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Dan and Joan Crawford – never heard of them

Sometime in the second half of 1971 I was asked if I would consider meeting this (to me) unknown couple with a view to directing in their – what exactly was it? Oh… it was a theatre in a public house… but it was different…

An author whom I didn’t know – but knew me – had asked Dan and Joan to see if I would direct a play of his they’d agreed to host for their newly-born show-biz frolic.

The Crawford eruption was happening when commercial theatre had descended to a low point of a routine product chasing money and many reviewers were showing a keen interest in the emerging non-formulaic drama emerging in sheds and shacks and unused community rooms.

It had become blindingly clear to me that, as an actor (with few exceptions), you were lucky simply to get the next job. When it came, you took it whatever…

Directing became an interest. And it seemed unnecessary (and boring) to apply the same criterion.

Directing might be interesting and chancy and needn’t be part of the necessary cash flow.

An actor/playwright, Iain Blair, had written an evening of three short (loosely linked) plays called The Love Songs of Martha Canary which Dan and Joan had agreed to host – but were stymied for a director. Iain (who had heard of me… for a reason I can’t recall) suggested I might be up for it. The word had already spread that I wasn’t in directing for the money.

I can still remember, at our first meeting, Dan hesitating to tell me that their current show (their first ever) was called – Blow Job. When I didn’t respond in any predictable way, both Joan and Dan seemed to think we could do business and we went on talking.

A significant asset to this event was Heather Sears.

Heather was the quintessential, fresh, wholesome, full-of-promise, young English rose in the eyes of the British film industry for several years. And then she was dumped… or so she told me.

She was a very nice woman and I got to know her quite well. She invited me to tea at her place in Surrey and complained – very civilly – that she had been denied a sensible transition to playing more mature parts in movies. She cited French actresses who’d seamlessly progressed to performing their older selves. Heather was thirty-six, felt her talent had not diminished and so took stage work whenever it came up. So…

Dan and Joan had collared an ex-movie star to front a show in the back room of their pub. It was their second-ever offering, I now believe.

The author played the leading male parts, the writing was lively…

We couldn’t really go wrong. We packed the place.

Dan and Joan’s brightest idea was to offer theatre-goers a meal. You could eat and smoke at a table in the auditorium and go on drinking while you watched the show. Nothing like it for centuries. Promising…

See the original 1971 programme and press reviews below