The Sue Townsend collection

Scope and Content

The collection contains the literary, personal and business papers of Susan Lillian Townsend, author and playwright. The literary papers consist of correspondence with publishers, agents and contemporary writers; holograph manuscripts, typescripts, notebooks and research material relating to her books, plays and screenplays, both published and unpublished; and material relating to her contributions to newspapers and magazines. The author's personal papers include family photographs, letters and ephemera. The business papers relate to the financial and administrative papers of Sue Townsend Ltd, including accounts, contracts and royalty statements.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born in Leicester in 1946, Sue Townsend is the creator of the bestselling diarist, Adrian Mole. Having left school at fifteen, she became employed in a variety of jobs, including petrol pump attendant and shop assistant. She married at eighteen and had her first child a year later. Following the birth of two more children, she began working on an adventure playground situated on the Leicester estate on which her literary hero, Joe Orton, grew up. In 1978 her second husband pushed her into joining a writer's group at the Phoenix Arts Centre in Leicester after she admitted that she had been writing in secret for most of her adult life. This writing outlet led her to write her first play 'Womberang' for which she won a Thames Television Bursary as Writer in Residence. Having launched her professional writing career, she went on to write a number of successful plays, including 'Bazaar and Rummage' (1982) and 'The Great Celestial Cow' (1984), both of which were performed at the Royal Court Theatre. However, she is perhaps best known for the Adrian Mole diaries. The first of these, 'The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4' (1982) and its sequel, 'The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole' (1984) made her the bestselling author of the 1980s. They were followed by 4 more titles in the Adrian Mole series, which in total have sold over eight million copies and have been adapted for radio, television and theatre. Other bestselling works include 'The Queen and I' (1992) and 'Number 10' (2002). In 1991 she was awarded an Honorary MA by the University of Leicester.


Before its arrival at the Library, the contents of the filing cabinets had been sorted to a greater or lesser extent by Sean Townsend. This is particularly true of the author's literary papers, which were broadly arranged into the following series: books, stage plays, screenplays, radio plays, early material and articles. Papers related to individual works, including research notes, manuscripts, typescripts, and in some instances, correspondence and newscuttings, were kept together and largely filed within the relevant series. Whilst this arrangement may not necessarily reflect the author's original order, the sorting work was undertaken at Sue Townsend's own request, and as such, the order has been retained. However, over the intervening years more material was added to the collection and the filing cabinets became disordered, necessitating the need for further sorting work to take place by the archivist. During this process, the literary papers were arranged to reflect the evolutionary pattern of each work and placed in chronological order by date of publication or performance. The remaining unsorted literary material, which had been kept in plastic bags or in records management boxes at a local solicitors, was arranged in a similar fashion and amalgamated with the rest of the collection. Where there has been any significant deviation from the original arrangement of literary papers, a note has been made in the catalogue. The remaining papers in the collection have been arranged into series according to the format of the material, a method which best reflects the way in which much of the unsorted material was found, with correspondence, notebooks, business papers, personal papers and so forth being stored separately. The exception to this is correspondence related to individual literary texts. These letters have been retained with the literary papers of the works themselves, reflecting the way in which they were originally stored. The contents of obvious bundles or files created by Sue Townsend herself, or her sister Kate Boldry, have largely been kept together and retained in their original state. Where the files were simply modern document wallets or square cut folders, which are not suitable for storing archival material, they have been disposed of, although exact transcriptions of the their titles have been provided in the catalogue. File covers and document wallets which have been used by Sue Townsend to make detailed notes have been retained alongside the material they originally contained.

Access Information

The collection is open to bona fide researchers, although some papers which are of a particularly sensitive nature, including some correspondence files, all financial records and some early personal papers are closed under the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998. More detailed information about closed records is provided at file level in the University of Leicester library catalogue. The Special Collections is open Monday-Friday 9 am-5 pm. Access by appointment only. Contact to make an appointment.

Acquisition Information

The main bulk of the archive was deposited by Sue Townsend at the University Of Leicester Library in April 2005. There was a further accession of material in July 2007 and further accruals are expected. Where papers came to the Library after the initial 2005 accession, the catalogue includes a note of this.

Other Finding Aids

University of Leicester Library catalogue at

Archivist's Note

Description prepared by Alex Cave on 3 April 2006.

Conditions Governing Use

Much of the material in the archive remains in copyright. Copyright of Sue Townsend's own papers is held by Sue Townsend. Copyright of the residual material, such as letters written to her and works by other authors, remains with individual authors. Photocopies of material can be supplied for private research purposes only. However, 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. A copy of such written approval from the copyright holder must be received by the Librarian before reproductions can be made. It is also the researcher's responsibility to obtain the relevant copyright holder's permission to publish or cite papers from the archive. A copy of such written approval from the copyright holder must be received by the Librarian prior to publication. The Library will not be responsible for any failure on the part of authors and publishers to seek such permission to publish. Readers are required to sign a form accepting these conditions.

Custodial History

The core of this substantial collection constitutes the literary papers of Susan Lillian Townsend generated during the first thirty years of her life as a professional writer. Half of the papers were originally stored in 11 large filing cabinets at the company offices of Sue Townsend Ltd in Knighton Fields Road West. Whilst there, the writer's eldest son, Sean Townsend, sorted the contents of the cabinets. The collection was then moved to larger premises, where Kate Boldry undertook some further maintenance work on the files. 10 large plastic boxes and bin bags containing unsorted literary and financial papers were later added to the collection and stored with the filing cabinets. The entire archive was transferred to the Special Collections Department of the University of Leicester Library in April 2005. Records Management boxes containing the papers related to 'The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole', 'The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole', 'The Queen and I', 'Rebuilding Coventry', 'Ghost Children' and 'Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years' were stored at a solicitor's office in Leicester before being deposited at the Library.

Related Material

See also the Chris Challis collection and the Joe Orton collection, both from the Special Collections of the University of Leicester.