Obituary: Douglas Blake

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The Independent Online
Douglas Francis Blake, critic and editor: born Dunstable 26 February 1919; died Perth 31 July 1993.

ALL WASTE is bad. Waste of talent is perhaps the worst waste of all. Douglas Blake was never permitted to realise his potential for a creative theatre life.

You could blame that on his boyhood. His mother's second marriage turned out to be unhappy. His grammar-school scholarship was ground away by the necessity to earn a living from the age of 14. When he fulfilled an ambition to work at the Royal Opera House, family troubles thrust him back into technical draughtsmanship.

He turned to directing and acting in amateur theatre, founding his own Bedfordshire group. Visits to London theatres introduced him to Eric John, editor of the Stage. He began to review for the theatre profession's weekly newspaper.

Theatre World appointed him assistant editor. The magazine was taken over and its new publishers saw no future for him within its revised format, though he continued to write occasional reviews. But he was offered the editorship of The Stage Yearbook.

In the mid-1960s, Peter Bridge Productions rivalled Tennant under Binkie Beaumont as a purveyor of intellectually challenging and superbly mounted commerical theatre. As script assessor, Blake was directly involved in early West End productions of work by Alan Ayckbourn and seminal revivals of Wilde and Shaw as well as stagings of innovative revues and dance ensembles.

From childhood Blake had suffered back pains and bad headaches. In the decades after the Second World War, this was wrongly diagnosed as incipient arthritis - and treated as such. It was, however, the onset of multiple sclerosis. This had a psychological as well as physical effect; he found himself unable to sustain long-term professional challenges on an editorial basis.

Tastes in the arts change. The 1960s produced fringe theatre and contemporary dance. Blake had the background and capacity to appreciate the reason why this was happening and the breadth of vision to assess it. The tragedy was that his body's decline was accelerating.

He was respected by fellow-members of the Critic's Circle, such as AV Coton of the Daily Telegraph. Occasional work as a freelance for the paper led to arts page subbing, where his ability to fillet a notice with subtlety and dexterity was much appreciated.

As the illness progressed, he was forced to withdraw even further from the work which had become so much an emotional as well as an intellectual sublimation. He moved to a Georgian flat in Perth, overlooking the Tay, and found much consolation in the quality of care available through personal friends and professional agencies.

There is still no cure for multiple sclerosis. Blake was twisted back into life by a life-support machine two years ago. Faced with yet another spate of painful treatment prolonging the inevitable, he took his own life, with tapes and letters clearly explaining that decision.