Interview: Evening News (1971)

This interview was published in the Evening News on 13 August 1971.

One Over The Eight Makes Alan £600 A Week

by James Green

When cricket fan Alan Ayckbourn hears the umpire call "play" he winces.

The curse - and blessing - of his life is that he is always having to write stage plays against imminent deadlines.

This Londoner
[1] who works in Leeds [2] has so far completed 11 plays. They have taught him what a seesaw business lite theatre can be. His first play earned him £40 and came off within a few weeks. [3] But he plodded on and with play No. 7 he made the breakthrough. It was called Relatively Speaking and ran for nine months in the West End. [4] There were 50 productions of it in Germany and various other versions round the world.

"Sometimes I'm surprised to learn where it has been produced," says 31-year-old Haileybury educated Mr. Ayckbourn. "A royalty cheque for 28 million whatsits arrives which I find is worth 50 pence."

Other cheques, however, make it all worthwhile and he estimates that the one script has earned him over £20,000 to date.

The next play was
The Sparrow. That lasted tor three weeks and paid him £75.

"Yet since I was following up a winner," he says. "there was more work in that play, and I still think it was better than
Relatively Speaking."

With play No. 9 he was back on a winning streak. It was
How The Other Half Loves with Robert Morley starring, it is now earning him around £600 a week.

It is just finishing its first year at the Lyric Theatre and continues to attract good business. Alan Ayckbourn is on 10 per cent of box office take and that has been steady, at around £6,000 a week.

Furthermore, Phil Silvers, once TV's
Bilko, is "about to set off on a tour of America with the comedy. That means more handsome royalties.

Hold on, more to come. Ayckbourn has finished two more plays which have been tried out and already bought for the West End. These are
Me Times Me Times Me, opening at Leicester this month and due in London I during October [6] and Time And Time Again, now at Scarborough, which West End manager Michael Codron has bought. j
As a young "not awfully good" repertory
actor Mr. Ayckbourn began writing plays to give himself a good part.

"As a result of my acting experience, you will never find a 'what say you, m'Lord' bit part in my plays." he says. "There are no postmen or butlers. I try to give everyone in the cast a real part. When I was acting and simply standing on stage like a piece of scenery, I would start asking myself what I was doing there and wondering whether to walk out."

Hence his sympathy with the players. His understanding of what makes a script work came from five years as a BBC North Region
radio drama producer.

"In all honesty I don't tike writing plays." he admits. "It is a love-hate process and I always delay starting which means I run up against deadlines in a frightful way. When I start - and often a play is promised for one week later when I haven't a word written - I write day and night. I can complete it in six days, sometimes, four days.

"My agent tells me I'm not to say so because it seems too casual, but it's the truth. I write In pencil long-hand first, then two-finger type, and finally I dictate the play. That way l can near the dialogue. Whatever you think about my plays, actors like them. They look at their part and | say 'Wow, the dialogue flows.

"One play caused me absolute panic. It was advertised, rehearsals were fixed, and I still hadn't started on it. Halfway through, the script died on me. There was only one thing to do. I drank far too much and collapsed. Then to get rid of the thick head I went for a long walk on the moors. I went back to the writing and finished it one day later."

It is possible in the months ahead that he will have three shows running at the same time in the West End.

Website Notes:
[1] Alan Ayckbourn was born in Hampstead in 1939, although he has essentially lived in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, since 1972.
[2] Although Alan was writing in Leeds in 1972, he wasn't really working in Leeds; he had been employed by the BBC as a Radio Drama Producer based in Leeds between 1965 and 1970.
[3] Alan's first professional produced play was
The Square Cat which opened at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, on 30 July 1959. It was presented as part of the summer repertory programme and scheduled to run for two weeks - it's success led to its run being extended by a week.
Relatively Speaking actually ran for just over 10 months at the Duke Of York's Theatre in London, opening on 29 March 1967 and closing on 3 February 1968.
[5] There is obviously a discrepancy here as the article's headline and previous line states Alan is earning £600 not £6,000 a week from
How The Other Half Loves.
[6] Although Peter Bridge did produce a pre-West End tour of
The Story So Far… - retitled Me Times Me Times Me - it was not successful enough to reach the West End.
[7] Alan did not actually achieve this until 1974 when he had four plays running simultaneously in the West End with
Absurd Person Singular and The Norman Conquests trilogy.

Copyright: Yorkshire Evening News. This edited transcription and the end-notes have been compiled and researched by Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.