Tyrone Guthrie in WWII : From Dunkirk to Belfast
In 1939, with the bombing of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells theatres in London, the Irish Producer Tyrone Guthrie was entrusted with keeping over 200 actors, singers, dancers and musicians in employment, away from the blitz. He hired the Victoria Theatre and factories in Burnley, Lancashire, for rehearsals, before touring to remote venues amid material shortages, primitive transportation and accommodation and ‘the black-out’. Huge audiences appeared as if from nowhere. Guthrie’s descriptions – as well as his observations on war news and politics – were conveyed in letters to his mother at Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan, and his sister, Mrs Hubert Butler, in Kilkenny. It is from this plangent, yet ever-humorous, correspondence that the material for this unique talk has been taken.
Christopher Fitz-Simon was born in Belfast. He received a Moderatorship in Modern Languages & Literature from Trinity College, Dublin, where he was Chair of the Players and Editor of Icarus in the late 1950s. After working in the theatre and broadcasting in North America he became a drama director with RTE Television.
Since then he has been Artistic Director of the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, the Irish Theatre Company and the National Theatre Society (Abbey & Peacock Theatres, Dublin). He is the author of a large number of broadcast plays, including a BBC Italia Prize entry (The Dead) and two RTE Italia Prize entries (for original plays, Vina and A Snowman in July) as well as dramatizations from, inter-alia, Boucicault, Bowen, Colum, Forzano, Giraudoux, Joyce, Forrest Reid, Somerville & Ross, Stoker, Wilde, etc. His most popular work for radio was the BBC’s Ballylenon, celebrating envy, hatred and malice in 1940s small-town Ireland, which ran to 42 instalments; other popular radio series have been Spangles‘n’Tights and Faithful Departed.
Among his books are Eleven Houses: A Memoir of the 1940s; The Boys, A Biography of Hilton Edwards and Micheal MacLíammóir, founders of the Dublin Gate Theatre; The Abbey Theatre: The First 100 Years, The Irish Theatre; Buffoonery and the easy sentiment, on 19c Irish melodrama; The Arts in Ireland: A Chronology and editions of new Abbey Theatre plays.
He is at present selecting and editing The Private Letters of Tyrone Guthrie. He continues to lecture throughout the world on Irish theatrical topics. His Doctorate in Literature is from the University of Ulster.