Articles: Success & Tragedy (1967)

This article was first published in the May 2014 edition of the SJT Circular.

In July 1967, the Library Theatre re-opened as a professional venue having been closed by Stephen Joseph 22 months earlier.
It was the beginning of a new phase of the company’s life which would eventually lead to Alan Ayckbourn being appointed Artistic Director of the venue in 1972.
But that was still relatively far in the future. For the 1967 summer season - the winter seasons having now abandoned due to limited finances - Rodney Wood became Director Of Productions and guided the theatre through four productions, re-establishing professional theatre-in-the-round in Scarborough.
Whilst it was a successful season for the venue and ensured short term survival at the very least, the most notable events of the year took place away from the Library Theatre itself.
Two years previously in 1965, Alan Ayckbourn had written the play,
Meet My Father, which had been directed by Stephen Joseph and proved to be a huge success with the London producer Peter Bridge optioning it for the West End.
Over the next two years,
Meet My Father began a laborious journey which involved extensive re-writing and four changes of title. The journey concluded at the Duke Of York’s Theatre in London.
It was the first play from the Library Theatre to transfer to the West End and arguably it changed the fortunes of both its author and the Library Theatre. The play, renamed
Relatively Speaking, was a phenomenal hit and launched Alan Ayckbourn to theatrical fame.
The Library Theatre had produced its first bona fide breakout hit - which almost 50 years later is still going strong around the world - and Stephen Joseph saw one of his proteges begin the steps to a career and success neither could have imagined.
It was a success followed by tragedy.
Less than six months after
Relatively Speaking had opened in the West End and three months after the Library Theatre was relaunched, Stephen Joseph died on 5 October 1967.
He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer early in the previous year and given just months to live. Determined as he was, Stephen Joseph actually lived for 18 months and although increasingly bed-bound was practically working to the last.
What might have been a devastating blow for the Library Theatre was tempered by the fact that Stephen had, to all intents and purposes, ceased to be an active participant in the venue the previous year.
On 12 October 1966, Stephen announced he would step down as Chairman of Scarborough Theatre Trust. The decision was attributed to the state of his health; the extent of his condition - largely unreported at the time - became clear the same evening when the minutes for the AGM which followed noted Stephen had had to leave ‘through illness.’
Although he remained a member of the Trust until his death, he did not attend any further meetings and there are no records of what, if any, involvement Stephen had on the running of the relaunched theatre.
Despite his illness, he never stopped working and completed work on two books,
New Theatre Forms and Theatre In The Round (the latter offering a fascinating exploration of the Library Theatre’s first decade of existence), before his death in his Scarborough home.
Stephen’s legacy was never to be forgotten and just one month after his death, Scarborough Theatre Trust held a Special Meeting during which two important decisions were made. The first to buy the Claremont building on Castle Road - today the Scarborough Christian Centre - as a new home for the Library Theatre company.
Whilst this never came to fruition, it did set the wheels in motion for the prolonged hunt for a new home for the company. A new home which would eventually bear the legacy of the second decision made in 1967.
“It was further proposed and seconded: ‘That the name of the theatre should bear the name of Stephen Joseph.’ This was carried unanimously.”

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