Theatre Record

 

This Edition

 

‘Now In Its Jubilee Year’ - The Theatre Record story 

by  Ian Herbert

Lecture for the Society for Theatre Research Art Workers Guild, 18 January 2005


Seven years ago, almost to the day,  I was on this podium to give the Society an account of fifty years of British theatre criticism, in our Golden Jubilee lecture series. Tonight I’m going to be rather more personal, and I hope you’ll forgive the prolific use of the first person singular in what I’m going to tell you. I’m talking about a journal I started in 1980, and which has occupied a major part of my life ever since; a very tiny corner of theatre research history which happens to have been my own until last year, when it was occupied by tonight’s Chairman. This seemed a good moment to take stock, and tell you how it all came about.

To tell the story, I have to go back a little and refer to my previous career, as a ‘proper’ publisher. I spent most of my serious working life with Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, a long-established educational house with a specialisation in self-improvement that reflected the ideas of its founder, who had walked from Bath to London to promulgate his system of shorthand. By the middle of the seventies, I was on the board, with an editorial responsibility for all the company’s titles that weren’t strictly exam-oriented educational texts, the General list. This included all kinds of how-to books (how to paint in oils, how to repair your car, how to cook low-cost meals) and a small section of theatre books (how to put on your make-up, how to light a show, how to reach the back of the stalls). As a life-long theatre nut, I took a particular pride in this part of the list, and in my tenure expanded it to include more critical surveys of theatre in Britain , Europe and even Africa, in a series called Theatre Today.

One of the jewels in the crown was a book called Who’s Who in the Theatre, and one of my first problems as its publisher was how to continue it. The admirable lady, Freda Gaye, who had taken over its editing from its founder, the great John Parker, was wanting to be paid a tiny amount for her work, and the sums just didn’t add up. Peter Saunders was particularly anxious that the book continue, since it was where the increasingly long run of his production of The Mousetrap was recorded, and with the help of Emile Littler he got together an honorary editorial board that comprised them, Richard Attenborough, John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave and Dorothy Tutin, with the Broadway producer Alexander H Cohen to add a US voice. The board brought kudos to the book, but not cash, and in the end I decided that the only way to make the book work would be for me to update it myself, with help from my then wife, who typed the London playbills that were an important part of the book’s record-keeping status, and for America from Pitman’s production manager in their New York branch, Robert E Finley, who happened to be as passionate about theatre as I was. The fifteenth edition thus appeared in 1972, with anonymous editors, but for the sixteenth edition in 1977 we came out from under our bushel, taking the appearance of our names on the title page as our only payment.

The sixteenth edition did well, and I was able to put out a concise paperback edition which included only the book’s biographies; it even reprinted. We had a new American publisher, the Gale Research Company of Detroit, and when life at Pitman became too unpleasant, partly because of the accountancy-driven mentality that had taken over British publishing in those days, preventing editors from concentrating on making books and forcing them to spend most of their time writing meaningless five-year plans, and partly because of a growing feud with my new managing director, a man with a long history of mental instability, I  turned to Gale for help. They came up with a marvellous deal: they would buy the copyright in Who’s Who, engage me as its editor and appoint me their European sales representative.

For eighteen months I lived the life of Riley, swanning around Europe, finding reference titles to add to the Gale catalogue, and at last being paid to edit Who’s Who in the Theatre. Of course, it couldn’t last, especially when Gale realised how much their European office was costing them, and in early 1980 I found myself ‘let go’. And please could I finish the seventeenth edition of the book as soon as possible?

Vacancies for thrusting young managing directors were thin on the ground in British publishing at the time – the industry was suffering from the same recession that had hit my American employers – and by the middle of the year I was very worried indeed about my prospects. I got together with a couple of friends in similar circumstances, Malcolm Hay (now cabaret editor of Time Out) and Simon Trussler (now editor of New Theatre Quarterly) to plan the theatre magazine to end all theatre magazines. Theatre Monthly would replace the recently departed Plays and Players, which had collapsed when the owner of the Seven Arts Group committed suicide, leaving debts of a quarter of a million pounds, an astronomical sum in today’s money. You can imagine the conversations we had with the banks to which we went in search of start-up capital:

So Theatre Monthly was not to be. Malcolm and Simon went off to academic jobs, and I went on the dole. I still wanted to start a theatre magazine, and the only possible way, as I saw it, was to make use of what I knew from my publishing and Who’s Who experience. There was surely a need for a bare-bones journal which could continue Who’s Who’s job of chronicling the date and casts of London productions. In America there was a publication for libraries, New York Theatre Critics’ Reviews, which not only gave cast lists but reprinted all that the New York critics had to say about each new Broadway show. Perhaps I could do something similar here. New York also had a couple of tipsheet newsletters, one from the same stable as NYTCR, which gave information on upcoming Broadway productions – who was presenting them, what they would cost and so on. What if I could reprint the London critics, add cast lists and give some hot gossip about London productions in the pipeline?

My market research was primitive. All I could afford was to cut out the reviews of a couple of shows, (for the record they were Alan Bennett’s  Enjoy and Howard Brenton’s The Romans in Britain) and send them out, in an amateurish sixteen-page mock-up of how they would appear, to a few potential buyers, in particular the critics who had written them. A questionnaire about what might be included accompanied the mock-up, but the main questions were simple: could I have their permission to reprint their reviews, please, and would they be interested in subscribing to a fortnightly publication containing them? It was John Elsom of the Listener who pointed that I was brazenly asking him to pay for his own work, which necessitated a quick rethink. OK, would the critics (or, to be precise, their newspaper) give me permission to reprint if I gave them a free subscription?

This approach proved more successful, and in February 1981 I sent out a thousand copies of the first issue of  London Theatre Record (actually the first two issues, since the first two weeks of January yielded very few shows) to a carefully chosen mailing list. Would you like to receive the rest of the year’s issues for a mere £25, a reduction of £15 from the full rate of £40?

Here I could take advantage of my years of experience as a theatre publisher (and former publicity manager) to compile a pretty comprehensive list of contacts and prospective subscribers – theatres, producers and agents, journals, libraries and museums throughout the world. I was also taking a leaf out of the book of the late, great Robert Maxwell, who in his days at Pergamon Press (when he was already known to me and my fellow cast members of the Young Publishers’ Revue as ‘the bouncing Czech’) hit upon the useful scheme of advertising highly specialised scientific publications at inflated subscription prices. If enough institutions subscribed, he would find an editor and publish the journal. If not, he banked the money until enough subscribers appeared, if ever they did. Meanwhile, he had money in the bank, and when he did publish, he already had his costs covered.

So with London Theatre Record. I could have cut and run if no replies came in to my mailing, but fortunately, enough subscriptions came back to pay the bill for issue 3 (I had used up the last of my redundancy money to print and mail Issue 1/2) and the trickle of income has kept me ahead of the bailiffs ever since. (My very first cheque came from the agent and producer Richard Jackson, the second from Peter Saunders).  I went to my dole office in Richmond (where the queue resembled a West London branch meeting of Equity at the time) and proudly told them I had started a magazine. Did this mean I would no longer be eligible for benefit?

So what was in that first issue? It was 40 pages in length, with a throwaway four-page cover. The cover was the remains of the tipsheet idea: it turned out that London managements were far more coy about supplying information on upcoming shows, and positively tight-lipped about how they proposed to finance them. All I could do was list a few forthcoming London productions in a section called ‘Next’, 34 of them in fact, from The Ticket-of-Leave Man at the Cottesloe in February to The Sound of Music,  due at the Victoria Palace in August; there was a short description and a telephone number for the press contact. The front cover listed the shows in the issue, and gave a list of those due to be covered in the following one. Inside the cover was a list of shows running, with opening dates, and another listing of those which had closed during the period of the issue.

The issue itself began with a listing of the three sets of awards for the previous year, given by the Society of West End Theatre, the London critics (voting in the now defunct Drama magazine) and what was at the time called the New Standard. There were collected reviews for twelve London shows, from critics representing trhe aforementioned New Standard, the  Daily Mail, Daily  and  Sunday Express, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, the Financial Times, Guardian, the Observer, the  Listener, New Statesman, Now! (Jimmy Goldsmith’s attempt to produce a British rival for Time magazine), Punch, the Spectator, and the listings papers Time Out and What’s On. By the end of the year, they had been joined by another listings paper, City Limits, and the far left fortnightly The Leveller. LBC Radio also supplied transcripts of its theatre reviews. The notable absentees were The Times  and  Sunday Times. The former’s then arts editor, John Higgins, I was told, ‘takes the view very strongly that for reasons of copyright and readership he doesn’t want theatre reviews from The Times to be reproduced.’ John Whitley of the Sunday Times had to agree. Long after, on reading his obituary, I realised that John Higgins had been one of my school prefects when I was in the fourth form; if I had known that at the time, the Old Boy network might have helped. As it was, The Times didn’t join us until 1990, when Benedict Nightingale, their new theatre critic, expressed surprise that he wouldn’t be included. The Sunday Times came on board soon afterwards, as has every new national and Sunday newspaper we have approached since.

The critics in that first issue included some who have left us, like Milton Shulman and Jack Tinker, but what is perhaps remarkable is how many of them are still writing today: Michael Billington, Michael  Coveney, Michael Darvell, Nicholas de Jongh, Sheridan Morley, Benedict Nightingale (then writing for the New Statesman), even a youthful Charles Spencer were all there. All the content of the paper that was not pasted up from the newspapers was laboriously typed by me on the latest IBM electric typewriter. Gambling a little, I had had two thousand extra copies of the cover printed with London Theatre Record in bright red, to provide at least a splash of colour to attract readers in future issues.

At the end of the year, Nick Hern said to me, ‘You are, of course, going to produce an index?’ So I sat down on the floor over Christmas and into January with a couple of books of raffle tickets, writing the names of actors on them together with the number of the production in which they had appeared (there were 311 that year) and shuffling them into index order – the joys of computer sorting were still a long way off.

I had survived the first year. I had a couple of hundred subscribers in Britain and about half that number overseas, the latter including a number passed on by the British Council, who I discovered had been producing an almost equally primitive collections of theatre review clippings and sending them to interested parties on their network. I saved the Council the cost of the employee who had been doing their cuttings (and I think I did the same service for the Arts Council), but alas they were unwilling to buy a bulk supply of the Record. Ironically, they had been clipping The Times, with no quibbles about permission. My income was not enough to earn a living, but various consultancies and my then wife’s income kept us financially afloat.

1982 brought innovations. Our first reviews from outside London came in a 32-page Edinburgh Festival Supplement, with a further four pages of grainy photographs, the first to appear in the publication. We began our association with The Scotsman at this time, printing their reviews as a quick guide to the Fringe, including their own Fringe Firsts. One of their Fringe reviewers was young Andrew Marr.  In the same year I produced a 16 page ‘Literary Supplement’, a blatant attempt to get some advertising by listing the year’s theatre books. It worked fairly well, but advertising has always been a problem for the journal. Over the years, various talented individuals have volunteered their services as advertising manger, including Mark Goucher, who has since done rather well as the producer of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and John Thaxter, prolific reviewer and long-time Record enthusiast, with no great success

The 1982 Index was also a much more ambitious affair than 1981’s 28 functional pages of names and productions. Donald Cooper supplied a colour photo of Richard Eyre’s Guys and Dolls for the cover (which I stuck on by hand) and inside were reprinted reviews of the year from a number of critics, plus lists of the year’s awards, honours, longest runs, and deaths – rather fuller information in some respects than the present Index provides. And Peter Saunders took the back cover to promote The Mousetrap – ‘now in its 4th decade’.

1983 saw further change. For the first time, production photographs became a regular feature of the journal, and I began a series of regular (and still mostly futile) pleas for production photographs that said something about the production rather than offering us the principals’ heads in close-up, usually against a deep black background that makes for great front-of house decoration but terrible printed images. It’s quite amazing that our theatres still pay so little attention to recording the look of productions, with all the image-making resources now at their disposal. Things were much better in the technological dark ages of the thirties, when publications like Theatre World and Play Pictorial regularly offered a detailed photographic record of the sets and costumes, often extremely lavish, for London’s hits. At least the search for pictures has produced a substantial photographic archive for two decades, which is to go to the Mander and Mitchenson Collection, where future researchers will have the enjoyable task of removing the masking tape I attached to the photographs in order to give my printer a layout guide. Now that Theatre Record gets its photographs electronically, there will be no more hard-copy archive; I can only hope someone somewhere is preserving prints of all those TIFs and Jpegs, against the time when their electronic forms become obsolete.

I also began to include reviews of productions in the regions for the first time in 1983. There were about a hundred of them including Stratford and Chichester, compared with London’s 358. In addition, the Edinburgh supplement went up to 64 pages.

And there was Prompt Corner. ‘The intent of this opening couple of pages is to offer readers information (and comment) that can’t easily be fitted into the Record’s basic format … It is also an opportunity for the editor to let off steam after a boring week of chasing material and pasting up reviews.’ It carried notes about current theatrical controversies, book reviews and previews of coming shows. In October 1983 I was protesting ‘It’s not my job to produce drama criticism, only to marshal it. But to do the job properly, as the London stage’s critical archivist, I do need to see a good proportion of what goes on – and I certainly reserve the right to make my own comments, particularly when it appears to me that a production’s merit has been neglected.’

There began the slippery slope. From drawing attention to critical disagreements I moved to disagreeing with the critics, and ever so slowly metamorphosed into a critic myself, often as much a critic of critics as of productions. There was resistance at first from the ‘real’ critics, along the lines of ‘who does he think he is?’, and indeed it wasn’t until 1989 that I was admitted to the hallowed halls of the Critics’ Circle. Several previous applications had been turned down, on the grounds that Circle members had to make their living from criticism. In vain did I protest that one of the Circle’s founder’s was John Parker, my predecessor as editor of Who’s Who in the Theatre; I also pointed out that I was in my own way trying to make my living from criticism, even if I still wasn’t making a profit out of it. However, I had managed to sneak in a little earlier to a parallel organisation, the International Association of Theatre Critics, who set slightly less rigorous standards and for whom I became assistant general secretary in 1985. (I’m now its President.)

In the international critical gatherings I had the good fortune to attend at that time, thanks both to IATC and to an association with the International Theatre Institute which dated right back to the days of the bid to set up Theatre Monthly, I found myself putting the case for the critic as enthusiastic theatregoer. Where colleagues in the East of Europe and nearer gained doctorates in theaterwissenschaft, the friends I made among British, American, French and Canadian critics just went to the theatre a lot. I had done this, first as a keen playgoer and subsequently by invitation as editor of Who’s Who and then London Theatre Record. By the time I was writing theatre criticism – or, to be fair, theatre reviews – I reckon I had seen a couple of thousand shows in or from a couple of dozen countries. This was exactly the way most British theatre critics came to the job, and I have often since defended it against the more scholarly approach of overseas critics who may have a much deeper theoretical knowledge, but simply haven’t been to the theatre enough.

In 1984 I finally listened to the grumblings of librarians everywhere and started to date the critics’ reviews. It meant more typing, but in April of that year London Theatre Record acquired its first computer, which gradually began to have an impact, first on the listings and index, and by 1985 on the casts, which from this point are held on computer discs – it’s a pity that the first few years are on discs which are no longer readable. It wasn’t until the end of the year that I found a programme that would convert the very ugly typeface of my dot matrix printer into something typographically satisfactory. Even that took an age to print – I had to leave the printer on all night to produce a couple of pages of Prompt Corner.

It was in 1985 that my financial bacon was saved by the offer of a part-time fellowship at City University, the fruit of which was an international conference on Databases for the Theatre, which I organised in September of that year. I’d been plugging this idea ever since the Record  started, since I hoped that its archive of production material would become the core of a database for British theatre. (I’d even kept – and still have - the programmes and dates of playbills for 1980, the ‘missing year’ in London theatre between the end of Who’s Who’s playbills and the start of London Theatre Record’s.) The conference was very valuable in setting out what was going on in a number of other countries and in a number of parallel disciplines, but the impressive Resolution it produced, calling for a British Theatre Database, fell on deaf ears. Personal computers were far too small then to store much workable data, and the big ones belonged to people who were not very interested in the theatre. All I could do was continue to collect Britain ’s casts and credits, although at least for a while they were stored on the Munich Theatre Museum’s computer, which happened to be that of the Bavarian Ministry of Agriculture. I’ll come back to the database question later in this paper.

My international involvements meant that occasional articles were now creeping into the Record about the theatre scene in other countries. In 1986 I was invited to Adelaide, and in 1987 to Perth, to produce London Theatre Record supplements on their festivals, reprinting the local critics. A direct result of this was the arrival of Australian (later Australian and New Zealand) Theatre Record, which used the LTR  formula with great success and a little subsidy under its editor, Jeremy Eccles. Later, Jeremy handed on the publication to the University of New South Wales, which carried on the good work for a while, and even began electronically scanning the Australian and New Zealand reviews which it published, making a cleaner, if less characterful publication than London’s still scruffy paste-up. Sadly, our Antipodean cousin ran out of funding support and ceased publication in, I believe, 1996. At around the same time, our original inspiration, New York Theatre Critics’ Reviews, which had been bought by Playbill, also went under.

In 1990 I thought we’d better alert the world to the fact that London Theatre Record had been covering rather more than London theatre for some time now, so that a new title appeared on the masthead for 1991, simply Theatre Record. By that time we were covering nearly 600 London productions alone, in over 1700 pages of reviews – twice as many shows before counting the regions, in more than twice as many pages.

To make these  riches more accessible, we decided to put London Theatre Record on to CD-ROM – after all, the complete ten years were now occupying more than a yard of shelf-space. By asking for subscriptions, and by charging a huge price which was nevertheless substantially lower than that of the hard copy, we were able to shift enough of the four-disc set of CDs that resulted to pay for the huge investment involved. The beauty of Messrs Canon’s system was that you could look up a production in the index, then go directly to the page on which it was reviewed. Once there, reproduction quality and a zoom facility meant that the reviews were very readable, indeed often more readable than the originals in the case of our first few, shaky years of print quality.  Unfortunately, the operating system was based on the now outdated Microsoft MS-DOS, and you’ll be lucky to find a computer in action which can read them today. (If you can, we still have a few copies, at knock-down prices …)

You may have noticed the ‘we’ in that last paragraph. In the early years I had a little part-time help on the Record from a neighbour, who looked after the subscription lists. I also acquired the services of a maths teacher friend, who was good at VAT, one Ruth Keeley. Little by little, over the years, Ruth came into the office more and more, taking on the subscriptions, then learning to paste-up rather straighter than I could ever manage, and finally taking on much of the day-to-day running of the journal, on a half-time basis. Put simply, the Record could no longer happen without Ruth’s unobtrusive input. I thought that this would become impossible when she moved to Chichester a couple of years ago, but largely thanks to her ingenuity we were able to surmount the difficulties of geography.

By 1991 Theatre Record had settled into a steady pattern: subscriptions had neared the thousand mark, and have remained around there ever since. Later changes to the journal were mostly cosmetic, with the appearance of the text getting better as typography came to word processing programmes. Colour covers arrived in 1994, thanks to the excellent programme suppliers John Good Holbrook. ‘If we let you advertise your services on the back’, I said, ‘how would you like to print our covers for free?’ They most generously agreed, and continued the arrangement for several years, but when in 1999 they very reasonably said ‘We think your readers know who we are, now,’ and withdrew their advertisements, it left a nasty hole in the Record’s budget. The mono printer who had faithfully produced the rest of the journal since its beginning couldn’t do colour, so I asked another local printer if they would like to print the cover. They asked if they could quote on the whole job, and came up with a price that was usefully less than I was paying for the innards alone. It was a great wrench to leave a printer who had served us courteously and faithfully for nineteen years and I felt rather guilty when they later went out of business, but it was time to move on: our current printers were much more technically advanced and have given us a better and quicker service ever since.

Apart from John Good Holbrook’s help, and a few small donations from well-wishing subscribers, the Record  has never received any subsidy. I tell a lie – there was a two-year period when the Arts Council gave us money to produce a quarterly supplement which it was hoped would encourage the critics to pay more attention to more experimental, performance-based work. It was called Cuttings from the Edge. It took a lot of time to find material for this supplement, and while it may have proved the point that not nearly enough cutting edge work gets reviewed it was a disaster for us – we must be the only recipient of Arts Council money to have lost on the deal, since Cuttings from the Edge cost more to print and distribute than what they gave us.

More recently, we even gave a little subsidy of our own. By 1998 I was secretary of the Critics’ Circle’s drama section, and when their annual awards looked likely to cease from lack of support, the Record  chipped in for a couple of years’ ceremonies (1999 and 2000) to ensure their survival. This was not because the Record had suddenly become rich, but the death of my parents in 1999 had left me with a small inheritance and taken away the worry that any money I did have would go to their care, so that at this point I could at least consider myself, and thus the Record, financially secure.

Prompt Corner has regularly carried my denunciations of theatre directors who overstayed their welcome – my view is still that a ten year stint, maximum fifteen, should be all that they can expect before they go stale and need another challenge. After twenty years with the journal, it was time to think about following my own maxim. The name of an ‘editor designate’ appeared on the masthead of the 2001 volume, Verena Winter. Verena, a native of Vienna but a long-time lover of British theatre (she did her thesis on our pantomime) brought an immense enthusiasm to her unpaid task, receiving only expenses for a great deal of work and travel, with the intention that she would take over the journal after a year’s apprenticeship. After a while, however, it became clear that she could not realistically shoulder the financial burden (it makes a great difference if you have paid off your mortgage and can at least run a rent-free office), and while Verena continued her valuable assistance it was necessary to look for an alternative successor.

I found such a person at the beginning of 2004 in Ian Shuttleworth. Ian had all the right qualifications: a critic himself, for the Financial Times and other journals, he had also had experience of putting together journals, both as theatre editor of the old City Limits and as the person who stayed up all night at the National Student Drama Festival to produce the festival’s daily paper. Added to that, he had the same interest in recording theatre history as myself, and a great deal more knowledge of how computers and new technology might help, both in compiling data and in producing the magazine. The clincher was that Ian leads a modest lifestyle and was likely to cost the Record far less than its high-living, globetrotting founder editor. It seemed possible that he could make a modest living out of the journal, and on this prospect he agreed to take it on. The transition has been a remarkably smooth one, since we worked side by side for much of 2004, enabling me to give up my responsibilities and cut down on a heavy schedule of theatregoing with very little sense of  loss. It remains to be seen whether Ian really can make a living out of what has never been a moneymaking proposition, but the fact that subscriptions for last year actually went up (albeit fractionally) is cause for hope.

When I started the journal, I reckoned that it would be computer-proof for five, maximum ten years. Twenty five years later, I am less worried. Certainly there is a lot of theatre information available on the internet, and there are several dozen websites doing parts of what I originally set out to do, with speed and enthusiasm. You can, if you have the time, find reviews overnight. You can find news of upcoming productions in many places, in much greater detail. But when it comes down to gathering together information about a play or an actor and how they were received by the critics, about opening and closing dates, about awards, the Record and its indexes still remain the easiest medium. (I’ve just completed an article on twenty-five years of the Stage newspaper; I was offered the twenty-five years on DVD, but scanning through them was a nightmare and I turned with relief to the original, printed pages.)

This is not to say that a little more computerisation wouldn’t help. We have our own simple website, set up for us for free by one of our subscribers, and I know that Ian has plans to extend it – at present all you can read there are the contents list of each issue, and our own columns, which are not subject to newspaper copyright. And as a retirement project I have it in mind to create a proper database out of the twenty-plus years of production data that are assembled, in one form or another, in the Theatre Record and London Theatre Record archive.

I’d hoped that this might happen under an academic umbrella. Indeed, at the end of 2003 the Drama Department of Goldsmith’s College very kindly agreed to put up a bid to the Arts and Humanities Research Board to support just such a project under its Resource Enhancement Scheme. We didn’t have a lot of time to put in the application, and it could have been more polished, with better technical explanations, but it looked pretty good to me. This was the 100-word project summary which AHRB required:

‘Over ten thousand production in London alone, from the West End, the subsidised sector and the Fringe, are covered in the first 20 volumes of the authoritative journal Theatre Record, with several thousand more in the regions. Twenty years and more of full cast details and technical credits will be organised into a searchable database under this ambitious project, which will provide a jumping-off point for anyone undertaking research into the writers, performers and productions of the period. Ongoing maintenance will make this the single most effective online reference to contemporary British theatre in performance.’

The application went in, followed by a long silence. I finally discovered that the Goldsmiths bid had been rejected, not with a ‘go away and do some more work on this’ recommendation, but with an R rating, which means ‘go away and don’t come back.’ The rejection letter had attached to it copies of the two referees’ reports which the awards panel had in front of it when looking at the bid. To my surprise, both were extremely favourable, one saying ‘This project will transform research in  an important area of study … it is of the utmost importance,’ and continuing with, ‘Put simply, the project is cheap at the price. Its impact will be immense and will be [money] well spent.’ The other pointed out that the material was of immense value beyond the boundaries of strict theatre research, and concluded ‘This scheme must be a very high priority for an award. The scholars involved are exceptionally well equipped to carry through the project.’

The panel itself was not impressed. It thought that ‘the Theatre Record source is an incomplete account of the British theatre scene’ and ‘was not convinced that it could serve as the basis of actors’ biographies. The data does not adequately cover provincial performance … Because the reviews would have to be excluded from the database for reasons of intellectual property rights, the project would be limited in its usefulness in this respect too.’

Now in the academic world you’re not supposed to argue with decisions like this, but not being an academic I thought I should at least protest to the Board, that after such glowing testimonials, the project had been turned down flat on the basis of some completely different and unchallenged thinking, some of it seriously flawed. So I did.  Of course it got me nowhere: I got a polite but uninformative letter back from the Board, and Goldsmiths asked me to back off in case my flailings damaged an even bigger bid which they were putting together. As it happens, that bid was also turned down.

So you may have to wait a while for the Theatre Record biographical and production database, and for this you can blame a couple of academics sitting in a cosy room in Bristol. But I will do my best to make it happen yet, I promise you, with or  - as seems most likely - without funding. After all, I’m used to it.

Ian Herbert - 17 January 2005

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