Articles: Artistic Directors (1967 - 1972)This article was first published in the August 2014 edition of the SJT Circular.
In 1967, the Library Theatre both relaunched itself as a professional venue whilst mourning the loss of its founder, Stephen Joseph.
Conventional wisdom has it that Stephen Joseph was succeeded as Artistic Director by Alan Ayckbourn and that, alongside present incumbent Chris Monks, the SJT has had three Artistic Directors.
But Alan Ayckbourn was not appointed Artistic Director until 1972 and in the intervening years, several largely unrecognised people helped guide the theatre and keep it running.
In 1966, Stephen Joseph had transferred Scarborough Theatre Trust to a new board as a result of the theatre manager Ken Boden’s plans to relaunch the Library Theatre after Stephen closed it in 1965.
The board consisted of Ken and his wife Margaret, the BBC radio producer Alfred Bradley, the playwright David Campton, Stephen Joseph (in a nominal role due to his terminal illness), David McLachlan, Maurice Plows and the chairman Dr N. Walsh. They were responsible for guiding the theatre and finding someone to succeed Stephen Joseph.
Between 1967 and 1971, the theatre did not have a permanent Artistic Director as the board annually appointed a Director Of Productions for each year; at this point the theatre was only operating for 13 week summer seasons.
The first of these temporary roles was taken by Rodney Wood, a protege of Stephen Joseph recruited by Ken Boden. Rodney programmed the first post Stephen Joseph season which included world premieres by Alan Plater (Hop, Step & Jump) and Alan Ayckbourn (The Sparrow) as well as productions of J.B. Priestley’s Eden End and Anouilh’s Romeo & Jeanette.
Rodney Wood stayed on for the 1968 season which saw him programme five plays including one new commission, A Boat In The Backyard by David Bramley.
Rodney’s two seasons were predominantly a success and included early career performances by the likes of Robert Powell, John Nettles and Tom Baker. As such he had steadied the ship.
But a longer term solution was needed and it’s not hard to believe all eyes were on another of Stephen Joseph’s proteges who had recently had tremendous success in the West End. The focus shifted to Alan Ayckbourn.
Except Alan was no longer working in theatre. Although still writing plays, he was employed as a Radio Drama Producer by the BBC in Leeds; a role he had taken on in 1965 and would keep until 1970.
The Board asked Alan to become Director Of Productions in 1969, which he agreed to and programmed four plays including the world premiere of his own How The Other Half Loves. Then, as for so many years later, the season would be built around an Ayckbourn play, the success of which gave the theatre room to take risks with new writing.
Alan continued to juggle his role at the BBC and that of Director Of Productions in 1970 before passing the baton to Caroline Smith in 1971; Caroline having split directing duties with Alan the previous year.
Caroline was, alongside Rodney Wood, the second of the theatre’s forgotten Artistic Directors. She directed four of five plays that year with Alan returning only to direct his new play Time And Time Again.
Alan returned as Director Of Productions in 1972 and after a successful season, the Board offered him the appointment of full-time Artistic Director. Alan accepted the role, which he would keep until 2009.
When we look at the history of the SJT - particularly those years during the ‘60s when its future was far from certain - it’s perhaps time we recognised not only Stephen Joseph, Alan Ayckbourn and Chris Monks but also Rodney Wood and Caroline Smith, who in much smaller but essential ways made important contributions to the theatre as it sought to secure its future.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce this article without the permission of the copyright holder.