theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
‘With her gap-toothed grin and deep-set eyes, croaky-voiced and always with some sort of cap or bobble hat on her head, she resembled a cross between a Tartar warrior and a Cockney char.’ Alan Strachan, The Independent 23-09-02.
‘He became boring. He went down the drain. He was a snob, Jimmie, a great talent but always plugging the same thing. That beard, it was very bad.’ On her first husband Jimmie Miller, later the folk singer Ewan MacColl. The Times 23-09-02.
‘[The word actor] It’s an insult to them. I called them nuts, crackpots, tossers … I love them, the bastards. I never told them so.’ The Times 23-09-02.
‘I hate the bloody book. It’s not much good.’ On her autobiography, Joan’s Book. The Times 23-09-02.
‘To the end, the Bert Brecht cap still sat askew on auburn frizzy hair, the features were those of a perky pug, she was combative, ungrateful, rude — and still tossing obscenities at the Arts Council.’ The Times Obituary 23-09-02.
‘We are both creatures of Joan’s imagination.’ Brendan Behan to Shelagh Delaney. The Guardian 25-09-02.
‘… you’d do better to bomb that building [NT]. I had to put up with an old slum in London; yours need never have been.’ Letter to Richard Eyre when he wrote to ask if the National could do Oh, What a Lovely War! The Guardian 25-09-02.
‘…when it was over I couldn’t help thinking many of the commercial people breathed a sigh of relief and closed their doors again.’ Brian Murphy, The Guardian 25-09-02.
‘The Theatre of Action realises that the very class which plays the chief part in contemporary history — the class upon which the prevention of war and the defeat of reaction solely depends — is debarred from expression in the present day theatre. This theatre will perform, mainly in working-class districts, plays which express the life and struggles of the workers. Politics, in its fullest sense, means the affairs of the people. In this sense the plays done will be political. ‘The manifesto of Theatre Workshop’s earlier incarnation, Theatre of Action. The Times 23-09-02.
‘She was a fighter to the end.’ Peter Rankin. Daily Telegraph 23-09-02.
‘…too decorative…’ On Gielgud’s Hamlet in 1930. Daily Telegraph 23-09-02.
‘…full of debs learning elocution…’ On RADA to which she won a scholarship at 16 years old but left without completing the course. Daily Telegraph 23-09-02.
‘The critics are going to say it looks like something put together on a drunken afternoon and then thrown at the stage, missing it. We’ve sweated blood to achieve that. Just don’t expect approval.’ On taking Henry IV to the Edinburgh Festival. Daily Telegraph 23-09-02.
‘Don’t get stage-struck, get science-struck.’ Addressed to Peter Rankin, quoted by Rankin. Daily Telegraph 23-09-02.
‘You’re so blooming clever, why not do it yourself.’ To merchant seaman Stephen Lewis after a show one night. He later became famous as Blakey in On the Buses and Smiler in Last of the Summer Wine.
‘If we don’t get lost, we’ll never find a new route.’ ‘ [The seaside Pierrot troupe] was the right period and, after all, war is only for clowns.’ While working on Oh! What a Lovely War, Independent 23-09-02.
‘At that moment, I swear, I heard my heart crack.’ When George A Cooper and Harry H Corbett told her they were leaving the company for more money in the West End. The Independent 23-09-02.
‘Joan was a genius and loved her actors, and although she was a very tough taskmaster, she made [us] all into the actors [we] are today.’ Brian Murphy, Rogues & Vagabonds 23-09-02
‘I found her fascinating: entertaining, energy-inspiring…No actor could ever forget how she changed the face of British theatre.’ Linda Regan, Rogues & Vagabonds 23-09-02.
‘Littlewood was the most important influence of my life. I owe her everything, even though sometimes what was achieved struggled through the mists of confusion – and was frequently acrimonious. Her encouragement stimulated me and transformed my work as an actor. She taught me to be truthful. She made me take risks – the high diving board was always in evidence.’ Sir Nigel Hawthorne in his autobiography Straight Face, pub. Hodder & Stoughton, 2002.
‘It now seems quite likely that when the annals of the British theatre in the middle years of the 20th Century come to be written, Joan’s name will lead all the rest.’ Kenneth Tynan.
‘She … refused a lot of awards, she was very anti-establishment, and famous for being very bluntly spoken, and for offending the high and mighty without any qualms at all. Philip Hedley, artistic director Theatre Royal, Stratford East. Ananova 21-09-02.
‘I really do believe in the community. I really do believe in the genius in every person. And I’ve heard that greatness come out of them, that great thing which is in people. And that’s not romanticism, d’you see?’ The Guardian 23-09-02.
‘Good theatre draws the energies out of the place where it is and gives it back as joie de vivre.’ The Guardian 23-09-02.
‘Littlewood picked up influences like a scholarly jackdaw, insisting that her company prepare properly. Her pre-rehearsal reading list for a production of Aristophanes in 1940 ran to four Greek plays, eight academic books, Thucydides’s account of the Peloponnesian war and a study of Greek theatrical history. Any other approach was “mere philandering”. John Ezard and Michael Billington, The Guardian 23-09-02.
‘Losing him [Gerry Raffles] took the guts out of her.’ John Ezard and Michael Billington, The Guardian 23-09-02.
‘Life is a brief walk between two periods of darkness and anything that helps to cheer that up is valuable.’ The Guardian 23-09-02.
‘Lionel’s Final Fuck-up.’ Written on a plastic bag which contained Lionel Bart’s endless rewrites of Twang! The Independent 23-09-02.
‘The labyrinth where the Minotaur Binkie Beaumont lurked.’ Her description of the West End and commercial theatre. The Independent 23-09-02.
‘I don’t see much point [in interviews] I never did talk much about what I was doing.’ The Oldie 2002.
‘I don’t want my bloody photo taken! I’m not a bloody actress!’ The Oldie 2002.
‘A wonderful actor like Harry Corbett in that shitty old Steptoe every week, and that silly old man with him! It was terrible.’ The Oldie 2002.
‘Oh, I know how she’s [Barbara Windsor] getting on, the little bitch. I love her. She’s very bright, she’s a bloody good actress.’ The Oldie 2002.
‘Nearly eight years he [Sean Connery] tried to join us and I wouldn’t have him. He was terrible! There’s another one who wanted to join us … I forget these buggers’ names … it was so long ago … an East End fellow who’s taken another name. Peter, what was the name of that fuckface from the East End — the one I told to go to Hollywood?… Michael Caine! That’s the one. Years later, he would go around saying it was the best bit of bloody advice he ever had!’ The Oldie 2002.
‘I did an awful lot to improve their work. I have imagination. I know how theatre works.’ Improving the work of Brendan Behan and Shelagh Delaney. The Oldie 2002.
‘I couldn’t be bothered with it.’ On a damehood. The Oldie 2002
‘My actors were my children.’ On not having children. The Oldie 2002.
‘Once we took the piss out of the Royal Court by putting people in dustbins, which is what they were doing with Sam Beckett, but they wouldn’t play ball.’ On her belief that there should be ‘wars of the theatres’. The Oldie 2002.
Joan Littlewood [1914 – 2002]
Originally collated and published in 2002 © Sarah Vernon
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