Christopher Fry, playwright: papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This material has been arranged chronologically according to the order that works were first performed or broadcast, except correspondence, which has been arranged alphabetically by surname of correspondent. The archive is organised into the following series:

  • Scripts
  • Other writing
  • Diaries and notebooks
  • Music sheets
  • Programmes
  • Photographs
  • Press cuttings including reviews
  • Audio-visual material
  • Correspondence
  • Family and School papers

This collection contains Christopher Fry's scripts for stage plays, film, radio and television drama as well as his correspondence, notes and diaries and material relating to the performance of his plays.

Administrative / Biographical History

Christopher Fry was born on 18 December 1907. He was originally named Arthur Hammond Harris and during his childhood adopted the surname Fry from his maternal grandmother. In his late twenties he became known as Christopher Fry. He went to Bedford Modern School, where he wrote his first play at eleven and his first verse drama at eighteen. He worked for a short period as an actor  and teacher  and then became director  of a repertory theatre in Tunbridge Wells in 1934, directing the English premiere of George Bernard Shaw's Village Wooing. He also worked as a composer lyricist .

In 1938 Fry wrote The Boy with a Cart after being invited by a Sussex vicar to celebrate St Cuthman, who pushed his mother from Cornwall to Steyning in a wheelbarrow. In 1939 he wrote The Tower based on the history of Tewkesbury Abbey. Both these plays are said to be influenced by T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. During the war he spent four years as a non-combatant in the Pioneer Corps as well as being the director of the Oxford Repertory Players in 1940. In 1946 A Phoenix Too Frequent was staged at the Mercury Theatre in London and featured Paul Scofield. It was based on the story by Petronius about a widow who is persuaded not to lock herself away in her husband's tomb. In 1946 he also wrote an early version of The Firstborn telling the story of the struggle between Moses and the Pharaoh in Egypt. He then wrote Thor with Angels about the spread of Christianity for the Canterbury Festival in 1948.

In 1946 Alec Clunes commissioned The Lady's Not For Burning for the Arts Theatre Club, which features a soldier who wants to be hanged and a suspected witch who does not want to be burned. First performed in 1948, it then had a long run in London's West End with John Gielgud, Pamela Brown, Richard Burton and Claire Bloom. Seen by some as an important return to verse drama, others including Kenneth Tynan saw it as backward looking. In 1950 it transferred to New York's Broadway with Burton. In 1950 Fry also wrote a translation of Jean Anouilh's L'Invitation au chateau as Ring Round the Moon for Peter Brook. He also wrote Venus Observed for Laurence Olivier, in which an astronomer asks his son to choose his own stepmother from three former mistresses. In 1950 he wrote A Sleep of Prisoners for the Festival of Britain in 1951, which featured four prisoners of war who recreate Old Testament stories in their dreams. In 1953 he wrote the screenplay for The Beggar's Opera directed by Peter Brook and with Olivier in the lead role. In 1954 he wrote The Dark is Light Enough, the third part of his seasonal plays, starring Edith Evans, set as the Hungarians rise up against Austrian rule in the 19th century. In 1955 his translations of Anouilh's L'alouette as The Lark and Giraudoux's La guerre de Troi n'aura pas lieu as Tiger at the Gates were both performed in London's West End.

In the late 1950s Fry went to Rome to help re-write the screenplay for Ben Hur. He also wrote the screenplay for Barabbas (1962) and for The Bible (1966). He continued writing plays, although his type of verse drama had fallen out of favour since the rise of realistic prose drama in the 1950s. In 1961 he wrote Curtmantle about the conflict between Henry II and Thomas Becket and in 1970, the fourth season play, A Yard of Sun about family reunions after a war. He also translated Giraudoux's Pour Lucrece as Duel of Angels in 1960 and Judith in 1962. In addition, he translated Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt in 1970 and Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac in 1975, both for the Chichester Festival Theatre. A Ringing of Bells was commissioned by his old school in 2000 and was put on at the National Theatre the following year.

In 1962 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 1999 The Lady's Not For Burning was voted as one of the hundred best plays of the twentieth century in a National Theatre poll. He died on 30 June 2005.

Arrangement

This material has been arranged chronologically according to the order that works were first performed or broadcast, except correspondence, which has been arranged alphabetically by surname of correspondent. The archive is organised into the following series:

  • Scripts
  • Other writing
  • Diaries and notebooks
  • Music sheets
  • Programmes
  • Photographs
  • Press cuttings including reviews
  • Audio-visual material
  • Correspondence
  • Family and School papers

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

Bequest of Christopher Fry, 2005.

Other Finding Aids

An item level list describing in more detail most of the individual letters in THM/319/9 is available as a Word document. This list can be found in the first box of correspondence. Please ask for details.

Separated Material

Material received with the archive which has been transferred to other collections:

  • Jerome K Jerome, Stage-Land: Curious Manners and Customs of its Inhabitants, published by Chatto & Windus in 1889.
  • Typescripts for Temple Folly and Joanna Laughs, both by Bridget Boland.
  • Playbills for Tumbridge Wells Theatre, 1823, 1824 and 1829.
  • Single sheet broadside announcing the 'Total Destruction of Drury Lane Theatre' in 1809.
  • Three letters from Sarah Siddons, one dated 1809.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Accruals

No further accruals to this collection are expected.

Related Material

See also Theatre & Performance Core Collections: material relating to Christopher Fry may be found in several collections, including his biographical file, relevant production files, and photographs. Please ask for more details.