the Stage Plays (Censorship), together with the Proceedings of the Committee, Minutes and Appendices (H.M.S.O., 1909), cited in John A. Florence, op, cit., p. 259.

5. Knowles, Dorothy, The Censor, the Drama, and the Film 1900–1934 (London, 1934), p. 122.

6. The report was published on 11 November 1909, and consisted of 375 pages. Of the seven justifications for refusing a licence, three had direct political implications: a play must not ‘represent on the stage in an invidious manner a living person, or any person recently dead’; it must not ‘be calculated to impair friendly relations with any Foreign Power’; and it must not ‘be calculated to cause a breach of the peace’. See Report from the Joint Select Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons on the Stage Plays, op. cit. However, no recommendations were binding since no legislation was introduced.

7. Quoted in Griffith's, Hubert ‘Introduction’ to the published text of Red Sunday (London, 1929), p. XVXVI.

8. The Russian Monk was received by the Lord Chamberlain's Office on 22 February 1918.

9. Chamberlain's, Lord Files relating to the Censorship of Plays, The Russian Monk, letter from War Office to Colonel Sir Dawson, Douglas, 10 10 1917.

10. Ibid., letter from Dawson to Cockerill, 4 Mar. 1918.

11. Ibid., reader's comment from Ernest A. Bendall, 25 Feb. 1918.

12. Ibid., reader's comment from G. S. Street, n.d.

13. Ibid., reader's comment, illegible signature, n.d.

14. Ibid., reader's comment, illegible signature, 14 Mar. 1918.

15. Ibid., memorandum from Ernest A. Bendall, 15 July 1919.

16. Ibid., letter from Geo A. DeGray to Reader of Plays, 28 June 1921.

17. Lord Chamberlain's Files on Censorship, Rasputin.

18. It was produced at the Arts Theatre on Sunday 27 June 1929.

19. The Times, 1 July 1929, p. 15.

20. Chamberlain's, Lord Files relating to the Censorship of Plays, Red Sunday, unsigned memorandum from Keeper of the Privy Purse, Buckingham Palace, to the Lord Chamberlain, 3 07 1929.

21. Ibid., letter from Cromer to Keeper of the Privy Purse, Buckingham Palace, 4 July 1929.

22. Ibid., addition in red ink to reader's report, refusing a licence, 30 July 1929.

23. Hubert Griffith, ‘Introduction’ to Red Sunday, op. cit., p. xiv.

24. Ibid., p. 5.

25. Translated by Nixon, Barbara, Roar China was submitted on 8 04 1931 for performances in the week beginning 4 May.

26. Red Nights of the Tcheka.

27. ‘The Season's Programme’, Festival Theatre Review, IV, No. 72 (18 April 1931), p. 9.

28. Chamberlain's, Lord Files relating to the Censorship of Plays, Roar China, reader's report, signed G. S. Street, 8 04 1931.

29. Ibid., letter from Lord Cromer to Mr. Harris, Home Office, 10 April 1931.

30. Ibid., letter from A. Willert, Foreign Office, to Home Office, 22 April 1931.

31. Ibid., letter from Cromer to Rear–Admiral G. K. Chetwode, CB, CBE, 25 April 1931.

32. Ibid., letter from George Chetwode, addressed ‘My dear Lord Cromer’, 27 April 1931.

33. The production took place in Manchester in November 1931.

34. Chamberlain's, Lord Files relating to the Censorship of Plays, Roar China, report by Salford City Police on the Unnamed Society, 17 11. 1931.

35. John Johnston, The Lord Chamberlain's Blue Pencil, op. cit., p. 21.

36. Dorothy Knowles, op. cit., p. 4.

37. Hubert Griffith, ‘Introduction’ to Red Sunday, op. cit., p. x.

38. Ibid., p. viii.

Censoring Revolution: the Lord Chamberlain and the Soviet Union

  • Steve Nicholson

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