Keith Michell Archive

Scope and Content

The collection consists of memorabilia material collected by Keith Michell to document his career. Materials include annotated scripts, artworks, an illustrated diary and scrapbooks complied by Keith Michell which contain press cuttings, reviews, memorabilia and photographs of his theatre, television and film work.

Administrative / Biographical History

Keith Michell (1926-2015) was one of the leading actors of the 1960s and 70s and will be remembered for playing King Henry VIII on stage, TV and film.

Born in Australia, Michell was the son of Joseph, a cabinet-maker, and Alice (neé Aslat), and studied at Port Pirie high school, Adelaide Teachers' College and Adelaide University. While teaching art, he made his first stage appearance in Bill Daily's comedy Lover's Leap at the Playbox theatre in Adelaide in 1947. After doing work for the ABC radio network in the city, in 1949 he left for Britain and the Old Vic Theatre School. Michell's first London appearance was at the New Theatre in 1951, as Charles II in the musical of And So To Bed . He then joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company for a tour of Australia (1952-53), and on his return to Stratford-upon-Avon performed in The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Troilusand Cressida , and Romeo and Juliet . In 1955, Michell appeared opposite Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in Macbeth at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.

In 1956 he both played the title role in Ronald Duncan's Don Juan at the Royal Court theatre and joined the Old Vic Company and appeared as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing , Proteus in The Two Gentlemen of Verona , Antony in Antony and Cleopatra and Aaron in Titus Andronicus . In 1958, Michell appeared in the stage musical Irma La Douce , which marked not only a change of pace but a series of popular successful musicals including Robert and Elizabeth (1964), Man of La Mancha (1968) and La Cage au Folles (1983) which took him to the National Theatre, Washington, and to Broadway.

In 1974, Michell followed Laurence Olivier and John Clements to become artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre. Michell had been recruited by Olivier to play the lead, Don John, in John Fletcher's The Chances , in the first production at the new Chichester theatre, in 1962, and also for John Ford's The Broken Heart , in which he played Ithocles. After that he was always hoping for a return: "I loved working there on the open stage. I was there at its birth." What he called the "Vistavision width" stage at Chichester worried him slightly. He thought it like New York stages which, being wide and long, encouraged the actors to "play out front", frightened that if they did not address the audience from the edge of the stage they would lose its attention. One of his first acts as artistic director was to invite the four designers at Chichester into his office to talk about the stage. He had always held an interest in art and design and before moving to Britain had been an art teacher. He remained an accomplished painter. Chichester in 1974 was the first artistic directorship he had sought: "I knew I should want to do it if I was serious about the theatre. I should want to have overall direction of a company or festival at some stage." The season opened in May and included many productions in which he appeared: as the Director in Pirandello's Tonight We Improvise , as Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannus , and in Turgenev's A Month in the Country and Vanbrugh's The Confederacy . His film appearances included Dangerous Exile (1958), The Hell Fire Club (1961) and Seven Seas to Calais (1962), while The Executioner (1970) was a spy thriller directed by Sam Wanamaker.

Michell's most enduring role is Henry VIII in the landmark BBC Television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII . The BBC devoted an episode to each of the monarch's six consorts. The film version Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972) adapted the same material into a single film, directed by Waris Hussein. In 1996, he played Henry VIII again, in a television film, The Prince and the Pauper . At 67, he was relieved to discover that the costumes for the rotund king weighed only a fraction of the 20 stone of those he had needed 20 years previously. For Jeremy Lloyd's creation Captain Beaky and His Band , Michell illustrated the books and took part in performances once a recording of the songs had taken off in 1980, when the single entered the UK charts, Michell appeared on the Top of the Pops. Michell was an enthusiast of the Macrobiotic diet and wrote a cookbook devoted to the science of the diet complete with recipes. Keith Michell died in 2015.

Conditions Governing Access

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant. .

Acquisition Information

Given by Jeanette Michell, 2017

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with collection management policy.

Accruals

No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Material relating to Keith Michell, as well as the productions he appeared in, may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files.

Please ask for details.