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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?