Letters from Lindsay Anderson

I have met Lindsay Anderson in early seventieth. We were still in contact after I left London for West Germany.

Letters: one, two, three, four, five, six


LINDSAY ANDERSON “came from what he has described himself as, “an impeccable upper middle class background”. He was born in India, the son of an officer in the British army. Following public school education in Cheltenham College, England, he went on to Oxford University to read classics, which was interrupted by war service in the army.

Eventually he returned to Wadham College, Oxford, this time to complete a degree in English. Although he had done a little acting at school and some at Oxford, where he described the atmosphere as unpleasantly competitive and “pseudo – professional”, there was little evidence to suggest, at this stage, a creative artist who would become a film director.

But during his time at Oxford his passion for cinema found expression, when in 1947 he became one of the editors of “Sequence” which had begun life as a magazine for the Oxford University Film Society. Subsequently the magazine continued in London until 1952 when it was then co-edited by Lindsay Anderson and Karel Reisz”.

“Anderson was invited to make “The singing lesson” in Warsaw when he was there to direct a play. Poland was a country with which Anderson always had very affinity”.

– John Cartwright

letter one –

9 Stirling Mansions,
Canfield Gardens,

March 14, 1977

Bergengruenstrasse 25,
West Ber1in,

Dear Slavik,

Thank you for arranging the seats for SUMMERFOLK. I am sorry I missed Ilse after the performance – we may easily have failed to recognized each other.

I promised to write to you my impressions of the production, but it’s quite difficult. I admired the work, and the obvious grasp, imagination and talent of the director.
OF course what everybody says is true: there is a rather extraordinary capacity to fill the stage and keen it moving in a “musical” kind of way. But I have to say that I didn’t react very sympathetically to the personality of the production.

Personally, I prefer a production that does not advertise itself. That’s to say that I prefer the kind of direction which is not noticed by the public. It seems to me that a director’s work is first of all to serve his author and his actors, if the play is truthfully and understandingly represented, ‘then the director has done his job. But in this kind of production, one is continually and chiefly aware of the work and the presence of Peter Stein. The play is not brought to the public, it is represented on the stage with what sometimes seems a great deal of complacency or artistic self-satisfaction. The actors on the whole seemed to me to be extremly good and to work in a vary dedicated and intelligent way. But this did not stop them sometimes from being very irritating, in their over-indulgence of mannerisms and “atmosphere”. I don’t blame them for this: they are acting in the style set by the director.

For me, the production suffers from what I can only call a lack of humour. In life, Peter Stein may have a sense of humor: as an artist he, has none, or not very much. His work seems to me aesthetic in a very bourgeois sense – quite different from the aestheticism (or artistry) of Brecht, which is not bourgeois at all, but which is open, accessible, and always at the service of the subject. I know I surprised Ilse by saying that there was a lack of rythm in the production.

I don’t mean moment-to-moment rhythm, but the overall rhythm which gives shape and significance to the whole evening. I haven’t read Gorky’s play but I don’t imagine it is a very good one. Stein has not found a way of making it better, he has rather exploited its faults in order to create an impressionist work of his own. Perhaps this is what I mean when I say his production lacks “modesty”.

I do appreciate the virtuosity of the staging – particularly in the second half of the play. I am really glad I saw it – but I have, to admit I would cheerfully pay the same money not to see it again!

I genuinely admired Else’s acting, which I thought was, intelligent and sensitive, and quite free from the complacency shown by some of her fellow-artists. And remember what I said, Slavik, about writing objectively. Sometimes it is better to be untruthful if to be “truthful” means to be egotistical and self-indulgent and over-emotional and boring! (Perhaps this is something that Peter Stein could usefully learn too).

I am now rehearsing a new comedy with Ralph, Richardson and two other old, and very good actors. It will open for a provincial tour in April. In the middle of April I go to South Africa to present my films at Cape Town University, then I return and will bring the play into London at the beginning of May. So you see, there won’t be any time for me in the near future to come to Berlin. I am sorry. Perhaps later in the year.

How are you enjoying, Berlin? Your letters don’t really tell me…

All my best wishes to you and Ilse –

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letter two –

9 Stirling Mansions,
Canfield Gardens,

25 May 1977

Bergengruenstrasse 25,
West Ber1in,

Dear Slavek,

I’m sure you are right to try to avoid judging your neighbors. I also, I’m afraid, am over-prompt to make judgements and 1 wish I knew how to restrain this impulse, but it’s very difficult. Of course, the more busy and productive one is oneself, the less interested one is in other people’s work, and so the less prompt to make judgements about it.

Of course Pieter Stein is a remarkable talent, whether one happens to enjoy any particular work of his or even his work generally – or not. I certainly feel rather guilty to have made all those criticisms under the impact of that production, because it is at least an extremely individual, creative, work. and there aren’t many directors who are capable of producing such. 1 feel particularly vulnerable, having just opened my own new production in the West End – the comedy THE KINGFISHER – about which I may have written, before.

This new play is a very light, entirely bourgeois comedy – though not without charm. A cast of three old people; the two men are 74 and 71, and the heroine (the actress I mean) 68. The two leading players are very popular, loved and talented stars: Ralph Richardson and Celie, Johnson. The play itself is by a strange, rather nice, very prolific author, who has written some very successful plays (mostly comedies) and also quite a lot of very unsuccessful plays. He is generally derided by the intellectuals and regarded as the archetype of superficial, irrelevant, reprehensible dramatists. THE KINGFISHER has a lot of charm, and could have been an enjoyable, civilised exercise in style. Unfortunately, the two stars, who have their own very expert and long-tested methods of extracting applause have simply ended up giving their own habitual performances – very well received by the public of course, but having absolutely nothing to do with acting, as I can recognise or like it.

You can probably imagine that this makes me rather depressed and also makes me feel very insecure in my criticisms of Herr Stein. I can only comfort myself  by thinking that he would either have been defeated by Ralph Richardson and Celia Johnson as decisively as I was. Or perhaps he would not have got beyond the second or third week of rehearsal. In any case, the play seems to be at least a commercial success and attracts a lot of tourists and moneyed upper-class people. Ralph Richardson, particularly, is now like a much-loved, rather grotesque museum piece: people like his eccentricities and as a result he becomes more and more extravagant with them.
The expensive seats sell well. Nor do the actors particularly feel the need to see their director, so I ought to be happy…

To tell the truth, I begin to wonder whether I really like “theatre” at all. I realise more and more that what people like
is bad acting, at least “bad acting” by my standards. The only kind of acting I like starts with absolute naturalness.
(I don’t exactly mean naturalism). I cannot stand performance that do not have inner reality, which demonstrate
instead of experiencing. (In other words the Royal Shakespeare style). Nor, on the other hand, do I like acting
which enjoys too much its inner reality. This reality has to be refined not indulged – and then presented. This quality
of “presentation” is extremely important, and raises the whole question of style and it is here, I -suppose, that the influence of the director is most necessary. Because it is extremely difficult for the actor to achieve style or for a Company to achieve a corporate style without the objective guidance and sensitivity of the director.

Yes, it is extremely interesting how certain directors seems to influence their actors without ever saying a great deal to them. I’m afraid I tend to talk too much, and so I never understand the kind of director of whom their actors say “but he never said anything to us”.

Perhaps it is better not to have a sense of humour. In fact I’m sure that must make survival easier. Easier that is to believe in oneself. If one is a sceptic one starts by disbelieving other people and ends by disbelieving oneself. Of course this is easy here, where nobody believes in the art of theatre for its own sake. Or should I say “for humanity’s sake”, without of course being, sentimental).

The course of the play has not been completely smooth. All the lights went out in Shaftesbury Avenue on the
First Night, and we spent a war-like couple of hours wondering whether we would be able to give the performance
– In the end the curtain went up two hours late, and I must say the old actors all behaved with most gallant professionalism). Then Ralph Richardson threatened to lose his voice, and now the “younger” man has gone into hospital, and it may well be that I will have to find a replacement. Apart from my general, neurotic incapacity, to displace myself, this means that I can’t leave London just now.

I’m glad I made a good impression on Ilse in 0 LUCKY MAN! – and even more glad that the film seems to have made a good impression on her. I have just finished replacing in it a ten-minute section that was cut out by Warner Bros. in the original release, as they felt it was too long. I am pleased to have it restored. I have been thinking: I would like to make a sequel to that film – I have the title, which would be THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF MICK TRAVIS. Naturally Nick Travis would not appear in it.

I will try to track down the book you talk about – though I must say your indications are a bit vague.

My beat to you and Ilse. – Tell her she is lucky to be working in such a flourishing, creative scene.

As ever,

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letter three –

21 September 1977

c/o Ilse Ritter,
Bergengruenstrasse 20,
Zehlendorf, West Berlin,

Dear Slavek,

I think you’re quite right in opposing my feelings about acting to the tradition at the Royal Shakespeare Company, – in fact to the generally “established” tradition in Britain at the moment. Or certainly in London. It results, I think, from the victory of the Peter Hall tradition, coming from Cambridge University and therefore very academic or “conceptual”. Hall, of course, developed the present Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford, started the Aldwych and now runs the National Theatre. This is theatre without intuition, without emotion – but with a great deal of bourgois pretension and “intellectual” claims.

The theatre in England is vitiated – like most art – by the inherited class system and class attitudes. Working class actors can become successful now, but only at the price of making themselves “respectable” and conforming to bourgeois standards. Albert Finney is a perfect example. He preserves a certain superficial roughness of speech, but has sacrificed his real abrasiveness and any real quality of emotion he had. A perfect contemporary candidate for the mantle of Olivier.

(Arid now Albert Finney has launched a dreadful album of songs, written and performed by himself. A typical media-creation, which he plugs on radio and television in the U.S. and this country. An ironic progression. I remember him coming to London first, and rather self-consciously refusing to wear socks when he was being photographed for Vogue magazine).

Thank you for your postcards, from which I saw that you had returned safely to Poland. And now, apparently, things are all right again with Ilse and you are going back to Berlin? This must mean that things are going better – I hope so and am glad for you.

As for my not having my own group of actors. Every successful theatre has always run on two people – a director and a manager. Think of the Moscow Arts (with Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko) or the early Royal Court (with Granville-Barker and his manager Vedrenne) or the American Group Theatre (which had the advantage of three collaborating directors). I, unfortunately, have never found a collaborating management, and I am not an ambitious politician, like Peter Hall or Laurence Olivier! It’s true that I do have good relationships with actors, and it is among the actors that I have my strongest supporters. But in our system that is not enough – particularly when one’s approach is unfashionable, without being startlingly revolutionary. Really, I was very lucky to find an opportunity to direct theatre in the late fifties and early sixties at the Royal Court. If George Devine hadn’t existed there, I’m sure I would never have gone into the theater at all. There would certainly not have been a place for me in the Peter Hall tradition.

As you know, the situation in Britain has declined badly in the last five years. That is why I find myself very much at a loose end. It’s a pity you weren’t able to be in London a few years earlier. I think you would have enjoyed the experience of some of those later David Storey productions.

I’ve seen a couple of productions at the National Theatre recently and found them generally dull if not offensive. I saw John Schlesinger’s JULIUS CAESAR, a dreadful piece of work, with no feeling for either drama or character. The poor actors suffered terribly – including John Gielgud-~who really did nothing except spe2k beautifully.

I wi11 probably go to the U.S. in the autumn – I’ve been invited to a Festival in Chicago, where they are going to show some of my w1ork. Luite boring really, but an excuse to get away and spend a Little time in New York. Probably I will also go to Hollywood and have a look round there. I don’t really want to do a film in America and probably I haven’t the right temperament to take advantage of it, but it’s always amusing to see for a little. I read scripts, both of plays and films, but nothing really attracts me seriously.

It’s always difficult to help people from childhood to adulthood. Ilse is lucky that you want to think of her as a woman and not as a child. I hope your relationship goes well, for both your sakes. I’m sure she helps you to be less neurotic!

I had a short “retrospective” of my films at the National Film Theatre recently. Quite respectful and unenthusiastic. It all felt like a beautiful Obituary…

I’m sorry I have no more stimulating news from London. I hope the Berlin atmosphere is more enlivening.

Meanwhile – to you and Ilse both – my very best wishes,

As ever,

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letter four –

Slavel,                                 (Ditated) NEW YORK)
Bochum 4630                     29 November 1978  West German Republic
Lessingstrasse 194

Dear Slavek,

Thank you for your greetings. And mine to you. As you can see ‑ I am working abroad just now: a production in America of THE KINGFISHER, which I already directed in London last year. And next a production in Australia of THE BED BEFORE YESTERDAY, which I already directed in London two (or three?) years ago … Not a very creative programme, I’m afraid. I tell myself: this brings to an end my “commercial period”.

I’m afraid I have become quite bored with the theatre in England. No new plays that I really like ‑ unhappily my favourite author, David Storey, is not writing good plays at the moment, and is suffering (like everyone else in Britain) from a kind of creative frustration. I was invited to direct GALILEO at the Nationa Theatre ‑ with Albert Finney and I nearly accepted, but at the last moment my heart failed me. I dislike that building, and the people in it, so much. And when I read the play again, it seemed to me forced and schematic. And not particularly relevant to our time and our problems. Was I wrong? Also they wanted me to work with the National Theatre “Company”, which meant Peter Hall’s choice not mine. And they seemed to me an unexciting bunch, including Albert Finney, who has been acting badly ever since he started at the National, I’m sorry to say. His HAMLET was very disappointing ‑ of course he should not be playing Hamlet but Claudius ‑ and I didn’t see his TAMBURLAINE. Then THE CHERRY ORCHARD, which was really a lamentable production all together by Peter Hall, and most recently a disappointing MACBETH. It is sad when you think that he was undoubtedly the most promising talent of his generation.

Then I was asked to do a new play by David Mercer, for the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych. Again a group of actors I am not particularly enthusiastic about. And I thought the play, which was supposed to be of some political significance (about a corrupt Russian dissident who arrives in London) was very poor. But then how could anybody in Britain be expected to write a political play of any European, let alone world, significance?

So perhaps you won’t be surprised that I have ended up reviving two previous productions in America and Australia.

I tell myself that after this rather anti‑climactic theatrical activity, I must try to make another film. And indeed I have agreed to attempt to “develop” a couple of subjects for a Hollywood company. But it is extremely difficult ‑ although they say they are theoretically ready to undertake British productions, I know very well that they are much more favourable towards projects that can find favour with American audiences. And who can blame them? The British should be making their own films, but of course the chief British finance now goes into American productions ‑ like STAR WARS, or Ryan O’Neal in THE DRIVER or Robert de Niro in THE DEER-HUNTER. it’s a shame that you chose to come to Britain just about the time when British post-war vitality petered out. Now, as you probably know, even The Times has ceased publication. And that really means the end of an era.

I leave New York for Australia next Thursday, the day after the offivial “Opening” of THE KINGFISHER, and the next Monday I start rehearsals for THE BED BEFORE YESTERDAY, with my friend Rachel Roberts (whom you may remember from

I leave New York for Australia next Thursday, the day after the official “Opening” of THE KINGFISHER, and the next Monday I start rehearsals for THE BED BEFORE YESTERDAY, with my friend Rachel Roberts (whom you may remember from THIS SPORTING LIFE or 0 LUCKY MAN!). So I shall be spending Christmas in the sun, I hope on an Australian beach somewhere. And maybe I will return to London by way of Indonesia or Sri‑Lanka, or India.
I may even make a pilgrimage to my birthplace (Bangalore, South India).

I’m glad you found stimulus and some satisfaction in Germany. Even if all your questions have not been answered. (But then I doubt if you have the kind of temperament that will ever find complete satisfaction in anything). Anyway, I certainly think you were lucky not to have been able to return to Britain when you wanted to. Undoubtedly you have had a much more fulfilling time in Germany.

And good luck to you too in 1979

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letter five –

14 March 1979

Bochum 4630,
Lessingstr. 194,

My dear Slawek,

Yest“Absurd is beautiful when we find the way how to be with him…”(in fact you wrote “finden” – I have taken the liberty of turning it into English, of a kind).

I’m afraid your English has not improved as a result of your stay in Germany ‑ but that is only natural. I would certainly be happy to think that my “Pessimismus” is exaggerated or unjustifiable. Of course all these emotions are very subjective. And I agree that in acme ways a country that is disintegrating should be quite pleasant to live in. But perhaps no” in  modern life when a are all so dependent on decent technological organisation. Of course if we were living in the country, planting potatoes and milking cows, it would be different. But it would be difficult to work in the theatre or in such conditions.

The problem with Britain at the moment is that it refuses to disintegrate in an exciting way, and is also incapable of pulling itself together. So everything just winds down, in an atmosphere of increasing scepticism and increasing bourgeois complacency.

I wish you could have seen my most recent work, which was a piece for television, based an a script by a writer called Alan Bennett, who is an eccentric rather mild‑mannered humorist. The “film”(though it was shot on video) which I made from his script was not exactly mild‑mannered. But of course it was humorous, and anyone with any feeling for European culture would have found it amusing.(A sort of combined influence from Bunuel and Brecht, if you imagine such a Combination). The Outlays and Fury and scorn which this provoked among the bourgeois critics (and Of course ail critics are bourgeois) was almost incredible. Out it has really increased my Pessimism about being sale to do anything much in this country. Unfortunately, the critics really do have the power to Prevent … working in a medium like television – where standards are almost entirely dependent on popular reception.

On Monday I am going to Los Angeles again to investigate seriously the offers that are being made there to develop a subject for a film. No particular subject at the moment ‑ a question of finding something that I could like and that could be acceptable to the Americans and turning that into a script. As you can imagine, I would much rather be working subversively in Britain but, as I have tried to explain, that becomes more and more difficult.

Yes, it’s true, most people do imagine that choir country is their country is the “best in the world”. I have never been able to understand this. I think that patriotism is very nice as long as it is sentimental and poetic. But is neither nice nor intelligent when it claims to be rational.

I can’t imagine why I have developed these non‑nationalistic ideas.
I was not either educated nor brought up in a particularly cosmopolitan way. However, perhaps it is due to the fact that my blood is Scottish rather than English, and of course the celtic temperament is very different from the Anglo‑Saxon.

I’am glad vou are surviving; I think in spite of everything you were fortunate to get to Germany rather than to stay in Britain. If you are any kind of an artist, this not the place to be!

Good luck in all things: keep in touch,

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letter six –

Dictated 8 July 1984

Dear Slavek and Krystyne,

Thanks for the charming photograph ‑ and I’m sorry I couldn’t have been there. It must have been a happy occasion. And I’m glad, Slavek, that you have been sensible enough to marry a bio-chemist, and not someone connected in any way with the theatre.

Maybe we  will have an opportunity of  meeting later this year. I’ve been invited to come to New York in the autumn and direct a play by David Storey, IN CELEBRATION, at the Manhattan Theatre Club. And after that I am going to do HAMLET in Washington at the Folger Theatre. So I’ll be quite a bit in the U.S. Whine will certainly be a ood change from Britain, which I’m afraid is as much stuck in the past as ever.

I’m just now rehearsing a production of Synge’s PLAYBOY OF TIE WESTERN WORLD which opens at Oxford at the end of July. So I’m keeping busy.

I enclose a separate letter Slavek, which I hope may be of some use to you.

Love and good luck,

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