Bruce Birchall, Artistic Director of West London Theatre and Itinerant Theatre (? – 2011)
Bruce was the Artistic Director of West London Theatre Workshop, a socialist company, formed in 1971, for which he wrote campaigning plays and plays for children. These included The Ello Ello Ello Show (1971), Badman Rides Again (1973), The Law and You (1974), Heroes Fit for Homes (1974), Work Kills (1975), International Who’s Year (1975) and The James Whiter-than-Whitehouse Show (1975). Earlier he had written for Cambridge Street Theatre (The Sad and Avoidable Fate of Everyone Here) in 1969 and wrote for them again in 1980 – Repatriate Enoch Powell and in 1970 he worked with John Arden and Margaretta D’Arcy on a piece for Muswell Hill Street Theatre: Welfare Cottage or Wolfcare House?. Among the many other companies for whom he wrote were Wearabout Theatre Sunderland (1977); Community Arts Workshop, Manchester (1978), Link TIE Doncaster (1978) and Box-Tin Junk Children’s Theatre, Liverpool (1980). Between 1981 and 82 he created several shows in Speke, Liverpool working with Speke Youth House and with Topical Theatre.
In 1978, having lost his funding in London he moved to Sheffield and re-created the company as Itinerant Theatre, starting with funding from a Job Creation scheme, though the company then got some funding from Yorkshire Arts, South Yorkshire County Council and ACGB. Shows included May Day: Our Day (1978) and Robin of Loxley (1979), both by Birchall, and Dole Q Stories by Chris Hawes. While based in Sheffield he also wrote The True and Unrepentant Historie of Squire Wentworth and His Follies or The Pitmen’s Revenge for Northern College of Arts in Barnsley and in1980 Cut It Out for Intake Takeout Theatre, written for a Trades Council demo and striking steel workers’ benefits and in 1981 for the same company Mr Silicon Chipperfield’s Crazy Comical and Chaotic Circus on youth unemployment. He also created the anti-sexist cabaret Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs (1983) for a Leeds University Theatre Group. In recent years he was once more based in West London.
Frances Rifkin writes:
‘He was very active in disability issues in Equity despite his bad health and was always intellectually lively and active. I understood he was writing his autobiography’.
Steve Gooch sent us this appraisal:
‘Bruce B, although scorned by David Edgar and other (mostly middle-class) left-leaning luminaries of the Theatre Writers Union, was extremely generous towards others with both his time and his energy. You wondered what kind of private life he had, but I suspect that almost all of his life was devoted to public causes. I was particularly one of the many beneficiaries of his early engagement with word processing, and subsequently computer, technology. Thanks to him I got into computers early, which meant I enjoyed greater versatility with them later on. We saw them then as being for writers the equivalent of labour-saving devices like washing machines, dishwashers, electric drills, saws and screwdrivers. You’d go round to Bruce’s, ignoring the clutter and the smell, and he would spend hours teaching you the techniques, showing you new gadgets, and passing on cut price deals on equipment. While his detractors scoffed, Bruce was already wise to the liberating and democratising potential of the new technologies. He already saw that the means to see the writing process through to book form might enable writers to short-circuit the compromised and gadarene capitulation to whim, fashion and peer pressure which besets the job. He was an independent thinker who was willing to see through in personal and practical commitment the full implications of a revolutionary take on the writers’ unions, the theatre and indeed the wider world, unlike those for whom it proved to be more of a short-lived and narcissistic dalliance.’
Peter Pickering wrote:
I have just, for some reason, googled Bruce Birchall and found that he had died. I knew him quite well in the 1980s – nothing to do with the theatre, but on the Committee of the Middlesex County Chess Association, of which I was then secretary. He was not a particularly strong player (though stronger than me), but he put a lot of enthusiasm into increasing the participation of girls in competitive chess. He could be rather rebarbative – I think you must be aware of this. It seems that he stopped active competitive chess in around 2003 – at which time he was playing for the Braille Chess Association.
We would very much like to hear from anyone who knew or worked with him and can maybe write a lengthier, more personal obituary of him and supply details of any of the companies mentioned above. We are also keen to ensure that copies of his scripts are preserved so if anyone has any of these – or publicity or photos for any of his plays, please contact us.