Obituary: Sandy Broughton
Monday 28 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.
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