Year-by-Year: The Stephen Joseph Theatre (1964)

Welcome back to our look into the history of Alan Ayckbourn’s home theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre, looking at significant events, people and plays.

1964 saw the creation of a vital aspect of the SJT which continues to play an essential role in the everyday running of the theatre and company.

1964: Scarborough Theatre Trust by Simon Murgatroyd

In 1964, the company which runs the Stephen Joseph Theatre to this day was formed following a period of uncertainty about the future of The Library Theatre.

When Stephen Joseph founded The Library Theatre in 1955, it was run under the auspices of Studio Theatre Ltd, which Stephen had founded the same year. For most of the first decade, media reports referred to the Studio Theatre company rather than The Library Theatre company.

Alan Ayckbourn outside the Library Theatre, Scarborough
(© Scarborough Theatre Trust)

Studio Theatre Ltd was one of the means Stephen used to raise finances for his new venture during 1955, issuing £1,000 of shares.

In 1962, however, Studio Theatre Ltd – along with the majority of its assets – moved to Stoke-on-Trent with the opening of the UK’s first in-the-round venue, the Victoria Theatre. This was to prove problematic.

Stephen initially believed he could run both the Scarborough and Stoke ventures under Studio Theatre Ltd, but with the move came a substantial cut in subsidy from the Arts Council. Realising he barely had enough money to keep the new venture going, The Library Theatre was cut loose from Studio Theatre Ltd with no Arts Council support.

In order to keep The Library Theatre running, another of Stephen’s companies – Theatre In The Round Ltd – took over The Library Theatre. However, in order to remain financially viable, the winter seasons were cut and the summer seasons shortened.

In 1964, a specific company was incorporated – Scarborough Theatre Trust – to run The Library Theatre and help put the company onto a firmer footing. This is the company which still runs the theatre to this day.

Scarborough Theatre Trust was incorporated as a company on 11 August 1964 by Herbert Simpson, Son & Bennett in Leicester; the theatre manager, David Campton, was from Leicester hence the use of solicitors there rather than Scarborough.

The Company was established to ‘promote, maintain, improve and advance education, particularly by the production of educational plays and the encouragement of the Arts, including the arts of drama, mime, dance, singing and music, and to formulate, prepare and establish schemes therefor provided that all objects of the Company shall be of a charitable nature.’

It should be pointed out the Company has over the past five decades not encouraged much in the way of mime! But then it’s probably over-achieved in the realm of encouraging drama.

The initial board of the trust consisted of Stephen Joseph, David Campton, Kenneth and Margaret Boden, Alfred Bradley, Maurice Plows and Stephen’s house-keeper Veronica Pemberton Billing (Stephen’s house-keeper).

It’s perhaps interesting to note that Alan Ayckbourn is not part of this list, but at this point, he was no longer part of either The Library Theatre or the Victoria Theatre, having left the latter to concentrate following his first – rather ubnsuccessful – West End transfer during 1964. Alan would be invited to join the Scarborough Theatre Trust board in the years following Stephen Joseph’s death in 1967 whilst Alan was working for the BBC as a Radio Drama Producer.

Although the company was formed to be of a ‘charitable nature’, Scarborough Theatre Trust did not actually become registered as a charity until 18 September 1967.

No sooner had the company been formed though, then its end seemed imminent. At the end of the 1965 summer season, Stephen Joseph announced The Library Theatre was to close and Scarborough Theatre Trust’s sole aim was to find a new home for the company – preferably, Stephen noted, not in Scarborough!

However, the theatre manager Ken Boden worked tirelessly to restore the company and on 12 August 1966, Stephen Joseph – now terminally ill – stepped down as Chairman and handed over control of the company – with all debts excused – to a new board.

The company immediately began steps to relaunch professional theatre at The Library Theatre during summer 1967 and which has continued unbroken through to the present day.

Following Stephen’s death, it was the Scarborough Theatre Trust which made the fateful decision in 1972 to appoint Alan Ayckbourn as Artistic Director of the company; a decision which in no small measure ensured it survival and allowed it to thrive.

More recently, the board has been responsible for appointing the SJT’s present Artistic Director, Paul Robinson, and Executive Director, Caroline Routh.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. All images are copyright of Scarborough Theatre Trust (unless noted). Please do not reproduce either the article or images without permission of the copyright holder.

These articles were first published in the Circular – the e-publication for the SJT Circle supporters’ organisation. During these difficult times for theatres, the SJT Circle is a great way of helping to support the theatre and further details can be found here.

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