Articles: The End? (1965)

This article was first published in the November 2013 edition of the SJT Circular.

In 1965, the Library Theatre - home to the UK’s first professional theatre-in-the-round company - closed its doors for apparently the final time.
Unable to secure consistent or long-term support for the venue from either Scarborough Town Council or the Library Committee, Stephen Joseph announced the venue was to close at the end the summer season, 11 years after it had opened in 1955.
It was not an idle threat nor a surprise. As early as 1963, Stephen had written a comprehensive and forthright document stating the future of the Library Theatre would be in jeopardy if the facilities were not upgraded or better support offered. It was a source of some frustration and disappointment that these issues were neither acknowledged nor properly addressed.
Against this, Stephen had successfully launched the first permanent theatre-in-the-round venue in the UK at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, in 1962. With a supportive council there, Stephen optimistically believed the future of theatre-in-the-round lay there, rather than Scarborough.
On 9 July 1965, Stephen announced to the Scarborough Theatre Trust board that there would be no performances at the Library Theatre in 1966 and that unless alternative premises were found, the company would not perform again in Scarborough.
As far as he was concerned, the Scarborough project had ended. In his book Theatre In The Round, published in 1966, he discussed the decision to close the Library Theatre.

"The odd thing about Scarborough is that the corporation runs its own theatres and puts on its own entertainments, and they have never decided if we are a rival company that should be driven out of town, or a good addition to the wide range of attractions that a seaside town wants to boast of. Somewhere between these two extremes is the position from which no action is taken.... It became clear that a place that was admirable for the first steps, had been outgrown entirely; and just as there is discomfort in wearing clothes that are too small, and embarrassment in wearing fashions that have just gone out, so the company felt increasingly uncomfortable and unhappy at the Library. We wanted to develop in every way, and, if this was not possible, the sensible alternative seemed to be to abandon Scarborough altogether."

The news was made public on 27 August, when the Scarborough Evening News interviewed Stephen Joseph and he lambasted the lack of support for the venue.

"This theatre is now totally inadequate for our company's needs. It has no storage space, no proper dressing rooms, no kitchen for making refreshments and washing up crockery etc. For several years, we have repeatedly asked for help from Scarborough Council, but they have done nothing to improve facilities at the Library Theatre.... Therefore, it seems we have no choice but to find our own theatre, even if it means - as it most probably will - that we must move from Scarborough at the end of this season."

It wasn’t as though the theatre itself was not doing well. Stephen himself noted it was “perhaps ironical that we must close the Library Theatre after a season of record returns.” But good box-office did not solve the underlying issues.
In November, a document was published in which the reasons for the closure of the venue were made clear. The decision to close was confirmed by the theatre's board on 17 December when it was absolutely confirmed there would be no professional season in 1966.
Stephen’s great theatre experiment had ended and there was seemingly no hope for the future....
Except, waiting in the wings, was an unlikely saviour in the shape of an insurance agent and keen amateur theatrical, Ken Boden.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce this article without the permission of the copyright holder.