Papers of J.C. Trewin

Scope and Content

The collection contains both personal papers and material collected by Trewin relating to the English stage. The latter includes theatre programmes 1906-1989, theatre posters 1783-1936, photographs (original and reproduction) of productions 1905-1970, issues of theatrical periodicals 1906-1986, albums of press cuttings, and other miscellaneous material. There are also letters collected by Trewin to and from Constance and Frank Benson, and eighteen letters and postcards (three original and fifteen facsimile) from George Bernard Shaw.

The personal material includes many letters written to Trewin over the course of his career on theatrical and literary subjects. Major correspondents (with more than ten letters) include Enid Bagnold, Guy Boas, Charles Causley, Christopher Fry, Val Gielgud, Paul Scofield, Robert Speaight and Ben Travers. Other correspondence includes letters of congratulation on the presentation of Trewin's OBE in 1981, and letters of condolence written to Wendy Trewin on the death of her husband. There is also material relating to Trewin's biography of Robert Donat and a legal dispute with the playwright Veronica Haigh which arose from it. The collection contains drafts and typescripts of some of Trewin's work, over fifty notebooks, and drafts of an account by Trewin's father of his early years at sea.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Courtenay Trewin was born near the Lizard, Cornwall on December 4th 1908, the son of John Trewin, Master Mariner. He was educated at Plymouth College. At the age of 18 he began work as a journalist for The Western Independent in Plymouth, becoming their dramatic critic two years later. In 1933 he moved to London and joined the staff of The Morning Post, continuing his theatre work by acting as the Post's second-string critic. After the merger with The Daily Telegraph in 1937 Trewin worked as a freelance writer. He became a regular contributor to The Observer and eventually joined their staff, working as Literary Editor from 1942 to 1948. In 1958 he took up the position of London dramatic critic for The Birmingham Post, which he continued until his death.

Trewin wrote theatre reviews and articles for other publications throughout his career, including Punch, John O'London's Weekly, The Illustrated London News and The Times. He was the author of many books: studies of English theatre history such as The Edwardian Theatre, discussions of Shakespeare including Five and eighty Hamlets, biographical studies of actors and directors including Peter Brook, Paul Scofield, Edith Evans, Sybil Thorndike, John Neville, Alec Clunes and Robert Donat, and books on his West Country origins such as the autobiographical Up from the Lizard.

Trewin was the editor of The West Country Magazine (1946-1952) and of fifty volumes of Plays of the Year. He was President of the Critics' Circle (1964-1965) and the West Country Writers' Circle (1964-1973), was created a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and in 1981 was made an OBE for services to the theatre. He married Wendy Monk in 1938 and they had two sons. He died on February 16th 1990.


Correspondence is divided into categories - historical, general, letters of congratulation, letters of condolence - and within those categories is arranged alphabetically by author. Photographs and theatre programmes are arranged chronologically. Theatre posters are also arranged chronologically and have been numbered separately to the main collection. Eleven boxes contain those items which are oversize.

Access Information

Open to all researchers. No reader's ticket is required but an appointment is necessary. Check for contact details and opening hours.

Acquisition Information

Purchased from Bloomsbury Book Auctions, 1995.


Description prepared by Bridget Andrews.

Biographical source: Times obituary, February 20th 1990.

Other Finding Aids

List available in the reading room.