Reading Rayner Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises theatre history, biography, memoirs, playtexts, an excellent selection of theatre programmes (largely focussed on London from the 1930s to the 1970s) and magazines. One of the most interesting periodicals is the Play Pictorial, which we have catalogued in detail.

Many of the books in this collection remain uncatalogued.

Administrative / Biographical History

Jack Reading was born on 11th March 1916 and attended Barrow Hill Road School from 1921-1927. At St. Marylebone Grammar School Jack became a prefect and matriculated, then attended University College, University of London where he gained an Honours Degree in English. From 1937-1939 he was employed by Charles J. Sawyer of Grafton Street, an Antiquarian Booksellers. During this time he was also Assistant Editor of The World of Art, and served on the Miners' Welfare Committee.

During the Second World War, Jack served in H.M. Armed Forces, first in Intelligence section, Infantry, and then in A.A. Defence-Radio-Location. He progressed through the ranks to Staff Sgt. and then gained a commission. He was demobbed in 1946 as (Substantive) Captain and returned to work in the mining industry. He worked in Social Welfare, first with the Miners' Welfare Commission and later with the National Coal Board and the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. Until 1981 he was responsible for national activities such as brass band championships, amateur boxing, art and drama, paraplegic sports and invalid welfare.

During this same period, in a voluntary capacity, Jack Reading pursued an interest in the theatre and theatre history. He was a founder member of the Society for Theatre Research, one of its Joint Honorary Secretaries for a long period, Chairman for four years, then one of its Vice Presidents. Jack was also a founder member of the International Federation for Theatre Research and its Secretary General for 5 years. He served as a permanent member on the Executive Committee responsible for membership and performed similar duties for its sister organisation, The International Association of Libraries & Museums of Performing Arts. In 1955, Jack Reading was one of the prime movers in the campaign for the establishment of a Theatre Museum in the UK. He later became a trustee of the Theatre Museum Association.

Jack was a founder member of the Kent Costume Trust. He gave his entire library of theatre material to the Templeman Library, University of Kent at Canterbury, where it forms the Reading-Rayner Collection. He has also given other material of a non-theatrical nature to the Templeman Library. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Kent in July 2000.

Jack Reading died August 2004 aged 88; a great loss as a friend and benefactor to the University of Kent, and to the world of theatre scholarship.


The Reading Rayner Collection is divided into various sections:

  • UKC/READING-RAYNER/PRG : theatre programmes and flyers
  • UKC/READING-RAYNER/PLAYPIC : bound editions of the Play Pictorial periodical
  • UKC/READING-RAYNER/BOOKS : published volumes on theatres, actors and theatre history

Access Information

Contact to make an appointment for viewing. You will need to give a list of items you would like to see. Please be aware that we need at least half a day's notice of a visit.

Acquisition Information

Jack Reading and Colin Rayner began donating their collection of books, pamphlets, and periodicals relating to the performing arts to the Templeman Library in the mid 1980s. After Jack's death, in 2004, the complete collection was donated to the Library.

Other Finding Aids

Item level catalogue of programmes and Play Pictorials available on the Special Collections website

Item level catalogue of published books available on the University of Kent and Cathedral Library catalogue

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies permitted in accordance with copyright law and at the discretion of the Specialist Collections and Academic Archives team where contents are of a sensitive nature.

Appraisal Information



No further accruals expected