Anne Jenkins

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The Independent Online

Anne Dorothea Jenkins, theatre manager: born London 12 April 1916; died London 21 May 2001.

Very few people, dramatic critics included, have any idea of what really goes on behind the scenes in the theatre. Why should they? But without a certain breed of dedicated theatre person like Anne Jenkins many shows simply wouldn't happen.

She was born in London in 1916. Her father had been a GP in North Wales but, badly wounded at the beginning of the First World War, had been given a job at the War Office. Anne went to boarding school in Winchester, which she never much enjoyed.

Quite early in life, she decided on the theatre as a career, but realised that she would never make it as an actress. After the Second World War she joined the Perth Repertory Company as a stage manager. Soon she was to join Bernard Miles at the Corn Exchange and help him set up his Mermaid Theatre.

From there she moved to the Arts Theatre, London, becoming heavily involved with Peter Hall and his productions ­ including the first, in 1955, of Waiting for Godot, which was seized on by Donald Albery to transfer to the Criterion. Albery was no fool and recognised Jenkins's potential, making her a general manager for the productions he was mounting at that time in opposition to "Binky" Beaumont. One of those was Hall's 1958 Gigi with Leslie Caron ­ the first of several shows I designed for him under Anne Jenkins's eagle eyes.

Then Albery "discovered" Joan Littlewood at Stratford East, transferring Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be (1959), which resulted in a long and tempestuous association with Lionel Bart. To Jenkins fell the unenviable task of keeping a balance between Albery's commercialism and Littlewood's genius. Taste of Honey (1960) transferred easily enough, as eventually did Oh! What a Lovely War. But Littlewood declined to be involved with Oliver! (1960) and Albery brought in Peter Coe to direct it.

Bart was most temperamental and it fell to Jenkins to try and calm the troubled waters, as well as holding endless auditions and coping with the demands of a frenetic but brilliant new designer on the scene, Sean Kenny. The success, of course, is now history, but only a few people know how much was due to Anne Jenkins's perseverance and patience.

After Oliver! Albery could hardly resist Bart's next offerings. Blitz! (1962) arrived at the Adelphi after more gunfire backstage than the war itself ­ but just got away with it. But the third Bart opus, Maggie May, was a hard grind. Poor Jenkins always had to do the dirty work ­ especially when it came to firing artists. Imminent action was signalled by the snapping of her handbag and the admonition "Enough is enough". When we tried out a rather dreary musical called Instant Marriage at the Kilburn State Empire, the handbag snapped seven times.

After the first night of Maggie May, on 22 September 1964, as I was driving Jenkins home, she asked me to turn on to Chelsea Bridge. Lionel Bart had given her a very expensive black evening handbag from Mappin & Webb as a first-night present. She got out of the car and flung it into the Thames. "Enough is enough!" she said. There never was another Lionel Bart/Donald Albery show.

Jenkins eventually left Albery and worked for Oscar Lewenstein at the Royal Court Theatre. Finally she seems to have had "enough" of the theatre altogether. She retired to managing a soft-furnishing shop in Ladbroke Grove, and became totally reclusive.

Disley Jones

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