Long-serving editor of 'The Stage'
Saturday 14 October 2006
Peter Hepple, critic and journalist: born Wood Green, Middlesex 2 January 1927; Editor, The Stage 1972-92, consultant editor 1992-2006; married 1954 Josephine Barnett (two daughters); died Barnet, Hertfordshire 12 October 2006.
In over half a century of reviewing and reporting on the entertainment industry, and 20 years as Editor of The Stage, Peter Hepple accumulated an unequalled knowledge of cabaret, variety, bands, theatre and dance. He knew a fair amount about football, too.
Born in Wood Green, north London, in 1927, Hepple was brought up from the age of nine by his maternal grandmother, while his father, working shifts at Cable and Wireless, introduced him to music hall with regular visits to the Wood Green Empire. He went to the City of London School, and was evacuated with it during the Second World War to Marlborough. Post-war National Service with the Royal Engineers took him to Orkney, Egypt and Turkey; it was in Ankara, he said, that he developed a taste for night-clubs.
He trained as a surveyor, but left to take a job in publishing with Burke's Peerage, where he met his wife-to-be, Josie. Later, he became editor of publications for the Institute of Petroleum, where he also helped organise the institute's conferences. Already he was finding his true vocation in entertainment journalism, beginning freelance work for The Stage in 1950.
His first review was of the female impersonator Ella Shields at the Queen's, Poplar; he went on to cover the small club theatres that were the predecessors of the Fringe, extending his geographical range to out-of-London theatres and later developing his knowledge of the club and cabaret scene as editor of The Stage's "Night Beat" section for 10 years.
In 1972 he took on the editorship of the paper itself, a post he held with distinction for 20 years, during which time a large number of talented young journalists and reviewers cut their teeth under his guidance. Unable to contemplate retirement, he was soon back as consulting editor, a post he held until his death, continuing to review everything from West End first nights to the cabaret showcases that had become an important feature of the paper under his editorship.
No other member of the Critics' Circle (of which he was successively Treasurer, Secretary and Trustee, being instrumental in setting up their lifetime achievement award and the drama section's annual award ceremony) could be found reviewing jazz, pier-end shows, new theatre buildings and operas, bringing the same enthusiasm and expertise to each.
A founder member of the Circle's "smokers corner", who in recent years have been forced to take their guilty pleasures on theatre steps, Hepple would regularly regale the likes of Michael Billington and Charles Spencer with stories of his sorties to the farthest reaches of the entertainment world. His trademark mac and fag made him appear more at home in the tiny pub venues where he and I would sometimes be almost the only members of the audience, but he was welcomed everywhere. (Another trademark, his spectacles, disappeared recently when he benefited from laser eye surgery.)
His last theatre review was of the National Theatre's Pillars of the Community in November 2005, when a health scare finally persuaded him to slow down, but as recently as last month he was reviewing a variety showcase in the Cadogan Hall. His last feature article, on psychics in the entertainment industry, is to appear in next week's Stage.
Although he preferred the traditional typewriter, Hepple did eventually become familiar with the computer keyboard, and was responsible for compiling much of the copious reference material that appears on the Stage website. He had an insatiable appetite for show-business facts, most of which he kept in his head.
Away from The Stage, he contributed to many other journals, including Boxing News, Show Pictorial and Where to Go in London, whose theatre column he wrote until it was absorbed by the rival What's On. He was a conscientious council member of the International Theatre Institute's British Centre, contributing regular UK round-ups to their biennial World of Theatre survey.
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