Magazine article The Spectator

Tinkering with a Myth

Magazine article The Spectator

Tinkering with a Myth

Article excerpt

When Jack Tinker, the Daily Mail's theatre critic, died on 28 October, his newspaper did him proud with a massive obituary and a double-page spread of tributes from the theatrical profession, ranging from the National Theatre's Director, Richard Eyre, the impresario Cameron Mackintosh, and comedians such as Christopher Biggins. The headline over these glowing plaudits was 'A Hard Act To Follow'. They could say that again. Tinker was rare in his profession in being what some might think a contradiction in terms: a 'popular' critic.

He has negated that jibe that no one has ever raised a monument to a critic. They dimmed the lights for him in London's theatreland. No such reverence was ever accorded to critics such as Sir Harold Hobson, Kenneth Tynan or James Agate. I suspect that, whenever any of the present crop of critics, including myself, ever take our place in the hereafter stalls, the lights on Shaftesbury Avenue are likely to go up in thanksgiving rather than down. It wouldn't surprise me if plans were already afoot to dub some fringe playhouse the Tinker Theatre.

But, in facing the Cinderella-like task of trying to find someone to fill Tinker's snug shoes, the Daily Mail has a formidable problem. Tinker's fame came not from his writing but from his personality. There is no volume of the collected works of Jack Tinker, nor is there ever likely to be one. He had no profound theory about drama. His judgment was erratic. He knew what he liked and that was enough. A negative notice was written more in sorrow than petulance.

I suspect that if pressed Tinker would have admitted that he was more of a frustrated actor than a committed critic. He would rather have been on a stage than in front of it. For him a first night was an opportunity to advance smiling down the aisle greeting the many show-biz friends he often entertained with champagne. The long black leather coats, the multi-coloured shirts, the checked suits that would make a bookmaker envious and occasional awninglike hats focused on him the attention he always craved. It was his need for the occasion as much as the play that made him such a fierce advocate of overnight notices.

The tradition of a critical report of a new production appearing in the morning papers on the very next day goes back to pre-war years when the theatre was the most prestigious and resplendent of all the art forms and when linotype-operated papers could wait until midnight for firstnight notices to be written. Because of computer technology, edition times have advanced to the earlier hours of 10.30 or 11 p.m., and the struggle to hold the presses for a review has been abandoned by almost all daily papers. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.