Magazine article The Spectator

Pulling It Off

Magazine article The Spectator

Pulling It Off

Article excerpt

Putting It On

by Michael Codron and Alan Strachan

Duckworth, £25, pp. 416,

ISBN 9780715639443

Asking a resting actor to review the biography of a top producer is like asking a sheep to eat a shepherd. I was trained as a boy to hate theatrical producers by my father the actor Hugh Williams. To him they were common penny-pinching bastards.

But the photographs of Michael Codron at Oxford smouldering like Al Pacino remind me what a high percentage of the great evenings I've had in the theatre are down to him. Not for nothing is he known as El Codrone. Calm and benevolent, he has been in the driving seat of West End theatre for over 50 years. The title of the book itself is pleasingly ambiguous. Does it refer to his shows (plenty), his airs and graces (no more than the rest of us) or his weight (. . .

a little)?

It is an account of Michael's long love affair with the theatre, superbly chronicled by him and a good friend, the director Alan Strachan. Reading it is like taking an autumnal stroll with them after lunch at the Garrick. And what a 50 years it's been. The reign of 'Binkie' at H. M. Tennent's was coming to an end and the old first eleven (Coward and Rattigan et al) were on the bench.

The time had come for the French windows to be thrown open: enter Michael Codron (with no tennis racquet), a fugitive from his father's business, a chalk quarry in Wantage. Apprenticed to Jack Hylton, he had learnt accounting and pimping; from a notorious agent the skill of negotiation:

'She'll ask for £5, she's worth £2, offer her £3 and settle for £4.' He had been a major force at OUDS. He had written sketches, played parts even - he had all the necessary qualifications.

Added to which he has the compassion and sensibility of a man who comes from two minority cultures: he is Sephardi Jewish by birth, and gay. (What a wise psychiatrist it was who told Michael's father, 'Whether or not I can cure your son is academic, but one thing is clear - you must let him try to do what he wants to do.' And what a wise father Haco was to listen. ) In the 1950s the West End was crying out for such an impresario; new writers had no one to turn to, and young playgoers had no real champion. …

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