Obituary: Martin Tickner
Saturday 20 February 1993
MARTIN TICKNER was a man of the theatre, and of many theatrical roles, from staging charity events, arranging theatrical memorial services, co-ordinating which stars attended royal garden parties and giving what he called 'glittering' parties for stars, at which neighbours and his cleaning lady would always be guests.
Some men work with teams of helpers but Tickner kept all the cards in his hands and his various enterprises were arranged on the back of envelopes in the organised chaos of his small apartment in the Barbican. Shortly before his untimely death he was co-ordinating a performance of Happy & Glorious at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, a celebrity gala to be staged in the presence of the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Edward and Princess Margaret. All the plans were in his head - when he died, for once the show did not go on.
Martin Tickner was the son of a fishmonger in Twickenham. As a child he used to go up to the West End and pester box-offices for stage leaflets. He won a place at Christ's Hospital, Horsham, and at the age of 14 joined the Drama Group.
This took him to Germany as a stage helper. Later he got a holiday wardrobe job, then a weekend job at the Old Vic. At the age of 17 he asked his parents' permission to leave school for the theatre.
His Old Vic job lasted a year. In 1958, he became wardrobe 'mistress' for the 59 Theatre Company at the Lyric, Hammersmith. By the end of a memorable season he was virtually an assistant stage manager. After a brief and unhappy spell as ASM at the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre in 1959, he returned to the Lyric, and himself mounted the boards in Chloe Gibson's production of Man on Trial. The play was based on the trial of Christ, and Tickner played his real-life role as ASM. With the house lights full up, he went on stage and scrummaged about in a large laundry basket handing out props to the company. The audience inevitably thought something had been left in the basket by error and that he had been sent to retrieve it. This convinced him he preferred to work behind the scenes in management.
He went as ASM to a Victoria Palace Christmas matinee season, where the Crazy Gang enjoyed hiding his props. Though chosen as understudy, he was fortunately not called to serve.
Then came his break. After the collapse of a tour of Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight, for which he was Stage Manager, Tickner was asked to help Welles with a new television series, Orson Welles meets the Irish. He handled the sound-effects for Welles's Rhinoceros at the Royal Court, and then at the Strand, where he stayed for The Princess, a somewhat shambolic dance production. He was paid pounds 15 a week, but had no contract. But Tickner enjoyed working with the veteran producer EP Clift, and subsequently joined John Gale as General Manager at John Gale Productions. He stayed seven years. Tickner became a friend of 'Binkie' Beaumont, Joyce Grenfell, Joyce Carey and Noel Coward. He was Richard Addinsell's musical executor.
In 1964 he helped manage Present Laughter at the Queen's and a production of Maigret and the Lady sent him to Lausanne for consultations with Georges Simenon. In 1967 he formed his own production company, with Gerald and Veronica Flint-Shipman (who owned the Phoenix Theatre) and George Borwick. Simultaneously he became Administrator of the Phoenix.
Tickner was never particularly commercially minded, however. He excelled at charity galas, where he operated as 'Ring Master', persuading any number of stars to appear free on a Sunday evening for a worthy cause. He was less good at putting on eight commercial shows a week, and arranging proper fees, VAT payments and other such requisites of professional theatre life. In 1970 he helped form the Play Company of London, but this put on but one show before collapsing.
In December 1969, Tickner was responsible for producing A Talent to Amuse, a midnight matinee with a host of stars, performed in front of Noel Coward to celebrate the Master's 70th birthday. Everyone said such events had gone out with Marie Tempest and Irene Vanbrugh, but, as Cole Lesley put it, 'Martin clung obstinately to his conception.' Wendy Toye rehearsed the stars, who were soon queuing up to perform. Anna Neagle Charlestoned to 'Dance, Little Lady' and Joyce Grenfell gave a moving account of 'If Love Were All'. The curtain fell at 4.25am. Euphoria abounded at the success of the evening, tempered only by Coral Browne, who telephoned concisely: 'Too fucking long'.
In 1972 he staged a tribute to Terence Rattigan at the Haymarket. As with the Coward evening, the proceeds went to the Combined Theatrical Charities Appeals Council, whose Honorary Secretary Tickner became in 1974. The coinciding deaths of Binkie Beaumont and Noel Coward in the spring of 1973 gave Tickner the new role of arranging memorial services for the stars. Services he was responsible for included those of Margaret Leighton, Cicely Courtneidge, Ingrid Bergman, Kenneth More, Michael Redgrave and Celia Johnson. At Westminster Abbey his first project was the dedication of the stone for Noel Coward in March 1984. Thereafter he became an unofficial 'theatrical adviser to the Dean and Chapter'.
Tickner went on to run such charity shows and galas as America at Drury Lane, Jubilee for the Queen's Silver Jubilee, the reopening gala of Noel and Gertie, and Star Quality, and the 1984 Drury Lane gala Noel. These enterprises were hazardous, the generosity of stars in agreeing to perform free, being matched to their commitments elsewhere. Tickner devised the crucial phrase: 'The following have agreed to appear subject to their other commitments at the time.' Four great stars dropped out of Jubilee in one morning.
From 1971 to 1982 Tickner ran Theatreprint, a company which produced theatre programmes. To this enterprise he brought the full benefit of his extraordinarily detailed memory and his meticulous editing. He was also active in assisting factual corrections in books about the theatre, notably Noel Coward's diaries, and he helped get some of Coward's early works republished by Methuen. Tickner also lectured on theatre topics on the QE2. Recently he served as Artistic Director at the Buxton Festival of Musicals, presenting the music from Walt Disney's films.
Tickner was a large man, with tremendous presence. His booming voice made it immediately clear that he was about, be it back- stage or in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. He was a kind man, with time for everyone, and in a busy life he achieved a great amount, due to his enthusiasm and great physical strength.
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