Ayckbourn, Sir Alan, b.1939, playwright

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Ayckbourn, Sir Alan, b.1939, playwright

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Sir Alan Ayckbourn was born in London on 12 April 1939, the son of Horace Ayckbourn, lead violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra, and the novelist Irene Maud Worley. He was educated at Haileybury Imperial and Service College and left school at 17 to pursue a career in the theatre.

In 1956 he worked for Sir Donald Wolfit as stage manager for ‘The Strong Are Lonely’ at the Edinburgh Festival. He subsequently went on to work at theatres in Worthing, Leatherhead and Oxford, before being employed in 1957 as a stage manager and actor at Stephen Joseph’s Library Theatre, home to the UK’s first professional theatre-in-the-round company, Studio Theatre Ltd.

Encouraged by Joseph to write and direct, Ayckbourn wrote his first two plays there under the pseudonym ‘Roland Allen,’ namely ‘The Square Cat,’ and ‘Love After All,’ both of which were staged successfully at Scarborough in 1959. In 1961 he directed his first play there, ‘Gaslight.’

In 1962 Ayckbourn was involved in the creation of the first permanent professional theatre in-the-round at the Victoria Theatre in Stoke on Trent, founded by Stephen Joseph as a permanent home for Studio Theatre Ltd. He premiered two further plays there, ‘Christmas V Mastermind’ and ‘Mr Whatnot.’ In 1964 ‘Mr Whatnot’ was staged in London, albeit to poor reviews.

In 1965 Ayckbourn began working for BBC Leeds as a radio drama producer but he continued to write; his play ‘Meet My Father’ was staged by the Library Theatre in 1965 and in 1967 it opened in London’s West End under the new title ‘Relatively Speaking’ to great success.

He followed this with ‘How The Other Half Loves,’ in 1969, ‘The Norman Conquests’ trilogy in 1973, ‘Absurd Person Singular’ and ‘Bedroom Farce’ in 1975, and ‘Just Between Ourselves’ in 1976, winning Evening Standard Awards for best comedy in 1973 and best play in 1974 and 1977 and establishing himself as one of the UK’s most popular and successful playwrights. As of 2015 Ayckbourn has written 79 full length plays, including children’s theatre and musical plays such as ‘By Jeeves,’ a collaboration with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber that premiered in 1996, directed by Ayckbourn.

Eighteen of Ayckbourn’s plays have been televised and a number of them have also been adapted for film. In 1988 Michael Winner directed an adaptation of ‘A Chorus of Disapproval,’ and in 1993 French film director Alain Resnais directed the first of three Ayckbourn adaptations, ‘Smoking/No Smoking’ based on the play ‘Intimate Exchanges.’ He followed this with an adaptation of ‘Private Fears in Public Places’ in the film ‘Coeurs’ in 2006 and in 2014 he filmed ‘Life of Riley’ as ‘Aimer, Boire et Chanter.’ Ayckbourn’s plays have also been translated into multiple languages and are regularly performed around the world.

In addition to his theatrical writing, Ayckbourn is also a director and a strong advocate of theatre-in-the-round with all but four of his plays having their premiere in Scarborough as in-the-round productions, often directed by Ayckbourn himself. Between 1986 and 1988 he was a company director at the National Theatre, where he directed Michael Gambon in ‘A View From A Bridge’ in 1987.

He has also continued his involvement with the Library Theatre created by Stephen Joseph and renamed the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1978. Joseph died in 1967 and in 1972 Ayckbourn was appointed Artistic Director of the Library Theatre, a position he held until 2009.

As Director, Ayckbourn was concerned with finding a suitable new venue. The Library Theatre had been so named because it was located in a disused first floor room of the town library. It was not until 1988 that a suitable venue became available in the form of the town’s recently closed Odeon cinema. Ayckbourn led the efforts to raise funds for the new theatre and in 1990 the newly formed Scarborough Theatre Development Trust acquired the lease on the Odeon building. Conversion work began in 1993 and in 1996 the Stephen Joseph Theatre was officially opened with the premiere of ‘By Jeeves.’

In the course of his career Sir Alan Ayckbourn has received numerous awards and honours, including two Oliviers, a Tony, two Molieres and Lifetime Achievement Awards from both the Variety Club of Great Britain and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. He was the 1992 Cameron Mackintosh Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University and is also the recipient of a Montblanc de la Culture Award for Europe for ‘establishing a thriving theatrical tradition in Scarborough and for his dedication and commitment to it’. In 2009, he was inducted into American Theater’s Hall of Fame and received the prestigious Society's Special Award at the Laurence Olivier Awards. In the same year an ‘Ayckbourn Festival’ was held in Northampton to mark his seventieth birthday

The holder of a number of honorary degrees, including an Honorary Doctorate from the University of York, Sir Alan was appointed a CBE in 1987 and in 1997 was knighted for services to the theatre. He continues to write and direct; in 2014 he directed a new musical adaptation of his play, ‘The Boy Who Fell Into A Book,’ at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.


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ISAAR(CPF): International Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2003); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).


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Simon Murgatroyd, 'Alan Ayckbourn: Long Biography' http://biography.alanayckbourn.net/styled/index.html

British Council, 'Sir Alan Ayckbourn' http://literature.britishcouncil.org/alan-ayckbourn

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Created by Sally-Anne Shearn, May 2015.
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