Unique Letters Chronicle Friendship of George Bernard Shaw and Sir Barr Y Jackson; Arts Chiefs Celebrate after Pulling off a Literary Coup

Article excerpt

Arts chiefs in Birmingham are celebrating a literary coup after buying a unique archive of letters detailing the friendship between playwright George Bernard Shaw and Sir Barry Jackson, the giant of British theatre who founded the city's Repertory Company.

The rare collection includes a letter of commiseration to Sir Barry after he quit as director of the Stratford Festival in controversial circumstances in the late 1940s.

It is now being housed along with a mass of other material on the history of the Birmingham Rep and the Malvern Festival - which Sir Barry co-founded with Shaw - in the city's Central Library.

The previously unpublished correspondence dates from the 1920s, when Sir Barry and the polemicist first met, until Shaw's death in 1950.

It has been bought for pounds 30,000 by the city council from the estate of Mr Tom English, who was the personal secretary to Sir Barry. Grants have covered two-thirds of the cost of the 125 letters and postcards written by Shaw to Sir Barry, along with carbon copies of letters to Shaw, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

Coun Martin Brooks (Lab Bartley Green), chairman of Birmingham's leisure services committee, described the correspondence as an "important addition" to the archives held by the Central Library.

He added: "The people of Birmingham and beyond will be able to study them now, and in the future, together with prompt books, reviews, photographs and other correspondence already held by the library."

The correspondence centres on Sir Barry's productions of Shaw's plays, and contains references to stars of the theatre of the time such as Sybil Thorndike and Edith Evans.

In one letter, he commiserates with Sir Barry about his resignation as director of the Stratford Festival, the forerunner of the Royal Shakespeare Company, after a controversial period from 1946 to 1948 during which festival trustees failed to see eye-to-eye with Sir Barry over the cost of his ideas.

Sir Barry, who founded the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1913, produced classic plays in the city, in London and on tour, and is particularly well known for his 1920s' pioneering modern dress productions of Shakespeare. …