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‘They'd Have Pissed on My Grave’: the Arts Council and Theatre Workshop

  • Nadine Holdsworth

Abstract

It has become a critical commonplace to contrast the relative generosity of the early Arts Council towards establishment institutions with its miserliness towards Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, as the company struggled to survive through the immediate post-war period of touring and then to establish itself with a degree of security at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. In this article, Nadine Holdsworth complements evidence that has before been mainly anecdotal with material from the archives both of the company and the Council, and traces the mutual suspicions that were later also to undermine support for Littlewood's ‘Fun Palace’ in the 'sixties. She documents also the ironic loosening of the funding purse-strings at the very moment when Theatre Workshop's run of West End transfers depleted its energies at its Stratford base – and forced it also to return a percentage of its hard-won profits to Arts Council coffers. Nadine Holdsworth lectures in Theatre Studies at De Montfort University. She contributed an article to NTQ49 (1997) on ‘Good Nights Out: Activating the Audience with 7:84 (England)’.

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Notes and References

1. Littlewood, Joan, Omnibus, BBC, 19 04 1994.

2. See Goorney, Howard, The Theatre Workshop Story (Methuen, 1981), p. 138; MacColl, Ewan, Journeyman (Sidgwick and Jackson, 1990), p. 252; Littlewood, Joan, Joan's Book (Methuen, 1994), p. 189.

3. Lacey, Stephen, British Realist Theatre: the New Wave in its Context, 1956–1965 (Routledge, 1995), p. 42.

4. Ibid., p. 5.

5. Ewan MacColl, Journeyman, p. 265.

6. Council, Arts, Art in the Red: Twelfth Annual Report 1956–57 (Arts Council of Great Britain, 1957), p. 16.

7. Letter to club members, Theatre Workshop Collection, Theatre Museum Archive.

8. These included Walthamstow, Leyton, Hackney, Poplar, Bethnal Green, Barking, Shoreditch, and West Ham, which in 1965 was incorporated into the Greater London Borough of Newham.

9. For further comparisons see Howard Goorney, The Theatre Workshop Story, p. 214–15.

10. Joan Littlewood, Joan's Book, p. 537.

11. Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

12. Letter sent to Arts Council, 8 February 1957, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

13. Letter from Jo Hodgkinson, 8 January 1959, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

14. Letter from Jo Hodgkinson, 3 May 1957, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

15. Letter from Raffles, 21 May 1957, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

16. Letter from G. Blakeley, Town Clerk of Waltham-stow Borough Council, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

17. Letter from Arts Council, 13 November 1957, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

18. Drama Panel minutes, 11 April 1958, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

19. Letter in The Times, 28 June 1958, p. 7.

20. Letter from Jo Hodgkinson, 28 May 1958, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

21. Letter to Arts Council, 3 July 1958, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

22. Letter in The Times, 26 June 1958, p. 11.

23. Letter in The Times, 28 June 1958, p. 7.

24. Letter in The Times, 5 July 1958, p. 7.

25. Letter from Jo Hodgkinson, 30 October 1958, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files

26. Letter from Raffles, 16 April 1959, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

27. Frayn, Michael, ‘The Reluctant Theatre Magnates’, The Guardian, 17 10 1959, p. 3.

28. Undated letter, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

29. See , Goorney, The Theatre Workshop Story; Paget, Derek, True Stories? Documentary Drama on Radio, Screen, and Stage (Manchester University Press, 1990); Stephen Lacey, British Realist Theatre: the New Wave in its Context, p. 51–2.

30. Joan Littlewood, ‘Use of an Old Theatre in 1972’, 26 November 1971, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

31. See Davies, Andrew, Other Theatres (Macmillan, 1987), p. 157, and Howard Goorney, The Theatre Work-shop Story.

32. Notes of proceedings, Hackney Borough Council, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

33. Radio Correspondent, ‘Old Ladies of Arts Council’, Daily Telegraph, 25 July 1961, p. 12.

34. See Hewison, Robert, Too Much: Art and Society in the Sixties (Methuen, 1986).

35. Letter from Hackney Borough Council to Arts Council, 10 January 1964, Arts Council, Theatre Work-shop Company Files.

36. See Robert Hewison, Too Much: Art and Society in the Sixties, p. 197.

37. Ibid., p. 198.

38. Joan Littlewood, Joan's Book, p. 628.

39. Camden Pilot Project Report, January 1965, p. 3, Clive Barker's private collection.

40. For a detailed discussion of the plans, see Cedric Price, New Scientist, XXII, p. 432–3.

41. Camden Pilot Project Report, January 1965, p. 5, Clive Barker's private collection.

42. Ibid., p. 6.

43. Clive Barker, undated manuscript, p. 3.

44. Hillman, Judy, ‘London's Palace of Fun Has Nowhere to Go’, Evening Standard, 3 03 1966, p. 16.

45. Advertisement for Director, The Guardian, 4 October 1997, p. 38.

46. Ansorge, Peter, ‘Lots of Lovely Human Contact!’, Plays and Players, 07 1972, p. 20.

47. Letter from Gerry Raffles to Arts Council, 19 May 1970, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

48. Council, Arts, Annual Report 1971 (Arts Council of Great Britain, 1971), p. 42.

49. Kershaw, Baz, The Politics of Performance (Rout-ledge, 1992), p. 98.

50. Letter from Philip Hedley, 18 December 1970, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

51. Letter from Philip Hedley, 14 January 1971.

52. Letter to Dennis Andrews, 9 January 1973, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

53. Letter from Dennis Andrews, 26 April 1973, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

54. Minutes of the meeting, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

55. Peter Mair, 25 October 1973, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

56. Letter from Gerry Raffles, 4 March 1974, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

57. John Wells, notes of 6 July 1975 meeting, Clive Barker's private collection.

58. Internal memo, 15 September 1975, Arts Council, Theatre Workshop Company Files.

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‘They'd Have Pissed on My Grave’: the Arts Council and Theatre Workshop

  • Nadine Holdsworth

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