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The Hungarian Count, part nine

Perhaps inevitably, we entered a period you might call the battle for recognition and rights. In all my time in theatre I’ve only ever been ratted on, or swindled, over rights to a text. Viable plays seem to provoke the most unpleasant instincts in both writers and potential exploiters of their work.

The totally chaotic, uncertain and insecure posture over performance rights – or copyright – at the King’s Head, made me decide to be fully covered if I were to get involved in staging Wrangel Island there. Getting the play on would mean an enormous amount of work – and the uncertain reward of twenty-five quid for any week I worked with Dan Crawford didn’t seem worth it for a project which might – just possibly – hit the international scene.

So we entered a period of agents and percentage schedules, bandied across nations and time zones which are not worth recording in detail.

Nicholas’ ambitions were global, so representatives and handlers arose in London, in New York, ‘to look after him’; to deal with runs, international tours, publication, translations…

Here is the first extract of the sort of ‘rights’ correspondence that was going on:

Etc. You will note that we had begun to wish to be ‘Richard T. Blackwell’ as translators – a symptom of the underlying queasiness we felt about the authenticity of Nicholas’ allegations. Also, Exposition Press was already being flagged up as his New York publishers. Now back in Argentina, we received this from him:

I don’t remember the eye condition – or what might have caused it and, clearly, I must have a copy of his book (and have read it at some time) but it’s not within reach and I know enough of his work to be certain of its general drift. We replied as follows:

I have wondered whether he maintained his globe-trotting life-style from his work as author/translator in Argentina or could, also, have managed to grab enough of the family silver before the Red Deluge hit Hungary and stuff it into a Buenos Aires bank. It was not a topic that could EVER be raised with Nicholas Wenckheim, so I’ll never know. We then received this:

Hilarious. Somehow, I’d never imagined that Count Nicholas Wenckheim would fall into such a bog-standard bit of behaviour. Usually, of course, this kind of request is about getting a job for a remarkably talented young actress friend. In this case it was about a humanitarian fellow-activist, or so it seemed. Oddly enough, one of David Markham’s daughters, actress Kika, once was on the telephone to me for an hour persuading me that my presence was vital at a left-wing rally in Trafalgar Square. Then there was this.

I hadn’t dreamt or misheard. Nicholas Wenckheim was publicly claiming to have known Wallenberg. If so, the story would go something like this; at the time the Nazis finally moved into Hungary, Wenckheim remained in place – possibly unhindered and untouched. Thus, his flight to South America was triggered by the advancing – and occupying – Russians. Meanwhile…


There was a – perhaps predictable – moment when Claudine Vattier and the French end got greedy and started asking for a piece of every bit of action, wherever it might take place. This took time, and much international correspondence, to straighten out.

‘Chère Claudine, …’ I began an explanatory letter in French, to explain that I believed I had found a ‘petit théâtre’ to ‘realiser’ Wrangel Island, but couldn’t countenance embarking on such a risky venture without exclusive rights to production in the English language, etc. etc.

Meanwhile, Nicholas wasn’t giving up…

Here was more evidence – as he saw it.

End Part Nine