Obituary: Sandy Broughton

Alexandra Broughton, arts publicist: born London 5 February 1950; died New York 20 June 1993.

IN THE MILIEU in which Sandy Broughton worked, the New York art world, precocious death has almost become the norm, but largely amongst men: her sudden demise at the age of 43 is a reminder of the larger rules of mortality.

Broughton was at the time working for the BBC Late Show, but her entire life had been spent mining that curious interface between contemporary culture and the media, working with such a wide variety of theatre companies, performers, musicians and artists that to categorise her career by her last employment, or indeed to categorise her by employment at all, would be banal.

After studying at York University, Broughton worked with the Ugandan Resettlement Board in the early Seventies, at the time of peak immigration. She then began working for a string of theatres, the Hampstead Theatre Club (in the district where she was born), then the Bubble, the Unicorn and Stratford East, a roll-call of the great alternative London spaces in that long-vanished epoch when such venues had an integrity and importance now hard to imagine. Broughton's job-titles may have been vague - in those more flexible times terms such as House Manager or Publicist covered a multitude of tasks, from walk-on parts to putting up tents - but she was never less than essential to the company's life.

In 1978 she began her long association with the ICA, which was to last until 1986, and where her role was loosely hinted at by her title of Publicity Director. She seemed far too shrewd, too knowledgeable, to fit the cliched notion of a publicist.

Broughton wanted to work in television and did so, on the Channel 4 programme Signals and subsequently with the BBC, but her enthusiasm and commitment for the arts in general meant that, whatever capacity she served, the end result was always infectious delight, in her company if not always in those she was promoting. Notably droll and notoriously dry, Broughton was often funny about those she worked with, but never disparaged the validity and importance of their creativity.

Her life was devoted to the difficult task of convincing others of the worth of the artists she chose. As someone who spent much of her time getting others to support the more extreme avant-garde, she had rare talents for a publicist, genuine enthusiasm for the arts in their widest variety and a remarkable intelligence. Often she seemed to be more of an artist, composer, performer than many she represented.

Undoubtedly her increasingly frenetic time at the ICA exhausted her, and was probably partly responsible for her first bout of illness, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1985. After spending some months in hospital in Nice she returned to Britain for a brief convalescence and then yet one more job, this time in television.

New York was obviously Broughton's natural abode, a place where the level of arts activity was matched by that of the socialising, and where she made as many new friends, acquaintances and contacts in her short eight months as any Soho native. She was very much part of the British cultural diaspora to Manhattan, and it was hard to imagine she would ever return to England.

I have two strong memories of Sandy Broughton. Of a night in Cherbourg to witness a performance by Station House Opera, where the physical exertions of the spectacle were nothing compared to the ferocious arguments that broke out in the bar afterwards and - fuelled by Calvados - lasted till dawn. Throughout Sandy was mischievous, witty, continually stoking the debate with her own apercus: but it was only due to her presence that the long night did not end in violence. More recently I was with her at lunch at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, where we found ourselves, entirely by error, sitting down to eat with the director of the foundation, the director of the Washington National Gallery and Mrs Walter Annenberg. Sandy carried off the role of ambassador of British culture with great aplomb, whilst at the same time playing out the full comedy of our incongruous situation.

Sandy Broughton had extraordinary energy allied to an almost boundless curiosity: her enthusiasm over the architecture of the new Holocaust Museum in Washington was as genuine and inspiring as her interest in some new acquaintance. That she chose to devote her talents to the promotion and dissemination of others' work whilst never becoming cynical is a mark of character in this egotistic era. It is fitting that Lift (the London International Festival of Theatre), for whom she did so much, will be dedicating the current season of the Wooster Group, archetypal performance stars of her adopted city, to her memory.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little