Stephen Joseph Papers

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 SJ
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      6.5 linear metres (7 series; 161 items).
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The collection consists mainly of correspondence, much of which has retained its original arrangement. From 1955 to 1961, the letters are arranged alphabetically within years. Following the establishment of a permanent company at the Victoria Theatre in Stoke, the letters are divided into those for Scarborough and Stoke, and are no longer sorted alphabetically, instead being in chronological order. There is a large amount of especially detailed correspondence concerning the disagreement between Stephen Joseph and Peter Cheeseman over the Victoria Theatre. There is also much private correspondence from Stephen Joseph's friends and family, as well as more professional letters relating to his work at Manchester University, his position in the ABTT, his visits to, and contact with, America, and his writing career. In addition, there are many original manuscripts of books, articles and open letters. as well as plans and photographs which illustrate his work.

Administrative / Biographical History

Stephen Joseph is best remembered as one of the champions of new theatre forms, especially 'theatre in the round', which was one of his lifelong obsessions, and his personal and professional commitment to the reeducation of actors, architects and the theatre-going public earned him a place in the ranks of theatrical pioneers.

Born in 1921 to the actress Hermione Gingold and the publisher Michael Joseph, Stephen Joseph was educated at Clayesmore School, and went on to become the youngest student at the Central School of Speech and Drama in 1937. After serving in the Royal Navy during the second World War (and being awarded the D.S.C.), he attended Cambridge University where he gained an M.A. in English Literature, and produced several revues and plays. He began his theatrical career in November 1948 at Lowestoft Repertory Theatre, as a producer and designer, and then proceeded to the Frinton Summer Theatre, where he acted as a producer, designer and business manager, before taking up a post as tutor at the Central School of Speech and Drama. In 1951, Stephen Joseph went to America to study at the University of Iowa, where he studied for a degree in drama, majoring in playwriting. During this time, he also acted in and directed several plays, and was able to see theatre in the round at first hand.

On his return to England, whilst still a tutor at the Central School, he founded the Studio Theatre Company, which was the first professional repertory group set up for the express purpose of performing plays in the round. The company began to present summer seasons in the public library in Scarborough in 1955, and in the autumn began monthly Sunday night performances in the Mahatma Gandhi building in London. In addition, from 1956, it toured all over England as a portable theatre in the round, with seasons of up to four weeks being played in converted halls, mainly in large towns in the Midlands, such as Birmingham, Leicester and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

A permanent base was created when, in 1962, Stephen Joseph formed the Victoria Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent, with Peter Cheeseman as director; the company were able to present plays all year, instead of seasonally, although summer seasons in Scarborough carried on. In the same year Stephen Joseph was appointed the first fellow of the newly founded Department of Drama at Manchester University, involving both teaching and research, and was obliged to leave the day to day running of the Victoria Theatre to Cheeseman. Joseph continued to write constantly upon the merits of theatre in the round in all its forms, including articles, letters to newspapers, and several books including Theatre in the Round in 1967, New Theatre Forms in 1968, and The Story of the Playhouse in England, also in 1968. He was also closely involved in the setting up of the Association of British Theatre Technicians and its offshoot the Society of Theatre Consultants, and made endless recommendations upon the creation of modern theatres in universities, schools, city centres etc. using his not inconsiderable architectural skills to spread his enthusiasm for new theatre trends. In 1966, an almighty quarrel developed between Stephen Joseph and Peter Cheeseman concerning the running of the Victoria Theatre, with accusations of mismanagement and despotism on both sides. Joseph's attempts to remove Cheeseman, and the crisis this created in the company, led to the takeover of the theatre by a local trust, and an end to the Studio Theatre Company's involvement at Stoke. During the quarrel, which lasted until well into 1967, Stephen Joseph was suffering from the liver complaint which finally killed him in September 1967, at the age of only 46.

He was sadly mourned by those whose talents he had encouraged - such as new playwrights like David Campton, Alan Ayckbourn, and Peter Terson - who had been given a platform upon which to try out new and exciting forms of theatre. His enthusiasm affected those around him to such an extent that they were prepared to work for next to nothing in order to share in his vision. Some of his theatrical ideas were never realised, such as his 'Fish and Chip Theatre', in which the actors would have to compete with a chip shop and an audience with freedom to move around the theatre, but he was responsible for introducing to this country a growing trend for new theatrical ideas, especially theatre in the round, which today is almost commonplace.

The 1967 summer season in Scarborough was organised by four friends of his; Alan Ayckbourn, Ken Boden, Alfred Bradley and Rodney Wood. Alan Ayckbourn (who had been a member of the company, and whose early plays Stephen Joseph had performed) became artistic director in 1970, and in 1976 the company moved into larger premises at Westwood. The building has since been adapted, and opened in 1996 as the Stephen Joseph Theatre, a fitting tribute to a talented and inspirational man.


The collection arrived in 32 filing boxes and a trunk (which has since been transferred into boxes). As it is impossible to ascertain whether or not the present arrangement is the original order, little attempt has been made to rearrange the documents.

The collection is divided into:

  • SJ/1 Correspondence and papers
  • SJ/2 Writings
  • SJ/3 Books
  • SJ/4 Photographs
  • SJ/5 Plans
  • SJ/6 Set designs
  • SJ/7 Miscellaneous

Access Information

Open to any accredited reader.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the UML to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated to the Library by David Campton, the literary executor of Stephen Joseph's estate, in 1972.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Related Material

Related archive collections include the papers of Hugh Hunt, professor of drama at the University of Manchester.


For an overview of work at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke, both during and after Stephen Joseph's involvement, see George Rowell and Anthony Jackson,The Repertory Movement: a History of Regional Theatre in Britain, (Cambridge University Press, 1984).

Stephen Joseph's own books provide an invaluable background to his work and philosophies, especially Theatre in the Round, Barrie & Rockliffe, 1967. which charts the creation and early working life of the Studio Theatre Company.

Geographical Names