Clive Perry

Champion of regional theatre
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The Independent Online

Clive Perry, theatre director: born Harrow, Middlesex 17 March 1936; Professor of Drama, Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh 1990-95 (Emeritus); OBE 1998; died Edinburgh 11 November 2006.

After 45 years as director and teacher, Clive Perry will be remembered for his contribution to the great, and still unfulfilled, dream of a British national regional theatre and for his belief in the power and pleasure that the theatre could provide as entertainment and joygiver.

Perry discovered his own love of theatre at school (Harrow County Grammar) and developed it while up at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. After National Service at Crail in Fife, in 1961 he won an ATV television director's bursary to Derby Playhouse. He swiftly moved on to the Castle Theatre, Farnham, in Surrey, where he began an association with Joan Knight. In 1962, aged only 26, he was founding Director of the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester, and in 1966 he was appointed to succeed Tom Fleming as Director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, a post he was to hold for a decade.

Richard Eyre, who had been Perry's assistant at Leicester, joined him in Edinburgh, and between them they developed a pattern of working that Perry would continue for the rest of his career. While championing other directors (and also writers, actors, designers and every other kind of theatre folk), Perry would himself direct the bankers with finesse, pace and aplomb (a memorable Prime of Jean Brodie and John Mortimer's adaptation of Flea in Her Ear spring to mind). When Eyre was promoted to director of productions in 1970, Perry, as Director of Theatres, Edinburgh, took additional control of both the King's and Churchill Theatres.

Then, in 1973, when Eyre moved to the Nottingham Playhouse, Bill Bryden joined Perry and initiated an illustrious period for Scottish talent and muscle at the Lyceum, including new works by Stewart Conn, John Morris, Tom Wright, Roddy McMillan and Bryden himself. In 1972, Perry formed the Young Lyceum Company, with Peter Farago as its first director (latterly succeeded by Kenny Ireland).

In 1976, moving to the Birmingham Rep, Perry concentrated on his role as producer and impresario. He took on the organisational and political dilemmas of public funding of the arts in the Seventies and Eighties to turn "Theatre for All" into reality. While pulling in the Brummie public with the first theatre subscription scheme in the UK, and his own productions of such popular hits as The Wizard of Oz, Kiss Me Kate and Worzel Gummidge, he provided his Birmingham associates, Farago and myself, with the opportunity to test and develop a balanced repertoire of the classic and the neglected, and to commission work by local writers (Vince Foxall, Louise Page, Derek Nicholls, Ray Speakman and Stephen Bill, among others) as well as producing new plays by David Edgar, David Rudkin, Stewart Parker, Arnold Wesker and Fay Weldon.

Returning to Scotland in 1987 (and up the road from Joan Knight, by now at Perth), Perry reinvigorated Pitlochry Festival Theatre, maintaining a repertory company in the truest sense - stay six days, see six plays. With the last of his protégés, Ian Grieve, he re-established the theatre as a leading venue, himself directing many excellent productions, from Long Day's Journey into Night (with Edith MacArthur) to Mrs Warren's Profession (with Una McLean).

In 1990, whilst still at the helm in Pitlochry, Perry became the first Professor of Drama at Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh (from 1995 Emeritus), and was honoured in 2001 by the award of a DLitt. He was appointed OBE in 1998.

His passions were private, in a public arena. He had been a little boy who was never allowed out to play or to bring his friends home, in case they brought the dirt in with them. His triumph was to create playgrounds for other boys to play in - so that he could watch their fun and revel in their passions.

After years of hard graft, he had only recently begun to value himself. He began to fulfil himself in new ways: developing close friendships outside the theatrical profession, braving the water and learning to swim, mastering Spanish in his late sixties so he could read El País from cover to cover. He had sold up his home in North Berwick and was about to retire for most of the year to his place in the sun - in Lanzarote.

Perry could find no satisfaction in either faith or belief, but he faced his virulent and unforgiving cancer with courage and determination. His last wishes for neither funeral nor memorial have been reluctantly followed. But a public celebration of Clive Perry will be held at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, on 25 February.

Bill Pryde

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