The Jubilee Show

As we come out of the Queen’s Jubilee weekend, there’s a little known Ayckbourn Jubilee connection as 45 years ago today, Alan Ayckbourn premiered what is likely his most obscure work.

For the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, Alan Ayckbourn co-wrote a revue called The Jubilee Show which was performed just once at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on the Round, Scarborough, and was seen by virtually no-one before being lost for more than 20 years.

Indeed, until it was found in 2007, there was no official record of it held by either Alan Ayckbourn or the Stephen Joseph Theatre, it was a work which had simply vanished.

Advert for The Jubilee Show from The Scarborough Evening News.

Today, not much more is known about it,as all that survives is a single manuscript and an advert from the local newspaper. The playwright barely recalls it and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I’ve met who saw it; on all of whom it made no lasting impression!

The story of The Jubilee Show dates back to 1977 and the nationwide celebrations of the silver anniversary of the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Alan’s home theatre – of which he was Artistic Director – The Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round was already celebrating the Jubilee with a successful lunchtime show called Westwood Coronation Day Street Party, by Bob Eaton. This show had proven to be a tremendous hit and, as a result, it was decided to mount a one-off revue for the actual night of the anniversary.

Mervyn Watson, an associate director at the theatre, did the research and Alan shaped it into a revue with songs; although Alan recalls writing for it, he believes much of the script was written by Mervyn. The piece is ostensibly a trip through the major events of the past 25 years delivered as a slightly surreal news broadcast.

The late addition of the show the schedule can be seen by the fact there appeared to be very little promotion of it with no promotional flyers or posters having survived nor is it mentioned in the theatre’s season brochures. In fact, all that is held in archive is an advert from the Scarborough Evening News from 6 June.

The advert doesn’t even have the name of the play in it with the evening described as ‘The Company in A Royal Tribute, a special entertainment for Jubilee Day with Guest Pianist Michael Garrick’. It was followed by a Jubilee Dance to the music of Image and preceded by a free glass of sherry in the bar.

The revue was held on 7 June 1977 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round with tickets priced at £2 and limited to just 250. It was performed by the entire acting company alongside pianist Michael Garrick.

Looking back, Alan suspects there were more people on stage than in the audience.

What had seemed a good idea in the wake of the success of Westwood Coronation Day Street Party – which had already been performed that day to a full house – was tempered in hindsight with the realisation most people were either watching the celebrations on TV that evening or taking part in the myriad events organised to celebrate the day.

Given the nature of the piece, it’s perhaps not surprising the revue was never performed again. More surprising is the fact it was completely lost and forgotten. No manuscript was kept by the playwright nor the theatre and it was not added to any official list of productions.

It wasn’t even a mystery as, essentially, it no longer existed.

In 2007, whilst clearing out filing cabinets at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, I found a copy of the manuscript, stuffed at the back of a cabinet, labelled The Jubilee Show by Alan Ayckbourn and Mervyn Watson. At that point, it did become a mystery as I’d never come come across any reference to it before.

Alan himself identified it and provided what little backstory he could remember – essentially all of the above. It was agreed to add The Jubilee Show to Alan’s ‘Grey Plays;’, pieces which have been performed, but then either withdrawn or lost and which have never been published nor performed again.

The only know original copy of the manuscript is now held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.

It is probably the most obscure and least know of all of Alan Ayckbourn’s works and, in all likelihood, is the piece seen by the fewest amount of people. But fortunately, it wasn’t lost completely, and 45 years on as another Jubilee ends, a few more people now know about it having read this.

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