Prizes for modernity in the provinces: The Arts Council's 1950-1951 regional playwriting competition

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Colleges, School and Institutes


As part of its contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain, the Arts Council ran what can be seen in retrospect to be an important playwriting competition. Disregarding the London stage entirely, it invited regional theatres throughout the UK to put forward nominations for new plays within their repertoire for 1950-1951. Each of the five winning plays would receive, what was then, the substantial sum of textsterling100. Originality and innovation featured highly amongst the selection criteria, with 40 per cent of the judges' marks being awarded for textquotedblleftinterest of subject matter and inventiveness of treatmenttextquotedblright. This article will assess some of the surprising outcomes of the competition and argue that it served as an important nexus point in British theatrical historiography between two key moments in post-war Britain: the first being the inauguration of the Festival of Britain in 1951, the other being the debut of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in May 1956. The article will also argue that the Arts Council's play competition was significant for two other reasons. By circumventing the London stage, it provides a useful tool by which to reassess the state of new writing in regional theatre at the beginning of the 1950s and to question how far received views of parochialism and conservatism held true. The paper will also put forward a case for the competition significantly anticipating the work of George Devine at the English Stage Company, which during its early years established a reputation for itself by heavily exploiting the repertoire of new plays originally commissioned by regional theatres. This article forms part of a five year funded Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project, 'Giving Voice to the Nation: The Arts Council of Great Britain and the Development of Theatre and Performance in Britain 1945-1994'. Details of the Arts Council's archvie, which is housed at the Victoria Albert Museum in London can be found at Keywords: Arts Council of Great Britain, regional theatre, playwriting, Festival of Britain, English Stage Company (Royal Court) , Yvonne Mitchell


Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)391-397
Number of pages7
JournalHistory Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2012