Obituary: P. W. Manchester

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P. W. MANCHESTER was unknown when her book about the Royal Ballet's first decade, Vic-Wells, a Ballet Progress, was published in 1942, but her knowledge, enthusiasm and style made it (amazingly for a dance book, especially in wartime) sell more copies than any other non-fiction book in Britain that year.

Suddenly the story of how Ninette de Valois and her dancers had grown in a few years from nothing to a national asset was revealed as an exciting adventure. It had a ready-made readership in the vast new public being built up by the Sadler's Wells Ballet's wartime tours, when they often played eight or nine performances a week to audiences who had never experienced ballet before.

Manchester helped this new audience appreciate what they were seeing. Even today, when many later and hence more comprehensive accounts of the company's history have been published, there is still none to match the vividness with which she described those early years, nor the insight she displayed into the potential future. The book was a real eye-opener and began a career in which its author contributed greatly to the love and understanding of the art she herself enjoyed.

Christened Phyllis Winifred Manchester, she always preferred to be known as Bill, the nickname her father bestowed in childhood. Her ballet-going, although obviously assiduous, alert and clear-eyed, had been that of the keen and informed amateur until in 1941 she became dance critic of the journal Theatre World, a post she left to gain behind-the-scenes knowledge as secretary (1944-46) to Marie Rambert, the founder and director of Britain's other leading company, Ballet Rambert.

When the end of the war made paper supplies more readily available, Manchester in 1946 started the monthly magazine Ballet Today. As editor, and later publisher too, she produced a journal of high quality that charted a period when British companies were achieving new standards, and companies from abroad, especially Paris and New York, were revealing further possibilities. In friendly rivalry with Richard Buckle's more esoteric magazine Ballet, which started about the same time, Manchester's editorial policy maintained a very balanced viewpoint and showed that it was possible to be cool without being uncommitted. Among the young writers she published, and who learned from her example, were Mary Clarke, Clive Barnes and myself, who all went on to write for national papers and edit specialist magazines.

In 1951, Manchester accepted an invitation from Anatole Chujoy, founder and publisher of Dance News in New York, to go there as his co-editor. She accepted for a trial year (leaving four trusted colleagues to take joint charge of Ballet Today) but stayed on indefinitely as managing editor and chief critic. She also became New York dance critic for the Christian Scientist Monitor and collaborated with Chujoy on a new expanded version of his invaluable reference book The Dance Encyclopaedia (1967).

On Chujoy's death in 1969 she inherited Dance News but by then she had for some time been doing most of the work single-handed and, finding it a strain, was happy to sell up and accept an invitation to become Adjunct Professor of Dance in the College-Conservatory of the University of Cincinnati, a post she held for 24 years, until 1993. She also lectured widely elsewhere, and broadcast frequently.

P.W. Manchester's humour and lucidity helped others to benefit from her own vast historical and contemporary knowledge. Meanwhile she had, on arriving in America, acquired another consuming enthusiasm, for baseball, but she kept that entirely as a hobby which she said, saved her from going mad when pressures grew too great.

Phyllis Winifred (Bill) Manchester, writer, editor and lecturer: born London 1907; died Cincinnati, Ohio 18 May 1998.