Albert Hunt Topics List

Albert Hunt Topics List taken from his Interview with Susan Croft at his home in Halifax, July 2009.
Video and audio extracts edited by Jessica Higgs.

Personal background and beginnings
Born Burnley, Lancashire last day of 1928
Father ran a twisting machine and mill
Parents converted to Pentecostals when he was 3, Pentecostal upbringing
Scholarship to Accrington Grammar School and on to Balliol[Oxford] Pentecostal influence in his work
Later did project with group of Pentecostals in Bradford using material with people who’d been in war, it took shape of Pentecostal meetings, with testimonials from ordinary soldiers and Eichmann and Bomber Harris
Singing central to  show
No theatre during childhood – Pentecostals forbid theatre and cinema
Saw no daily paper until he was 10, no radio in house, Father had dismantled it on his conversion but reassembled the radio during war for news
AH would get home early and listen to forbidden programmes like Tommy Handley
Never saw films until he went to Oxford and joined filmed Film Society
His mother died when he was 10 and after AH spent his holidays with  favourite aunt in Wensleydale and Scarborough
First  theatre trip with her to see panto in Scarborough
AH, a fully-fledged Pentecostal between 12 and 17, playing piano accordion and preaching at open air meetings – learnt a lot about theatre there
Wasn’t involved in politics, none during  war except in 1942 election, he became very interested and went to meetings
He met Dorothy his wife at his aunt’s – aunt became most important person in his life after his father, after mother died. Aunt’s husband was killed in WW1 at Ypres: she’d become a pacifist and Quaker but never tried to influence AH about war
He was fascinated by war – although he hates it – still is
He was a conscientious objector himself
Precocious at school, took school certificate at 14 and spent 4 years in 6th form, on to Oxford from 1947-59
Registered as conscientious objector though didn’t need to – he was born with some fingers missing – refused to take a medical to show he objected to the system and instead of 2 years military service was clerk for 2 years with British Road Service in Burnley, learnt how to write letters and type there Returned to Oxford to do teaching certificate

Oxford University
Didn’t get a scholarship to Oxford but went for an interview and was offered a place at Balliol
Got place as a ‘commoner’ which pleased him, and finally got a state scholarship in 1947, was literally rung up over night and arrived without any preparation for the cultural shift awaiting him
When he went for his interview it was the first time he’d been south of Manchester although had travelled with Pentecostals
Strong tradition of boys from Accrington Grammar going to Oxford
Accrington Grammar a very good school from a traditional point of view, took working class boys and got them to Oxford
He took the wrong classes at Oxford – didn’t really know choices he should make – did French only – should have done a second modern language, got 2nd class honours in French without ever going to France
AH taught French and later worked there

Began interest in theatre and cinema
Theatre began with meeting Dorothy [his wife] and going to theatre with her in Liverpool
Saw plays at Oxford Playhouse
Experimental group at Oxford but wasn’t part of it
Quite involved with politics, first morning he was there asked to join Socialist Club, soon after asked to join Labour Club
Socialist Club mainly run by communists
Ended up on committee that gave him free access to first class cricket matches during summer months
Had two very close friends, met a guy from Crosby, Liverpool and became immediate friends despite him being a Roman Catholic, another who became a friend was from Burnley and a football supporter, this friend played guitar in Oxford jazz band, many an evening spent in his room with him singing along to the guitar
National Service substitute and teaching
Did substitute National Service living in Burnley-  tried to get a job in Liverpool but failed, but found a job with British Road Service in Burnley Labour Exchange, had a good time as there wasn’t much work happening at time
Had no intention of going into teaching but couldn’t think what else to do
Had a year’s scholarship money left and went back to Oxford to do teacher training, took Dorothy with him as they were married by then
Did teaching practice in Burnley
First teaching job was at Hammonds Grove School in Swaffham, Norfolk. Taught French and English
Saw advertisement for ‘Monitors’ to work in French holiday camps in the summer – Ministry of France ran summer camps for children of French financial people – each ‘colony’ had an English teacher
Worked in Savoy with 9 French kids, 24 hours a day without a break
After 3 days he thought he would go mad, but stayed and eventually got hooked on it, returning for 6 summers
Made some good friends there including first real anarchist  friend who introduced him to Paris
Whilst he was away Dorothy in England doing a range of odd jobs
Swaffham was a small school, Head of English department asked AH if he wanted to do a course in drama in Kings Lynn which is how he became involved in adult education
Most liberating experience after teaching in schools with their discipline
Adults come if they want and if they’re not interested, stay away
AH had to learn how to keep them interested and coming
Changed his attitude to teaching, did the first class and was offered more
First class was teaching history of drama from the Greeks onwards
Asked to run a youth group in Swaffham, entered them into a drama festival
Found a Sean O’Casey for 3 people, put it on, toured to all the local festivals and won every one

New directions through Encore
The through line of journey to date was everything being heresy – whatever he did had to be changed – as soon as he became interested in drama he wasn’t satisfied with what was going on in drama festivals
At same time became involved with London-based magazine called Encore, sent an article in about his experience of festivals and they published it and asked for more articles
Invited to a party Encore held in London, beginning of a different life for him. Wrote an article critical of Peter Brook (PB). PB wrote saying ‘I thought your review was very good and have passed it around the actors’ – it was very critical of the acting
He later worked with PB
Very impressed by one particular PB actress – Glenda Jackson (GJ)
Later when he worked with PB on US he and GJ fell out
At Swaffham from 1954 – 1960

Clive Barker heritage
It all began with Clive Barker (CB), he was a key Joan Littlewood (JL) person. AH had seen some of her shows and she was his God
CB turned up in Swaffham and influenced AH’s approach totally. When AH started his theatre group he asked CB how to do his first session: he said ‘use games’, and AH also studied Dorothy’s Girl Guide games book too
Went to do first session not knowing what would ensue, played some games and found all at once everyone talking about games from their childhood and for weeks they played games, opposite result to what he had expected
Played games, invented new ones and turned them into theatre, first piece of theatre came from games
CB had worked with JL – very important trainer in her group, CB  a very neglected hugely influential person

Adult Education post
Got full-time post in adult education in Shrewsbury, responsible for organising work and running courses of his own, did mainly theatre courses
As tutor was invited in to do work in schools and with organisations
One organisation asked him to do a course in Shewsbury Art School in out-of-school hours
Put up a notice for Saturday morning class, did games and more
Four people involved followed him up to Bradford
Did Ars Longa Vita Brevis by John Arden (JA) – second God to him
AH thought him the most underrated writer around, later JA confided that AH’s crits had kept him writing
JA invited AH to Kirbymoorside. JA’s wife, Margaretta D’Arcy did mad festival in Kirbymoorside inviting anyone up there in summer to participate
AH went up to see what was going on, that was his first involvement with them; later also worked with them in Ireland. Close friends for years, worked together in Bradford
Talked to Ardens about his idea of setting up a theatre group:  they encouraged him to do it, they gave him a lot of support
Met because Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance  [byJA] got terrible reviews, worst imaginable, but AH thought it one of the best plays written since Shakespeare, wrote about it in Encore and other papers
JA/MD wrote to him and they became friends from there

Ars Longe Vita Brevis
JA and BD invited AH up to their festival in Kirby Moorhead to work on Ars Longe Vita Brevis
He began with games and discovered that’s how JA/MD worked too
CB not directly connected with production, CB had a network of people going around locating interesting work, he kept them in touch with each other, sometimes bringing them together for festivals etc.
AH moved from Shrewsbury to Bradford
Children born in 1961/63 and 1967
Went to Bradford because Richard Hoggart (RH) told him to
RH on advisory board at Bradford Arts School who were looking for someone to do Integral Studies there, they were applying fora grant to set up a degree course :the Diploma in Art and Design
AH was part of the plan to get funding, he took job but by the time he arrived they heard they had failed in their application
Accepted a job in adult education in Stratford but before he went, and out of a conversation with his friend Bill Gaynor, sent a proposal to Principal at Bradford College for a scheme to relate Complimentary Studies to Textile Design (Bill’s department). Principal liked proposal and AH stayed

Bradford Art School course
Proposal to do Complimentary Studies through projects, rather than the one day a week, each to be run over a full-time two weeks
AH would post topics and students would select which one they wanted to base their project on
That system worked for a few years, made a connection between interests of teachers and those of students
A lecturer retired which freed up fees to bring in part-timers
They came to Bradford for two weeks for £250
Writers and people loved it, AH could get virtually who he wanted – John Arden and the like
Principal’s wife was pillar of local Conservatives, few enlightened people in Bradford but mainly conservative, but AH had complete backing and total support from Principal for all revolutionary work he put forward
Best boss he has ever had – Principal delighted by local row that blew up over their Russian Revolution piece staged in the streets of Bradford -one of the students was the son of a local councillor and was reporting back what was going on
Principal finally ran away to Portugal with secretary
[Susan asks question about logistics of staging such a site- specific piece.] AH says he didn’t’ really know what he was doing
It was the 60th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and thought it a good idea to something about that
In general students chose projects for all sort of unrelated and extraordinary reasons, they came from different departments having chosen what the project they were interested in
Not all of them worked but it’s the most interesting educational work he has ever done: the theatre group grew out of that
Supported by Geoffrey Reeves (GR) who’d worked with PB

Bit of talk about Hot Gospel [Pentecostal show] and how it came about [unclear information]
Other projects going on as well as his
He would approach people and ask them to put forward a proposal for working with groups of 15 students and then they would come and do it
BG and he discussed how the method could be applied in schools
At end of his time in Bradford they ran projects with school-leavers, it was at the time the government raised the age of school leaving

People he brought up to Bradford
Adrian Henri (AHe) was already doing similar kind of work in Liverpool
Adrian Mitchell (AM) he had known for along time, worked  together on US and lived in his house during that time
Geoffrey Reeves (GR) introduced to by AM, gave GR a lift up to Wakefield
in car, exchanged songs with each other on the trip

US with Peter Brook
PB brought together a group of people who knew each other for US
AH’s official title was Associate Director
Basically did what PB suggested – some research, writing, sat in on workshops & gave feedback
Piece developed organically, he’d go and watch some work PB had done, give feedback and new ideas built on
Everything fine until PB brought in writer, Denis Cannon (DC) at end to script it, previously AH thought PB was developing a contemporary, unscripted piece which for RSC was very daring, but PB panicked 6 weeks before performance and brought in DC from completely different background and style
Several of them had difficulty with second act, it had to be passed by the Lord Chamberlain – PB good at dealing with people in authority
Grotowski was brought in, PB sent AH out when Grotowski was working
AH personal opinion was that a show that began as a piece about Vietnam became one about Glenda Jackson
Second act was connecting with helplessness and impotence of people in Britain concerning Vietnam, piece  reduced down to ‘we can’t do anything about Vietnam so let’s do a play about it’ – (his crude simplification)

Hopes for Great Happenings
Regrets choosing that title as it was misleading for the times –
‘Happenings’ were happening then, but he meant the title literally, that there was hope for great things to happen
AH knew what he was trying to do in his work
A.S.Neill (Summerhill) and the ideas embraced by his school were always at the back of his mind when AH was working and as he decided to work with those who wanted to work with him, never met him, but a guiding star

As at Summerhill, AH wanted students to do what they wanted, and teachers to do what they wanted, finding a way to come together and do it as far as was practically possible
Conscious of work at Bradford being a unique experiment within the then current thinking and around education, that it should be different from the authoritarian system that was in place

AH wanted to introduce theatre into art colleges – what he’d done in Shewsbury, and intended continuing the idea whatever
Bradford allowed him to develop his idealism, original idea was for a fortnight but most often students wanted to continue projects and they did
Others would come in and it grew from there
It was very successful and attracted Arts Council and Gulbenkian funding
Idea behind courses were like Brecht’s ‘Truth is concrete’
AH asked a lecturer in graphics what he would like to do for a project
He said ‘something about buses or trams’, so the lecturer led that project and for a fortnight everyone travelled around buses in Bradford and wrote about their experiences
He would ask what people wanted to do, at first they were taken aback as no-one had ever asked them before – ‘Do you mean anything?’ and he’d say yes, as long as the college could afford to do it
Original idea was about what the students got out of the process itself
But when AM did a fortnight on poetry, a Poetry Society developed out of it and ran for some time after in pubs in Bradford
All successful projects had enduring outcomes, but that wasn’t the original objective – the project itself was the purpose
Discussion on plays by Bradford Art College Theatre Group which emerged from the projects
[Susan asking AH about the material he drew on for his projects making links with his background as a conscientious objector and interests in war and religion. AH replies use of these topics not conscious and never sought to influence people in his personal feelings about the subjects]
[Susan asking about theatrical vocabularies he used in his work: film, circus, music hall and other aspects of popular culture]
Made a play about John Ford making a film about the Cuban missile crisis [John Ford’s Cuban Missile Crisis]

The Anti-Hero Show
[Susan leads AH into memories of this piece but AH has difficulty in recalling it. Doug Lawrence (DL) playing the hero, played him frail – AH says DL always played himself. Themes of racism that are addressed in play].
AH believes that people pretend racism doesn’t exist and wrap it up in polite forms, and when introduced to it in a play, for instance if a character says, ‘You stupid wog’, the audience first laughs, but then question whether they should be laughing
AH likes introducing those elements into pieces, a bit like Brecht, getting audiences to confront themselves with difficult questions
He worked with an aboriginal girl when working at a college in Australia-  she was the token Aboriginal person on the course
AH applied the above techniques in the work and she checked with him if it was OK – he was the only person who actually acknowledged and confronted her presence and difference in the college and she understood what AH was doing

John Ford’s Cuban Missile Crisis and process
AH feels this was their most effective play
When they did plays he looked or two things, the subject they wanted to tackle, and the form in which to play it
He feels a lot of political plays have failed through lack of form
Cuban Missile Crisis was a good  example of their work – how could you make a play out of a film without it seeming like boring propaganda?
Similar in Passion Play which turned out one of the easiest  subjects to handle, bringing the authorised version of the Bible together with Mein Kampf, drifting in and out of both texts
Idea inspired by pupil who suggested bringing together the most good person who had ever lived, Jesus, with the most evil, Hitler. It almost wrote itself – Hitler as Christ

How company was run and worked
[Susan talking about funding and asks how company was run]
Never had leaders, it was run collectively with everyone doing what they were good at, all did research of material, improvised ideas, he would go away and write script that could then be refined
Hard core of four or five people over a number of years with others coming and going
Yorkshire Arts and ACGB helped fund the ex-students who stayed on to work there
AH still had lecture post, growing problems as the company became professional as AH wasn’t always available to tour and he was the pianist which was key to productions
Key people: Doug Lawrence – he went on to work with Lambeth Council
Four of the group went to work in London, a number returned
Chris Vine, graphic designer, lives down the road from Albert

Play about bombing of Dresden
AH first found out about the bombing of Dresden when he read David Irving (DI)’s book in the 1960s on the subject.
He later thought it would make a good project choice for his students, he invited DI to lead the project which he did
AH also visited DI who showed him a lot of material on subject
DI interesting person to discuss as he has become quite a national Black Sheep
At Bradford they always looked to meet people directly involved in subjects being addressed so contacted airmen who had raided Dresden
After project, as often happened, AH tried to develop a play from it, but that didn’t work in this instance, left it and in time developed the right structure and format for it to happen
Then out of the blue they received an invitation to take it to Desden (probably via a person he’d worked with in Amsterdam)
Dresden was in East Germany and under Soviet rule at the time
AH wrote a first act comedy called The Big Three where Stalin turns East Germany Communist, second half was about the bombing of Dresden
At end young people stood up and denounced the production for about 25 minutes, then an elderly lady stood up and said she had been there, then others followed bearing witness, next night more people showed up and it seemed that the young people had gone home and asked their parents about the bombing – a topic that had become un-talked of in Dresden at that time
PB’s ‘making necessary theatre’ had happened. People were discussing Dresden again
They went on to play to Berliner Ensemble actors in Berlin – very exciting
Few years later he heard from a young man in Dresden who requested a version of the play in German so that his company could produce and tour it in East Germany. AH sent him one through and then didn’t hear for quite a bit
When the young man got back in touch he apologised for silence but said he had been busy marching! (this was the time leading up to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall)
AH likes to think that production may have been one of a series of influences in that process

Description of Dresden piece
[Susan speaks of cardboard boxes used as the homes that were bombed and accounts from bombers on the raids]
AH met a woman in Dresden who’d been outside the city during the raid .When she returned a few days later she saw the streets strewn with dead bodies which had been shrivelled in the fire storm
She showed him adults who had been deformed by the raids
After seeing the production she told AH she’d seen those bodies all her life and now she would see AH’s cardboard boxes
The play hasn’t been performed since then

On leave, in Australia
He worked in Australia on and off for 3 years
Was invited to Queensland to help them set up a street theatre group inspired by the Bradford Art College work
Following year he worked on White Man’s Mission with them, the Queensland Popular Theatre
Following that they came to Bradford and worked with Bradford group, four of them went to Dresden on the Dresden show
First person who invited him over worked at Queensland University and read about Bradford and wanted to do something similar in Brisbane – had read about the Russian Revolution piece
Out of that the Queensland Popular Theatre was born
AH thinks that the Cuban Missile Piece was his best ever work
White Man’s Mission was about white men arriving in Australia with a bible in one hand and the gun in the other, introducing Christianity and leading to genocide of Aboriginals
Story about the use of the offensive word ‘Boong’ to call an Aboriginal = nigger for Blacks
In the play a character is having a picnic by the river, some Aboriginals turn up and ask him for some meat, he sends them away, ‘Here I am having me tucker and this Black guy asks me to give him food. How would you feel if a Boong or woman sat next to you in a pub?’
Feminism to the fore in Australia then as many pubs still banned women as well as Aboriginals
Company were invited to take play to a reserve where the audiences thought this story hilarious: it was very successful with Aboriginal audiences
Altogether in Australia for 4 years – at one point offered job in Melbourne and was going to resign, but Bradford kept him on their books with unpaid leave – they wanted to cash in on his name
Australian money funded his work out there, his family stayed in England, he would return November – February
He doesn’t know if he regrets his long absences now or not

Youth work in Bradford on return from Oz
On return to Bradford didn’t want to start theatre work again although theatre group was still in action
He was developing his secondary schools work (this was early 1980s)
The theatre group worked with him on this on his work with school leavers
Projects – he would send school leavers round Bradford with video cameras interviewing people on certain subjects
Video cameras were new then but a lot stayed sitting in classroom cupboards unused, people said he was crazy letting the students loose with the cameras but they were always returned
One project was asking members of the public whether they had had a dream the night before and what it was, they brought back amazing material
The idea was to create an archive but AH doesn’t know what’s happened to it
His interest was in the project itself and experience for youths
Another topic asked was ‘Suppose you were given £1,000 what would you do with it?’

[Susan: did you have any links with the other Bradford based alternative theatre companies such as Theatre in the Mill and General Will?]
AH obviously knew them and they sometimes did shows in the college but never worked together
AH likes to think the work his group did encouraged others to start up and Bradford was certainly an interesting place to be then
Welfare State started with him-  he offered John Fox (JF) a job at the college
He’d been working outside Scarborough for some years and whilst lecturing in Bradford JF formed Welfare State. Llater he got a promotion to work in Leeds Art College and took the company there with him and they eventually ended up in Northwest [Burnley]

Post Bradford and Ireland
When he retired from Bradford he thought he would have time to do all things he wanted to do
He finished his book on Peter Brook, but hadn’t realised that when you’re out of the loop people stop contacting you about work and the opportunities dwindle
He did some TV work and went back to Australia
Did a lot of work in Ireland, a guy wrote to him from Derry asking AH to come and work with a festival that was held there which he did
The Troubles were at their height
AH began working with a catholic non-violent group working for change. Worked with them for several years, did pieces of theatre
They sent him to Brazil to get Boal to come over and work there which he did
He was made a sort of unofficial ambassador for a year-long International Derry festival and went around the world recruiting companies for it -very successful
The Boal projects weren’t all that good – he found Boal’s work formulaic and the results predictabl.
There was a fantastic group called Gardzienice who were from the Polish-Ukranian border
Before the break up of the Soviet Union they used to cross the border and do performances there, an extraordinary group
They made a real connection with the people of Derry and for some years there was a theatrical exchange between the two countries
This was while Poland was still part of the Soviet Union, they were a revolutionary group in a political sense who used rituals of the Orthodox Polish church
Interesting for AH as he used Pentecostal rituals in his political theatre
They were fantastic singers too
There were local plays about the Troubles but unable to say what they were
Derry wasn’t a comfortable place to live then, but then things change as they have done and all is very different there now
He tells a story about being stopped by some young Geordie British soldiers at a checkpoint who relax when they hear AH’s Yorkshire accent
Talks about how soldiering was sold glamorously on TV to poor youths, who joined up and ended up on the streets of Ireland knowing nothing about it

Films for TV
Made a Derry Diary for C4 commissioned by Alain Fountain
Second film The Schoolboys and the Wild Sow was about WW2 bombings in Germany, title coined from someone who had been involved in bombing Germans saying, ‘ We were fine schoolboys’, and the ‘wild sow’ was the name of a group of Germans formed to combat the enemy
These groups had got together post war and were now friends and the film was about them and their story
One of them spoke fluent German and acted as translator on the film
Story of how the man was translating the story of a woman who had survived the bombing of Düsseldorf which the man had been part of
AH was looking for something new in filming for TV
Dennis Mitchell’s work influenced him a lot, when he interviewed people he allowed them to talk for a long time which AH tried to replicate. If you interview someone for 2 hours you probably won’t get much for an hour, but then they lose awareness of recording and things really open up
Problems arise in TV because of limited time, he ended up arguing with editors who believe audience will lose interest if one stays with one subject for too long
[Dorothy says videos of this work are at Lancaster University]
AH says he has a lot of archive material at home but doubts whether people will remember or are indeed interested in the history
AH feels that things that seem important to him are not necessarily important to a younger generation and things that are happening now.
Little connection between then and intellectual climate now.
Wonders why people would be interested in this – it’s ancient history now. Maybe it wasn’t important – but the Dresden piece was important.

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