The Basil Dean Archive contains over fourteen thousand items and covers most aspects of Dean's long and varied career, which spanned almost sixty years. It constitutes one of the most significant archives available for studies of the commercial theatre in Britain from the 1920s to the 1950s, for the development of the British talking picture industry in the 1930s, and for the history of E.N.S.A. during the Second World War. It is also important for broader twentieth-century literary and cultural studies.
Correspondence and related papers form the largest groupings (over 9600 items), divided into general correspondence (DEA/1), correspondence and papers relating to productions (DEA/2), general business correpondence (DEA/3), papers relating to film companies and productions (DEA/4), and personal letters and papers (DEA/13). The fact that copies of Basil Dean's replies to many of his correspondents are present in the collection is a most valuable feature, providing a more comprehensive view of particular events and relationships. Actors, actresses, authors and playwrights are, of course, well represented. Amongst the most substantial groupings are those concerning H.E. Bates, Arnold Bennett, Lilian Braithwaite, Noel Coward, Gracie Fields, John Galsworthy, Graham Greene, Sir Barry Jackson, Margaret Kennedy, Walter Macqueen-Pope, Flora Robson, Sir Godfrey Tearle and P.C. Wren. There are over 800 letters and papers concerning James Elroy Flecker's Hassan, which Basil Dean adapted for the stage; these include some 80 letters from Flecker's widow. Dean could not have achieved his success without the assistance of able associates. Of particular importance were: George W. Harris, his designer; Roger Ould, his personal assistant; E.P. (Ernest Paul) Clift, his business manager; and George Ansley, who gave him substantial financial backing. Together their correspondence comprises some 600 letters. There are also over 200 letters and papers relating to his association with Sir Alfred Butt in the 1920s.
There are over 750 items relating to Basil Dean's directorship of the Entertainments National Service Association (E.N.S.A.), constituting probably the single most important source available for studies of the entertainment provided for the armed forces during the Second World War (DEA/5). A number of items relate to Dean's tours overseas, including his visit to the Allied Armies in North Africa in 1943, during which he entered Tunis shortly after its capture, while other papers concern his tour of India and South East Asia Command in the winter of 1944-5. There is correspondence relating to E.N.S.A.'s role in Europe, and in particular to Dean's production of The Apple Cart for the troops in Occupied Germany in 1946.
Other important elements of the archive are the prompt books (DEA/6); scripts, principally by Basil Dean himself (DEA/7); set and costume designs, chiefly the work of George W. Harris (DEA/8); over a thousand photographs, loose and in albums, relating to his career, his productions and his work in E.N.S.A. (DEA/9); and almost seven hundred programmes (DEA/10). The volumes of press cuttings (DEA/11) in the collection are an essential source. They date from 1904, when Basil Dean was performing in amateur theatricals, to the last decade of his life, and contain, in addition to reviews of his productions, many interviews with him on a wide range of subjects related to stage and cinema, together with articles he wrote and speeches he made. Throughout his career Basil Dean addressed the public, giving lectures and broadcasts, and later appearing on television. Many of these texts have survived in the archive, together with others of his writings (DEA/12).
An unexpected element in the archive is a set of six hundred items of correspondence of the novelist and playwright Arnold Bennett, relating to the theatre (DEA/14). Letters from Basil Dean form only a small part of this correspondence, and it has not been possible to establish how the whole came to be included in this archive.