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University of Texas at Austin

Frederick Harold Frith Banbury:

A Preliminary Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Creator Banbury, Frederick Harold Frith, 1912-
Title Frith Banbury Papers
Dates: 1926-1995
Extent: 59 boxes, 7 oversize boxes, oversize flat file (36 linear feet); uncat accession: 18 document boxes (7.56 linear feet)
Abstract: The papers consist of scripts, correspondence, posters, programs, photographs, publicity clippings and scrapbooks, reviews, and financial records spanning the career of this British actor, director, and producer.
RLIN Record #
Language: English
Access Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials. Part or all of this collection is housed off-site and may require up to three business days’ notice for access in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Room. Please contact the Center before requesting this material:

Administrative Information

Acquisition Reg. no. 13578
Processed by Liz Murray, 1996

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Scope and Contents

The papers of British actor, director, and producer Frith Banbury, consist of scripts, correspondence, posters, programs, photographs, publicity clippings and scrapbooks, reviews, and financial records pertaining to his career from 1926-1995. The papers are arranged in five series: I. Plays, II. Correspondence, III. Financial and Legal Records, IV. Photographs, and V. Other Career Related Materials.
To understand Banbury's work is to comprehend a major portion of British theater history, most particularly London's West End. Banbury was educated at Stowe School (1926) and Oxford (1930), but his attention and affection quickly turned to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He received his certificate of completion in 1932, diploma in 1933, and first walk-on part the same year in Shalom Aleichem's If I Were You (Hard to be a Jew) at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Banbury continued acting for 14 years, appearing in John Gielgud's Hamlet in 1934, Robert Morley's Goodness, How Sad! in 1938, and numerous plays in London and the provinces. In 1947, quite by chance, he had an opportunity to return to RADA as a teacher. There he realized a talent and desire to direct, which he applied with vigor for the next five decades. For his first commercial endeavor, he chose Wynyard Browne's work, Dark Summer. Browne was the first of many new playwrights to be promoted by Frith Banbury.
One perspective which illustrates Banbury's tenure in the theater is to contrast the plays from his acting days with more recent themes he encountered as a director. When Banbury appeared in a farcical revival of the Victorian melodrama, The Streets of London, or, Poverty is No Crime in 1942, the program described the play as a "Stirring which the Dastardly Doings of a Villainous Financier reduce an innocent family to the Brink of Ruin." Further, it promised a "STUPENDOUS AND TERRIFYING CONFLAGRATION" and a "VAST ENTERTAINMENT" that spared no expense. Nearly fifty years later in 1989, the London stage could tolerate Screamers, a comedic look at homosexual life in the 1960s which acknowledged the change in attitudes toward homosexuality that had transpired in intervening years. British theater had come a long way from the days of melodrama, vaudeville, revues, and censorship. Frith Banbury made the transition as well, both as a witness and participant in the history of the theater.
While the West End was the focal point of Banbury's career, his productions were seen in the United States as well as Dublin, Toronto, The Netherlands, Tel Aviv, Paris, Africa, and Australia. He worked with and promoted playwrights such as Wynyard Browne, Rodney Ackland, Christopher Taylor, Emlyn Williams, Dodie Smith, Terence Rattigan, Tom Stoppard, Robert Bolt, Alan Bennett, John Bowen, and Ray Lawler. He directed actors and actresses including Edith Evans, Sybil Thorndike, Coral Browne, Deborah Kerr, Celia Johnson, Vanessa Redgrave, Ingrid Bergman, Peggy Ashcroft, Margaret Sullavan, Wendy Hiller, Ralph Richardson, Kenneth More, Rex Harrison, Edward Fox, Paul Scofield, Michael Redgrave, Richard Todd, and Vincent Price. Through his company Firth Banbury Ltd., founded in 1948, he produced many new plays including Neville Croft's All the Year Round, Dido Milroy's Always Afternoon, Leonard Smith's A Chance in the Daylight, W. S. Merwin's Darkling Child, Frank Harvey's adaptation The Day After the Fair, Charles Nolte's Do Not Pass Go, Robert Bolt's Flowering Cherry, Noel Robinson's Glasstown, John Whiting's Marching Song, Norman Rosten's adaptation Mister Johnson, Errol John's Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, Christopher Taylor's adaptation My Darling Daisy, Basil Thomas's Shooting Star, Robert Bolt's The Tiger and the Horse, N. C. Hunter's Waters of the Moon, and Wynyard Browne's Dark Summer, The Holly and the Ivy, A Question of Fact, and The Ring of Truth. Revivals include J. M. Barrie's The Admirable Crichton, Jean Anouilh's Adrèle, Henry James's The Aspern Papers, Bernard Shaw's Captain Brassbound's Conversion, T. W. Robertson's Caste, Emlyn Williams's The Corn is Green, Jerome Kilty's Dear Liar, Dodie Smith's Dear Octopus, Rodney Ackland's The Old Ladies, Frederick Lonsdale's On Approval, Bernard Shaw's On the Rocks, Robert Sherwood's Reunion in Vienna, John Galsworthy's The Silver Box, and Terence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy.
The first and largest series, Plays, contains materials primarily representing stage plays. A few radio, television, and film productions are also included. A televised revue, Look Here, appeared in 1939, not in the post-war era as one might expect, but in the early days of television. Subseries A, Individual Productions, is arranged alphabetically by play title, or in a few instances, by repertory. Similar types of material document the plays so that a common arrangement was created to facilitate access to the collection. Following a logical, sequential order mirroring the development of the play, scripts appear first, followed by correspondence, posters, production photographs, publicity clippings, and reviews. This sequence is consistent for each title. The folder list identifies Banbury's role as actor, director, and/or producer along with the name of the playwright. The names of authors, adaptors, and collaborators along with the year(s) the play was produced are also given, as well as indication of premiere (P) or revival (R). The notation "P, London" indicates a London premiere, with a first performance appearing elsewhere. For example, The Bad Seed was produced in New York prior to its appearance in London under Banbury's direction. Unless stated otherwise, theatres listed are located in London. Some plays are represented only by scripts which were sent to Banbury for his comment. Nothing further on Banbury's part developed with them. Likewise, not every project that Banbury undertook reached fruition. A number of plays were considered by Banbury, some involving considerable work, but for one reason or another were never produced or directed by him. For these plays, no role is indicated for Banbury.
Subseries B contains scrapbooks and posters which describe multiple rather than individual productions. The scrapbooks date from 1926-1944 and, from 1933, cover Banbury's acting career. Included are programs, production photographs, and publicity clippings which supplement the material gathered for the individual productions in Subseries A. For example, the four-year run of the Perranporth Summer Theatre from 1936-1939 is well represented. Play titles in this series include To See Ourselves, Rope, Springtime for Henry, The Shining Hour, The Dover Road, Maria Marten, Lovers' Leap, Dangerous Corner, Goodness, How Sad!, The Importance of Being Earnest, Night Must Fall, Lady Audley's Secret, Private Lives, Suspect, Accent on Youth, Friendly Relations, Bed and Breakfast, and Hands Across the Sea. These scrapbooks provide an important source of additional information and should be used in conjunction with production material arranged by title.
While correspondence pertaining to individual plays is found in Series I, Banbury maintained separate correspondence files which retain their original order in Series II, Subseries A. Subject files such as "actors" and "actresses" are included as well as files of correspondence with individual authors, editors, playwrights, managers, and designers. Correspondence from 1944-1995, of a general nature and found outside Banbury's arranged files, is now present in alphabetical order by correspondent in Subseries B. Correspondence throughout the collection includes copies of letters written by Banbury to others as well as letters written to him. Correspondents include: Boris Aaronson, Rodney Ackland, James Agate, Michael Annals, William Armstrong, Nelly Arno, Peggy Ashcroft, Hermione Baddeley, Keith Baxter, Cecil Beaton, Hugh "Binkie" Beaumont (H. M. Tennent Ltd.), Alan Bennett, Vivienne Bennett, Michael Benthall, Ingrid Bergman, Elisabeth Bergner, Grey Blake, Robert Bolt, John Bowen, Richard Briers, Coral Browne, Wynyard Browne, Denis Cannan, Vinnette Carroll, Jane Casson, Lewis Casson, Mary Clare, John Clements, Fay Compton, Katharine Cornell, Cicely Courtneidge, Kerry Lee Crabbe, Wendy Craig, Roland Culver, Stephen Curtis, Clemence Dane, Maureen Delany, Charles Drew, Charles Duff, Edith Evans, Eleanor Farjeon, Herbert Farjeon, Anthony Firth, Robert Flemyng, Evelyn Ford, Raymond Gérome, John Gielgud, Ruth Gordon, Virginia Gordoni, Yossi Graber, Charles Gray, Alec Guinness, Albert and Frances Hackett, John Hallett, Gordon Hamilton, June Havoc, Nigel Hawthorne, Clarissa Henry, Katharine Houghton Hepburn, Jane Henderson, Eileen Herlie, Wendy Hiller, Harold Hobson, Jack Hulbert, N. C. Hunter, Earle Hyman, Celia Johnson, Deborah Kerr, Maynard Keynes, Gordon Latta, Ray Lawler, Margaret Leighton, Joan Littlewood, Margaret Lockwood, Arthur Lowe, Arthur Macrae, Alfred Marks, Mark Marvin, Annabel Maule, Geraldine McEwan, W. S. Merwin, Bernard Miles, Jack Minster, Kenneth More, Robert Morley, Sheridan Morley, Benedict Nightingale, Charles Nolte, Bill Owen, Reece Pemberton, Vincent Price, Luise Rainer, Margaret Ramsay, Tony Randall, Terence Rattigan, Andrew Ray, Michael Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave, Beryl Reid, Ralph Richardson, Dorothy L. Sayers, Paul Scofield, Glen Byam Shaw, Dodie Smith, C. P. Snow, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Sullavan, Joan Swinstead, Jessica Tandy, Sybil Thorndike, David Tomlinson, Pieter Toerein, Frederick Valk, Ethel Wallace, James Ward, Emmanuel (Jimmy) Wax, Margaret Whiting, Emlyn Williams, Angus Wilson, and Diana Wynyard.
Financial and legal records are found in Series III, arranged in alphabetical order by play title or organization. These records contain bank and royalty statements, theatre returns, income and expenses, disbursements, agreements and contracts, and business correspondence. Records for Frith Banbury Ltd. are also present, from its inception in 1948 through 1978, including the Certificate of Incorporation, accounts, and minutes of the Board of Directors meetings from 1948-70. Directors included Frith Banbury, Wynyard Browne, and Emanuel Wax, with Marjorie Ida Sisley as Secretary of the company.
Series IV contains photographs of Banbury from 1932-1995 as well as other actors, actresses, and associates.
Other career related materials are found in Series V, including a holograph notebook containing Banbury's recollections; an article he wrote on Rodney Ackland for the National Theatre's production of Absolute Hell; articles about Banbury; correspondence and articles on Charles Duff's The Lost Summer dealing with the West End theatre and Banbury; an album of press clippings from 1956-70; and obituaries and other clippings saved by Banbury.

Frith Banbury Papers--Folder List