- c 1978-2004 (Creation)
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0.22 cubic metres
Name of creator
Peter Whelan was born in 1931, the son of Tom Whelan, a lithographic artist in the Potteries, and his wife Bertha who worked for the Forestry Commission. Educated at Hanley High School, he spent his National Service in Berlin in 1950 before reading English and Philosophy at Keele University. After graduation he worked as an assistant surveyor in Stoke’s town planning office and later became an advertising copywriter in London.
Whelan’s interest in the theatre began at a young age. He often attended his local theatre at Hanley and attempted his three first plays before the age of 18. In the 1950s he and his wife became involved with the Questors amateur theatre company in Ealing, London, and he attended the Wedgwood Memorial College summer courses in drama near Stoke on Trent.
In 1964 he and several other Questor actors travelled to Berlin to present work by a group of young playwrights living there on Ford Foundation grants. Amongst them was the playwright Tom Stoppard and Whelan participated in the one-act forerunner to ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,’ later a critical and popular success for Stoppard.
It was in the 1960s that Whelan began to write again. In 1970 he collaborated with Don Kincaid on ‘Lakota,’ a drama based on the massacre at Wounded Knee, and in 1975 he had his first commercial success with ‘Double Edge,’ a thriller co-written with Les Darbon that played in the West End.
In 1978 he submitted his first solo script, ‘Captain Swing,’ as an unsolicited play to the Royal Shakespeare Company, or RSC. Based on the farm labourers’ rebellion of 1830, it became a critical success at their Other Place theatre the following year and transferred to Covent Garden.
He followed this in 1981 with ‘The Accrington Pals,’ a study of the Lancashire Battalion and their wives back home in England during World War One, and then the Germany and Staffordshire set ‘Clay’ in 1982.
Whelan’s work was often influenced by historical people, events and movements. In 1991 his play, ‘The Bright and Bold Design,’ focused on factory girls in the Potteries in the 1930s, in 1992 he turned to the life of Christopher Marlowe in ‘The School of Night,’ returning to this period for ‘The Herbal Bed,’ staged by the RSC in 1996, a play based on a court case involving William Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna.
His most recent plays, ‘A Russian in the Woods’ and ‘The Earthly Paradise,’ took post-war Berlin and the pre-Raphaelite artists respectively as their central themes.
Whelan also wrote for television, contributing several scripts to the Granada television series ‘In Suspicious Circumstances’ in the 1990s, as well as the script for ‘The Trial of Lord Lucan,’ again for Granada. In 2000 he worked on an ultimately unproduced story treatment for Richard Attenborough on the subject of Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
In 1996 Whelan was made an Honorary Artistic Associate of the Royal Shakespeare Company and in 2014 he received an Honorary Doctorate from Staffordshire University in recognition of his achievements.
Peter Whelan died in July 2014 at the age of 82.
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Draft and published editions of scripts, production notes, photographs, publicity and correspondence for theatrical works by Peter Whelan, including ‘Captain Swing,’ 1979; ‘The Accrington Pals,’ 1981; ‘Clay,’ 1982; ‘The Bright and Bold Design,’ 1991; ‘The School of Night,’ 1992; ‘Shakespeare Country,’ 1993; ‘The Tinderbox,’ 1995; ‘The Divine Right,’ 1996; ‘The Herbal Bed,’ 1996; ‘Overture,’ 1997; ‘A Russian in the Woods,’ 2001; and ‘The Earthly Paradise,’ 2004. Unproduced draft scripts, including ‘Marx: A Farce,’ n.d; ‘In the Time of Good Neighbours,’ n.d; and ‘The Burnt Njal, taken from Njal’s Saga,’ n.d.
Material relating to television and film work by Peter Whelan, including television scripts for ‘In Suspicious Circumstances’ series 3, episode 2, and series 5, episode 7; television script for ‘Stories from the Bible,’ n.d; research, story treatments, notes and associated correspondence for unproduced film ‘Sisi,’ later ‘The Empress,’ in association with Richard Attenborough Productions, c.2000.
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