Dudley, William (1 of 13)  An Oral History of Theatre Design

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  • Recording date

    2007-09-20, 2007-11-30, 2008-01-11, 2008-02-15

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, London

  • Interviewees

    Dudley, William 1947- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Wright, Elizabeth (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: William Dudley [WD], born Islington, North London, 4th March 1947 in the middle of a blizzard. Lived until aged 19 in a council house by Highbury station; house had no bathroom; WD had one sister; moved next into council flats. In 1968 WD moved in with first partner, Sue Plumber [SP], a stage designer; reasons for move to Greenwich; flat above fish and chip shop. [0:01:55] Mention that sister was murdered last year by her husband; sister’s career in clerical work; she was two years younger than WD; mention that parents died in the early 1990s. Father’s name, William Stuart Dudley, the family name; Mother’s name Dorothy Stacey; her job as a dinner lady; father’s job as a decorator; his honesty. WD’s skill for drawing at an early age; family’s encouragement; feelings about grammar school; mural in school library; having a sense of vocation. First day at art school; other students; being at art school in central London in the 1960s; Soho at that time; problems with being a figurative painter at Saint Martin’s College of Art [SMA], now Central Saint Martins at that time; evening classes; job in book shop on Saturdays; suggestion that WD should paint scenery; shows that WD saw: Oliver, Gilbert and Sullivan; working backstage in a theatre instead of going to art school; people. Story about meeting Leon Kossoff [LK]; Borough Market School; renting studios at a warehouse on the site of the Barbican; looking at a Rembrandt painting with LK. [0:14:37] Going on to postgraduate study at Slade School of Art [SSA]; comments by Frank Auerbach [FA] about WD’s work; his suggestion that WD should go into theatre; influence of LK and FA. Mention that JMW Turner was a scene painter at Drury Lane. Problems with the course at SSA; Derek Jarman [DJ]; Philip Prowse. Story about complaining to principal, Sir William Coldstream; giving up the course to continue working at amateur theatre; presenting work for graduate exhibition; being offered work. [0:18:38] First professional work was a Royal Court [RC] production of 'Hamlet' at the Nottingham Playhouse [NP] with Alan Bates [AB] and Celia Johnson [CJ]; two shows at RC, 'The Duchess of Malfi' directed by Peter Gill and Brecht's 'Mann ist Mann' directed by Bill Gaskill. Comments about success resulting from graduate exhibition; working with directors of a similar age. [0:20:09] Mention that father and aunt sometimes drew; kindness and energy of people; desire for art; inaccurate portrayals of working class life. Reasons why mother and sister did not go to grammar school; sister's career success. [0:23:02] Mention that mother was born in Chapel Market, Islington in a flat over a baker's shop; cost of extending education beyond fourteen before the war; reference to hardships at this time due to general strike, economic depression and the Second World War; "honest poverty". Mention that paternal grandfather was a maintenance worker at the County Hall; aquarium in the basement of the Hall; effects of him having been gassed at The Somme. [0:25:00] Contrast with father's side of the family; Uncle who spent over 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and was freed with the help of Duncan Campbell of The Guardian newspaper; details of the case; compensation awarded; his colourful criminal life; mention of his work as an advisor on films about the London crime scene of the 1950s and 1960s; Soho at this time, represented in films such as 'Expresso Bongo' and 'Fings Ain't What They Used to Be'. Uncle's name, Reginald Dudley; murder trial at the Old Bailey; WD's interest in history; current project creating a virtual model of the old London Bridge. WD's other Uncle, Ron, who was Reginald's getaway driver; 1950s humour; Arthur Mullard. Clothes that Uncles wore, including mohair suits; being given Uncle's old suits. Grandparents' stalls on Petticoat Lane selling second hand clothes and breeding dogs; Cockney accent; musicality of regional accents; links between Cockneys and the counties of Essex and Kent; Cockney humour. Story about hearing Cockney stall holders rowing in Soho; hybrid Estuary accent; Cockney jokes in Punch magazine. Losing accent; class prejudice in theatre; difficulties of being persuasive and authoritative with an accent; class in America. Feeling of affinity with large British cities; Radio 4 accent work in the 1970s and 1980s. Playing the Cockney instrument, an Anglo concertina in a pub; history of this instrument; response to this; [sings 'What a Mouth']; playing traditional folk tunes, followed by Cockney songs. [43:35] Changing demographic of London; vibrancy of the city. Digital model of London Bridge and all of Bankside related to work on Rose Theatre at Bankside; mention of recording readings of Christopher Marlowe by Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi to place in the digital model; bad luck of Marlowe to be born in the same year as William Shakespeare; commemorating Marlowe with the Rose Theatre. The staging of plays by Shakespeare and Marlowe in London; development of the English language during this time. [0:47:36] Maternal grandfather died in late 1950s; his outlook; respectability in contrast with father's family. Mention that grandmother lived into the late 1980s and early 1990s; her accent; her personality; her husband died when WD was aged one or two; her hair, coloured with henna. Father's gardening skills; fishing on the River Lea; fishing as an opportunity for contemplation; drawing while father was fishing; scattering father's ashes at his favourite fishing spot, which later became a housing estate. Seeing changes in London; importance of Green Belt; development in North Kent; crowds in Greenwich Park. Folk memory and skills in growing food; historic threat of the workhouse. [0:54:35] Mother's cooking; coming home from school and lighting the fire; tin bath; chickens; memory of rural life a few generations ago; paternal grandmother's country stock appearance; hardship as the norm. Mention that parents flew to Spain for holidays later in life; father’s time in the Royal Air Force [RAF] during the second World War; his changes to the regulation trousers; trip to RAF museum in Hendon with father; his love of planes and flight. Description of father’s personality; tough neighbourhood where they grew up near Finsbury Park; the pub; father’s values; working with him in the building trade; story about falling through a roof. [Telephone]

  • Description

    Life story interview with William Dudley (1947-), theatre designer.

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